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Bridging the gap in smallholder agriculture
Filed demonstration by Israeli agrcultural experts

Bridging the gap in smallholder agriculture

Nuri Awol, a middle-aged farmer, husband and father of eight, had lived in dire poverty for many years. The agricultural produce he secures from his small farm located in a small town of Butajira, 123km to the south of Addis Ababa, has been disappointing at best.

Nevertheless, these days hope looks to be rekindling for Nuri thanks to his newly-found diversification and improvement in agricultural yield. Having been trained and supported by Fair Planet, an Israeli NGO, Nuri is now being considered as a model farmer. His first success came out of his 1000 sq.m. plot which yielded 6000kg of potato and an income of 26,000 birr of which he enjoyed 16,000 in profits.

“The project brought a much needed change to my life,” Nuri says. What made the difference was a training package in seed application and resource utilization offered by Fair Planet. And the gains are surprising even a farmer like Nuri.   Since its inception in 2012, Fair Planet has been working in four regions of Ethiopia to increase productivity of small-scale farmers: Butajira, Dire Dawa, Gondar and Haromaya.

“Our aim is to bridge the knowledge gap that exists between smallholder farmers and the resource at their disposal,” said Shoshan Haran (PhD), founder and general manager of Fair Planet. According to her, the framers in those regions have increased their production by up to 5 times and their income eight-fold just by using the right quality of seed in the past two and a half years.

Signing an agreement with the German company, Bayer, known for its pharmaceutical products such as aspirin in Ethiopia, the Israeli NGO managed to introduce quality seeds—Nunhems, which is Bayer’s global brand for seed. “We will be able to test the seeds conformity to Ethiopian farms this year and application will follow in 2017,” said Ben Depraetere, managing director and country head for vegetable seeds Bayer. Since the project “Bridging the Seed Gap” was launched by Fair Planet upon its arrival in Ethiopia, several other organizations have been involved in the area of training and skill transfer to impact traditional practices followed for many decades by Ethiopian farmers. “The project is engaged in a unique and long-term technology transfer process by establishing collaboration between national and international stakeholders such as government, universities and unions,” Shoshan told The Reporter.

Despite reservation and suspicion from farmers and agronomists towards genetically modified seeds, which Fair Plant says has nothing to do with the seed variety it is distributing, some Ethiopian farmers are slowly accepting some high-yield hybrids and varieties which are also found to be drought and disease resistant. As a result, several Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) such as USAID, Japan International Cooperation (JICA) and The Netherlands-based Common Fund for Commodities (CFC), are already promoting the application of improved seeds in Ethiopia.

Launched in 2015, the Seed Multiplication Project is one project which is supported by the USAID and implemented by the Ethiopian Institute for Agricultural Research (EIAR). This project is seemingly paving the way for more seed-related projects in Ethiopia. According to Abebe Atilaw and Lijalem Korbu, senior researchers of EIAR, seed  systems  in  Ethiopia  represent  the  entire complex  organizational, institutional, and  individual operations  associated with the development,  multiplication, processing, storage, distribution, and marketing  of  seed  in  the  country.  Farmers,  particularly  smallholder ones,  are  involved  in multiple  kinds  of  seed  systems,  which  guarantees  them  the supply of adequate quantity  and  quality  of  seeds they need to market their produce.

In fact, Seed  systems  in  Ethiopia  can  be  divided  into  two  broad  types:  the formal  system  and  the  informal  system  (sometimes  called  local  or farmers’ seed system). According to the experts, both systems  are  operating  simultaneously  in the  country  and it is difficult  to  demarcate  the difference between  the two.  The formal seed system  is  the  original  source  of improved seeds in the informal system. There is also a system referred to as integrated seed system. Other forms of seed systems also exist, experts explain, one is the Community Based Seed System (CBSS). Though not well developed, few commercial seed systems as part of the formal system, are also operating in the country.

Whatever is tabled for debate or negotiation, Ethiopia’s agrarian economy that has long been dependent on agriculture needs to be improved. And according to professionals, the two fundamental components are land and seed. While for many years Ethiopian farmers kept busy working on improving their farms through various mechanisms including applying fertilizers such as Urea and Dap, two most widely used fertilizers in Ethiopia, they rarely found improved seeds to increase production. Moreover, many still waste much of their product in poor storage and transportation schemes. However, seed is becoming a game changer in recent times for many smallholder farmer who have gotten fair market access, experts argue.

Eyasu Elias (PhD), a social scientist, told The Reporter that getting access to quality seed varieties is essential for the farmer. “I have seen some famers who grapple with inferior-quality seed varieties to get the better yield in traditional manner and that is the area they should have been assisted,” he said. In his pilot project called CASCAP (Capacity Building for Scaling up of Evidence-based Best Practices), he highlighted how farmers become productive in using improved seed varieties. Hybrid maize varieties that were developed by the Bako Research Center gave the highest yields when combined with appropriate agronomic practice, he explains.

Indeed, seed varieties and hybrids have impacted the lives of many farmers in Africa. “In Kenya, we have found tremendous result with famers using hybrid seed varieties in their farms,” said Ngila Kimotho, another seed expert. According to him, Ethiopia needs more seed people that can produce hybrid seeds using their indigenous skill and knowledge of the agricultural practices.

Given that there still a long way to go to reach the seed men who can produce varieties and hybrids from their practical knowledge of the agribusiness in their locality, the arrival of NGOs in bridging the seed gap seems to be rather significant in the lives of thousands of farmers who have already started to apply the hybrids in their farms; the seems to be experiencing enormous change by using improved seed varieties.

“This is even a tough period for farmers in Ethiopia due to the drought but we have escaped this disaster,” says Medhin Mekonnen, chairman of Dire Dawa farmer’s union. According to him the first thirty farmers enrolled in the seed development scheme have got 70,000 to 100,000 birr from 900 sq.m. plot in which they cultivated potato and hot paper. And this success story seems to be spiraling in the thoughts of hundreds in the locality who are eagerly awaiting the arrival of Nunhem shortly.