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Land policy dominates panel on agricultural transformation
From left: state minister of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Wondirad Mandefro; minister of Livestock and Fisheries Development, Sileshi Getahun and director general of EIAR, Fantahun Mengistu (PhD).

Land policy dominates panel on agricultural transformation

As the Ethiopian Institute of Agriculture Research (EIAR) comes closer to celebrating its 50th anniversary, the existing land policy has stirred debate among researchers and policymakers.

Panelists, who were part of a discussion that was organized in connection with the 50th anniversary of EARI and was held at the newly-inaugurated Oromo Cultural Center yesterday, questioned the possibility of achieving success in commercial farms with the existing land policy.

Agena Julo from the Institute of Forestry Research Center highlighted that the ownership of land varied in different regional states.

“Regarding rural land policy management, it is difficult to know who actually manages land. Does the management belong to the Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources or the Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries Development? Or does it belong to the Ministry of Federal and Pastoralist Development Affairs or another authority? I raise this question because I notice that land management varies among regions,” he said.

He also added that there are several issues that should be addressed with regards to this.

Another panelist, Birhane Gebrekidan (PhD), vice president of the Ethiopian Science Academy, said that he thought Ethiopia's agriculture has already transformed but that is not the reality.

“It’s very painful when media outlets report that Ethiopia is once again starving,” he said. “Our agriculture is subsistence agriculture. Unless we change that trend, subsistence will keep bearing subsistence,” he said.

He also suggested that introducing a new system that aims at expanding large scale agriculture is vital, which includes providing land to graduates who studied agriculture.

Abate Bekele from the Institute of Agriculture Research said that a lot should be done in building the capacity of farmers who are still engaged in agriculture as a means of survival.

According to a research he conducted in six woredas, only 18 percent of the farmers consider agriculture as business while the rest take agriculture as a means of their survival. He added that the land policy is affecting smallholder farmers.

An agriculture expert from Tigray Agriculture Institute, Tesfaye Asgedom, also raised his concern that the existing land policy may affect smallholder farmers.

“With the existing land policy, the land is cut into pieces, how can we transform the agriculture? Tesfaye questioned and suggested a possible diversification of mechanized farms.

Minister of Livestock and Fisheries Development, Sileshi Getahun, defended the governments land policy saying that some Asian countries are successful in commercialized farming with small scale agriculture as opposed to large scale farming.

State Minister of Agriculture, Wondiran Manderfro, on his part, said that the current strategic development scheme that is being implemented is regarded as one of the best programs. However, the main bottlenecks the country has faced are limitations in capacity and technology.

The other heated debate focused on whether the country could achieve  agricultural transformation by depending on rain. They also said that the government has not invested enough in irrigation.