Origin of the Agency

Ethiopia is a country of natural contrasts, with waterfalls and volcanic hot spring, dry desert lands and rich fertile soil. Agriculture is the foundation of the Ethiopian economy. It contributes approximately 46 percent to the national GDP and employs over 80 percent of the population.

In 2009, Ethiopia was in the final year of its five year Plan for Accelerated and Sustained Development to End Poverty (PASDEP) and beginning to design its next five year plan – the first Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP). It had also begun a rapid growth period with major gains in its agriculture sector. In the midst of these development, the late Prime Minister Meles had a fortuitous meeting with Melinda Gates, Co-Chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation where he asked for the Foundation’s support in identifying an innovative way to catalyze not only the growth but of the transformation of Ethiopia’s agriculture sector.

This began a journey of nearly two years, where the Gates Foundation facilitated a process led by the Ministry of Agriculture that developed eight different diagnostic and a series of recommendations. The summary conclusions identified two key challenges to transforming Ethiopia’s agricultural sector:

  • Narrow approach to sectoral change – Many projects and programs have focused on selected aspects of the sector, leading to disconnected interventions that fail to address the root causes of low agricultural productivity. As such, many initiatives do not achieve the cohesion and integration required for success at scale. Furthermore, individual programs are frequently not adapted to local conditions in different regions.
  • Lack of implementation capacity – Many large-scale initiatives lack staff with the appropriate mindsets or skills needed at both the federal and regional level. Even projects that are well-designed and well-resourced often fail to meet all their objectives due to the lack of strong project management and systematic implementation.

Furthermore, this study identified learning’s from other rapid growth and transformation initiatives around the world and in other sectors within Ethiopia. Key to these efforts has been a dedicated unit with strong management and support from key government leaders that led a successful effort of transformative and sustainable change in a focused program area.

Based on these recommendations, in December 2010 the Council of Ministers in Ethiopia passed Regulation 198/2010 which established the Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA) as the Secretariat of an Agricultural Transformation Council chaired by the Prime Minister.