The Commercial Farm Services project of the Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA) inaugurated two Farm Service Centers (FSCs) in Humera and Axum, Tigray region, on Monday, 17 and Tuesday 18 July 2017, respectively. The project is funded by USAID’s Feed the Future Ethiopia program, and is implemented by the ATA in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources (MoANR) and regional bureaus, with technical support from Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture (CNFA).
The two centers are the sixth and seventh of 20 centers that the project aims to build to help improve input supply, distribution, and utilization to help farmers increase production and productivity. The centers are established via a public-private partnership to expand Ethiopian smallholder farmers’ access to agricultural inputs. FSCs are facilitate one-stop-shopping for farmers with products at affordable prices. The project also seeks to demonstrate the viability of the FSC model as a platform for large-scale public-private partnerships to expand Ethiopian smallholders’ access to inputs.
“Although the livelihood of the majority of our population depends on agriculture, the amount of agricultural inputs that we are utilizing is low compared with other countries. One of the reasons for this is that inputs are not easily accessible,” said Ato Gizachew Sisay, Commercial Farm Services Project Team Leader. “Even when inputs are accessible, quality is usually poor or prices are hardly affordable for smallholders. These multifaceted bottlenecks hinder farmers from using farm inputs and maximizing their production and productivity.”
Located in close proximity to Ethiopia’s borders with Eritrea and Sudan, the Humera FSC is found in the sesame cluster of Kafta Humera woreda. It is expected to play a key role in combating farmers’ use of farm inputs purchased from unregulated traders, which is frequently practiced in the area. The center aims to address the input needs of close to 5,000 smallholders, as well as 220 commercial farmers engaged primarily in sesame production. The distinguishing feature of this center is farm mechanization, whereby it provides sesame row planting, motorized herbicide spraying, sorghum threshing, and land ploughing using tractors.
Owner of the Humera FSC, Ato Desta Berhe, has obtained a sub-grant of ETB one million from the project, and has invested more than ETB three million for inventory stocking and construction. The project expects owners to contribute a minimum of 50% of the funding necessary to establish their centers, which are designed and operated based on standards and support it provides.
“Being one of the few commercial farmers in Humera, I know what it is like to have inputs of poor quality. Now the FSC can address those challenges both for commercial and smallholder farmers in Humera and surrounding woredas,” said Ato Desta at the inauguration event. “We plan to conduct surveys in the area that will help to improve the services the FSC provides. We will also soon open a satellite shop in Raya in Tigray’s Southern zone”.
Similarly, Ato Abay Kinfe, owner of the Axum FSC, has invested ETB four million of his own funding into the FSC, in addition to the ETB one million he has received through the project sub-grant. The centers eventually help increase smallholders’ production and productivity by improving access to agricultural inputs and knowledge-based utilization.
Ato Abay explains, “I have previously worked in other areas of business, but not agriculture. In the beginning, I was concerned about how I would manage, but now after looking the sales, I have realized that this is a new business opportunity for me to venture in. We have sold more than 800,000 ETB worth of inputs in less than two weeks of test sales and reached about 1,500 farmers”.
The Axum FSC which is located in the tef cluster is intended to address the input needs of at least 5,000 farmers. The center has so far promoted tef row planting technology and provided training for Development Agents and model farmers on the use of these machines. More than 370 tef row seeders were distributed so far.
Both FSCs are now supplying various inputs, such as seeds for crops and animal feed, agro-chemicals, veterinary drugs, and farm tools and equipment at affordable prices. Additionally, inputs are now accessible all year long, rather than seasonally as in the past. Besides, this method of input distribution facilitates accountability and product traceability, which serves the regulatory bodies well in case of possible damages caused by inputs. FSCs also create job opportunities for a considerable number of experts and technical assistants.
Representatives of all project stakeholders, including Ato Kiros Bitew – Deputy Regional Administrator for Tigray region and head of Bureau of Agriculture and Natural Resources, media organizations, and smallholder and commercial farmers were present for the ribbon cutting and opening ceremonies of Humera and Axum FSCs.
Both events were opened by the honorable Ato Kiros Bitew – Deputy Regional Administrator for Tigray region and head of Bureau of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Representatives of the respective regional, zonal and woreda stakeholders as well as media organizations, smallholder and commercial farmers were also present for the ribbon cutting and opening ceremonies of Humera and Axum FSCs.