Access to quality inputs has been one of the major bottlenecks in the Ethiopian agriculture. Lack of proper policies and regulations coupled with the inefficiency and bureaucracy of the public sector as well as exclusion of the private sector have contributed for the underdeveloped input system in the country.

Since its establishment in 2011, the Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA), in close collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) and other stakeholder has been working to devise a system in which smallholder farmers access high quality inputs such as improved seed, fertilizers and agro-chemicals at a convenient place and right time, through multiple channels as well as with competitive prices. The production and distribution of improved seeds in particular has been at the forefront of ATA’s input initiatives.

To this end the agency catalyzes the development of new seed law, regulation strategy and different directives that will enable the sector to spearhead the seed sector transformation. The country’s compressive seed policy is endorsed by MoA and now sent to the Council of Ministers for review and to be acted by the Parliament. Recently, a Seed Marketing Guideline and the Certificate of Competence for the One Stop Shop Directives were approved by the MoA.

“The ATA has played the leading role to facilitate stakeholder consultations and align on the major challenges, bottlenecks and appropriate intervention in the seed sector,” says Dr. Yitbarek Semeane, Input Director at the ATA. “Some of the interventions are policy, operation, capacity, harmonization that are critical for seed system to effectively act as a catalyst of agricultural transformation,” he adds.

According to the prioritized transformation agenda, the efforts in the seed sector aim to develop a vibrant and competitive seed sector by creating enabling environment and incentivizing investments across the entire seed supply chain. They also strengthen federal and regional regulatory capacity, undertaking structural reforms and legal frameworks to meet international standards and address climate change adaptation.

To catalyze the process, the ATA has launched projects such as the Cooperative Based Seed Production (CBSP), Direct Seed Marketing (DSM) and Agricultural One Stop Shopping (AOSS) services among others. While the CBSP build capacity of Farmers Cooperatives and Unions as well as member smallholder farmers to enable them to be engaged in seed production and marketing; the Direct Seed Marketing (DSM) and Agricultural One Stop Shop (AOSS) projects create market access for seed and all type of inputs to smallholder farmers, respectively.

The DSM aims to create an efficient seed supply system that ensures access of smallholder farmers to improved seeds through multiple channels (public and private) and thereby enhance their production and productivity, and ultimately their income. The project targets about 250 woredas across four regions (Oromia, Amhara, SNNPR and Tigray) and reaching an estimated 1.5 million farmers, out of which 450,000 will be female. By the end of 2018 DSM has reached 228 woredas. The learning from the project has also contributed to draft and endorse a seed marketing guideline for the country.

“The DSM has dramatically improved smallholders’ access to quality input such as improved seed with competitive price, right time through multiple channels, which in turn will highly contribute to increase production and productivity,” says Dr. Yitbarek. Moreover, the system contributed to reduce seed carry over significantly as low as 2 % compared to 30-40% carry over by the conventional system as well as government budget by billions of ETB and staff time. In 2018, DSM covers 63% of seed supply in the four major agricultural regions (45% in Amhara and SNNPR; 56% in Tigray and 74% in Oromia)

On the other hand the AOSS, aims to scale up the farm service centers in four regions by establishing nearly 200 0 one-stop input centers and close to 500 retail shops, and thereby enhance the access of smallholder farmers to agricultural inputs and advisory services. The one-stop input centers and the retail shops aim to deliver high quality agricultural inputs and advisory services to over 300,000 smallholder farmers, to train over 100,000 stallholder farmers on improved agricultural technologies, and create nearly 500 new jobs.

“A few years back the number of institutions that produce seed for example, were only two,” he remembers. “Now more than 60 producers are registered in the country to produce and market seed and consequently production of improved seed goes to as high as two million quintals in favorable years.”

Through the CBSP, the ATA aims to contribute to the transformation of the intermediate seed sector with a focus on creating 14 model Unions in four regions. The volume of seed produced and distributed by CBSPs is expected to ultimately reach about 22,000 tons of various crops, benefiting an estimated 1.3 million farmers of which 30% are women.

“Before the project started a diagnostic study was conducted to understand the bottlenecks, operating model, opportunities and key interventions,” says Mersha Tesfa, Project Team leader of CBSP at the ATA.  “The CBSP works by building capacity of Unions so as they can provide their member farmers the necessary support, follow up as well as monitoring and controlling of the quality of seed production process,”

The ATA through the CBSP project has provide capacity building and trainings for more than 13,000 smallholder farmers and 500 agricultural experts at different tiers of the government administration. Seed production through the CBSP project now covers 44 woredas and involving 14 unions, 196 cooperatives and 16,640 member smallholder farmers.

All in all, the ATA’s efforts in improving the seed system in the country has registered an encouraging result so far.  Interventions on seed production and marketing systems have improved smallholder farmers’ access to quality seed with competitive price at convenient places. They have also eased government’s financial burden of more than a billion birr that would have been otherwise used as guarantee for the seed distribution.