The first of 20 Farm Service Centers (FSCs) established via a public-private partnership to expand Ethiopian smallholders’ access to agricultural inputs, held a grand opening ceremony on 12 May 2017 in Bako Tibe woreda, Oromia. The project is implemented by the Agricultural Transformation Agency (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), and funded by USAID’s Feed the Future Ethiopia program. FSCs will be established in Ethiopia’s major regions: six in Amhara, seven in Oromia, four in SNNP, and three in Tigray.

The centers will serve as a one-stop-shop for quality inputs and services, accompanied by agronomic and veterinary consultations and training, in areas of the country where access to inputs is limited or costly for smallholder farmers.  In order for farmers to increase production and productivity, there is an urgent need to improve the system of input supply, distribution, and utilization. This farm service business model has been tested globally and proven to be an effective means to provide smallholders with a comprehensive outlet for farming inputs and support services.

“The opening of Bako FSC marks the successful scaling up of an innovative one-stop-shop input distribution system leveraging private sector actors,” stated ATA CEO Ato Khalid Bomba. “FSCs will also serve as a platform to disseminate new techniques, technologies and practices.” He went on to explain that FSCs will also assist with integrating various interventions currently underway in the Agricultural Commercialization Clusters (ACC) Initiative, such as the Input Voucher System, Inputs Tracking System and Mechanization Service Centers.

Owned by female entrepreneur, W/zo Alemitu Hordofa, and located in Ethiopia’s maize belt, Bako is expected to help up to 10,000 farmers to access inputs in a remote part of the country. Like all the centers, the Bako FSC is set up on a cost-sharing basis with qualified entrepreneurs, who were identified through a competitive process to receive grants of up to $50,000 USD to start their businesses. Owners are expected to contribute a minimum of 50% of the funding necessary to establish their centers, which are designed and operated based on standards and support provided by the project.

Dr. Waktola Wakgari, CNFA Chief of Party said, “The Bako FSC will certainly make significant positive impacts in transforming farm land productivity in the Bako area and beyond. In addition to inputs, Bako FSC could provide impactful services to smallholder farmers and increase their productivity and competitiveness.”

According to Ato Dereje Luchessa, Bako Woreda Administrator, the area is known for livestock and cereal production, and the timely launch of the FSC will boost production and productivity in both sectors.  He also underscored the commitment of the woreda administration to support the center in becoming strong and viable.

USAID Representative Mr. Stephen Morin expressed that “Meeting Ethiopia’s comprehensive and ambitious development agenda requires recognition of the critical importance of agriculture in the economy. However, access to quality agricultural supplies at affordable prices at the right time of the season is a significant challenge.”

W/zo Alemitu explains how FSCs such as the one run by her have the potential to close this gap. According to her, since opening its doors one month ago, the Bako center has already met the demands of 3,381 smallholder farmers and registered over two million ETB in sales.

“I strongly believe in the impact that my farm service center can have in this community,” says W/zo Alemitu. “It will offer the solution for farmers to access good quality inputs and services at an affordable price in close proximity. My FSC intends to impact the lives of more than 10,000 smallholder farmers in Bako and neighboring woredas.”

Representatives of all project stakeholders, as well as federal and regional government offices, national and multinational agro-input suppliers, manufacturers and wholesalers, mass media organizations, and smallholder farmers were present for the ribbon cutting ceremony of the Bako FSC grand opening.