For many years, the finite amount of arable land available in Ethiopia, combined with the country’s growing population, has led to diminishing average farm sizes – all of which has meant less yield and less prosperity for individual farmers and families.
With smaller farms producing less crops, increasing productivity has become the key to maintaining a farming household’s food security and income. And the best ways to increase productivity are by implementing sustainable farm management techniques, and through the effective use of agricultural inputs – particularly seeds.
Why are seeds so important?
Other than the land itself, seeds are the most fundamental necessity for farming. But not all seeds are created equal. Investing in improved, higher quality, higher-yielding seeds can be a primary strategy for raising productivity on many Ethiopian smallholder farms.
High-potential seed varieties (such as BH-660 for maize) can double or even triple a farmer’s yield, which would certainly translate into increased food security on a regional and national scale. It would also lead to savings on foreign exchange – if Ethiopia can grow a higher volume of its own food, there’s less need to import goods at higher costs.
Above and beyond just feeding their own families, increased productivity would also allow farmers to introduce their surplus crops into the marketplace, leading to a gradual but significant economic transformation. More domestic crops entering the market would provide a foundation for the emergence of value-adding industries, such as commercial dairies, breweries and food companies, allowing smallholder farmers to profit through national and international trade.
Good seeds take work
Unfortunately the highest quality seeds don’t just happen; they’re a product of research, trial, breeding, and manufacturing. Seeds also require a distribution network to help get the right seeds to the right farmers when they need them most.
Ethiopia’s seed sector is composed of both formal and informal components. The formal sector consists of public research organizations that develop new varieties, an extension system that introduces these varieties to farmers, and both public enterprises and private companies that multiply the seed varieties.
Encouraged by significant recent successes in seed output, the Ethiopian seed sector is now positioned to address issues relating to seed quality, efficiency, diversification, and sustainability.
Planting seeds at the ATA
The Agricultural Transformation Agency has begun planning and coordinating a variety of interventions aimed at expanding the availability and adoption of improved seeds in hybrid, open, and self-pollinating varieties of cereals and high-value crops. This will be accomplished by strengthening research, multiplication, marketing, and distribution across public and private sector partners.
The ATA’s Seed System Program is designed to help the Ministry of Agriculture, Regional governments, seed producers, and other stakeholders to build a dynamic, efficient and well regulated seed system; one that provides farmers with affordable, high quality seeds of improved varieties for all key crops through multiple production and distribution channels while conserving Ethiopia’s biodiversity.
To do this, the Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA), in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture, has begun supporting key stakeholders in an effort to channel more high-performing seed into the system. Some of the priorities being addressed in the two segments of the sector include:
The Formal Seed System
Regulatory framework: The current seed law and regulations are being revised to accommodate the current development needs of the sector. The new draft of the seed law is expected to be passed in the near future, including relevant regulations aimed at increasing smallholder productivity.
Variety availability: Several activities have been initiated to help farmers access superior crop varieties available from both local and international seed markets. Multinational seed companies are being encouraged to import their superior varieties for immediate availability to smallholder farmers, while the local research system is simultaneously being strengthened to develop superior crop varieties which can eventually be produced in-country.
Quality: As seed quality is compromised in the current formal seed system, appropriate actions are being undertaken to rehabilitate the quality assurance mechanisms, both internally with seed suppliers and externally through seed certification services.
Quantity: The volume of improved varieties of seed also needs to be increased. Therefore, in addition to the seed supplied by commercial seed companies, programs are also underway to enable farmers to produce improved seed varieties themselves for distribution within their local communities.
The Informal Seed System
Problem solving: In consultation with relevant stakeholders, a review of the informal seed system is underway to identify specific bottlenecks and recommend key interventions at the local level.
Seeds Resources : For a list of publications and links relating to Seeds click here.