Improved seeds yield crops that are high-producing and resistant to pests and disease, thereby increasing crop production. The availability of quality seed in sufficient amounts, however, is currently a challenge for smallholder farmers in most parts of Ethiopia. To address this, the ATA and partner organizations started the cooperative-based seed production (CBSP) project to fill specific gaps in seed supply through localized production and distribution, so that farmers can meet their seed production and marketing needs across diverse agro-ecologies. In particular, the project targets production of self-pollinating varieties of seeds as yet unserved by the formal seed sector.

Ultimately, the CBSP project aims to transform Ethiopia’s intermediate seed sector to significantly increase the quality and volume of improved seeds produced and marketed through unions, resulting in higher yields and incomes for farmers. This requires a strong focus on both institutional and individual capacity building for existing seed cooperatives and farmers.

Though there are more than 285 seed-producing cooperatives operating at different scales and efficiencies in Ethiopia’s four main regions, 95% of these do not meet the regulatory requirements to become accredited institutions. CBSP addresses the weak institutional capacity of cooperatives to develop and manage robust business plans by modeling seed unions that are inclusive, environmentally conscious, and financially sustainable, with capable leadership and improved internal quality control capacity. In its work with cooperatives, the project trains smallholder farmers on modern seed production and post-harvest handling. It encourages seed unions to adopt the Direct Seed Marketing (DSM) modality, which facilitates a streamlined seed distribution system.

Much of the work draws from the experience of Edget Cooperative Union, which until recently was the only seed-specific union in the country and has been one of the most successful. Edget has modeled the benfits of forming a strong seed-specific union for better leadership, management, and coordination of community-based seed producers. The Union provides nearly one-quarter of the seed supplied in SNNP, which it has achieved by enhancing its physical capacity, internal quality control, leadership, and governance.

Seven new seed unions have been set up in three regions (three in SNNP and two each in Amhara and Tigray) since launching the CBSP project during the first year of GTP II. One more seed union in Amhara is slotted for capacity building interventions in the last quarter of 2016. Furthermore, three existing multipurpose unions in Oromia were restructured to enable them to incorporate seed production businesses. Finally, sub-grant agreements between the ATA and local partners have been signed to facilitate the physical capacitation of these 11 unions.

Physical capacity building, in which all components of the seed value chain (production, processing, storing, and marketing) were bolstered, has also been a strong area of performance for the CBSP initiative. Fifteen standard seed storage facilities, two diffused light stores, one office, and six seed cleaning shades have been completed since roll-out began. Seven tractors, 14 seed cleaning machines, 14 packing machines, 12 ground balances, and six water pumps have also been procured.

The storage, processing, and production facilities of 32 primary cooperatives and one seed union have been improved through this initiative. Moreover, 147 primary seed producing cooperatives were transformed into seed unions. This is expected to bring about structural changes in cooperative-based seed production throughout the GTP II period.

Capacity building of soft skills is also a priority of the project; accordingly, a training of trainers (ToT) was given to nine agronomists and seed experts in SNNP, following which 1,799 seed producing farmers (252 female) were trained on modern seed production and post-harvest handling techniques. Likewise, 250 farmers in Tigray were trained on the same techniques. Similar trainings will be organized in Oromia and Amhara in the next planting season.

In order to improve the governance and seed business management capacity of the new unions, a learning visit was organized for 35 union leaders and cooperative experts in SNNP.  Training on seed business management and governance was given to 150 union and primary cooperative leaders in Oromia and 34 in Tigray.

Limitations in seed varieties remain a challenge for CBSPs; hence, 14 varieties of seed were popularized across the four regions through 12 farmers’ field days. Another success of the project has been that targeted seed unions have secured 70% of their basic seed demand for major varieties of wheat and tef in all the regions. Seven primary cooperatives have been engaged in basic seed production for the first time in Tigray and Amhara. As a result, these CBSPs are becoming self-sufficient in meeting their own basic seed demand – a concept introduced by the CBSP project – and are now able to cover much of their own basic seed demand, whereas previously they were covering none.

Building on the successes and learnings from the inception phase of the project, the next phase is expected to expand support across a wide range of policy, system, and capacity-focused interventions.

The GTP II plan recognizes CBSPs as key players, and seed as the critical input, in Ethiopia’s agricultural development. As such, the GTP II has set objectives to boost seed production and marketing; build competitive community institutions; scale up the roll-out of the intermediate seed sector while decentralizing roles dominated by the public seed sector; and influence national and regional governments to strike a balance between public sector and CBSP investments.