Ethiopia is the world’s second largest exporter of sesame – exports are currently U.S. $300 million per year and expected to increase to $500 million in the next two years. Ethiopian sesame farms employ over 500,000 workers during the peak season. Production has doubled in the past five years, but farmers still face a number of challenges – low yields, declining soil fertility, lack of collective action (e.g., cooperatives), poor access to credit, etc.
A new multi-partner initiative launched in June 2013 will help the sesame business in Ethiopia grow even larger and will work to solve the remaining issues. The initiative brings together two consortia – the Sesame Business Network Support Program (SBNSP) and the 2SCALE project – to offer technologies, training, market linkages and other support to small-scale sesame farmers in Ethiopia. Both consortia are funded by the Government of the Netherlands. SBNSP is led by Wageningen University in the Netherlands and the Humera and Gondar Agricultural Research Centers in Ethiopia, together with other partners.
SBNSP targets six woredas (districts) in the Tigray and Amhara regions, which together produce 70 percent of Ethiopia’s sesame. Nineteen sesame-focused agribusiness clusters (ABCs) are involved, as are several thousand farmers growing high-quality white sesame that is sold for export. Baseline surveys (supported by 2SCALE and SBNSP) have been completed, providing detailed information on cropping patterns, production constraints and opportunities for farmers and agro-entrepreneurs in each target area.
Bringing Farmers Together
The new partnership was launched at a workshop in Gondar that attracted over 150 participants – farmers, crop scientists, extension agents, policymakers and entrepreneurs – from government agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other organizations.
The discussions highlighted the fact that although many ABCs and their participants face similar challenges, farming systems, institutional support and priorities for improvement can differ widely from one group to another. By implication, better information sharing (within and among ABCs) will lead to substantial improvements.
The workshop also raised a number of interesting issues. For example, Ethiopia exports unprocessed sesame with little or no value addition; only 5 percent of sesame exports are graded. The obvious solution is to sort and grade the sesame prior to export. However, 60 percent of the exports go to China – which wants low-cost, unsorted sesame that can be sorted and processed there.
The workshop’s primary objective – linking sesame producers to potential partners – was clearly met. “Every person involved understands that their power is generated from cooperation; no single one of them could make it without the other,” one participant said. “We are now like one big family.”
Synergies with Sorghum
In addition to expertise in agribusiness and agro-input market development, the 2SCALE project brings in another element – sorghum technologies that can make sesame farming more sustainable.
Sesame and sorghum are grown in rotation by some farmers – sesame for cash, sorghum for food. Most crop rotations are beneficial; sorghum-sesame is particularly so because of the crops’ complementary nutrient requirements, similarities in adaptation and good fit in growing cycles. The synergies between the two crops could be further enhanced with new varieties and better crop management. The problem is that there is a strong market for sesame but almost none for sorghum at this time. As a result, farmers are reluctant to expand sorghum cultivation beyond their families’ food needs and only a very small portion of the area in which sesame is grown is rotated with sorghum.
IFDC is working with Advanta Ltd., a private seed company, to introduce a new sorghum hybrid into sesame-based systems. The hybrid, PAC 537, is a high-yielding, drought-tolerant, low-tannin, white-seeded variety. It is ideal as a rotation crop. And it’s not just a food crop – the grain can be sold to breweries and to poultry feed producers. In addition, the crop’s stalks can be fed to livestock.
PAC 537 has been extensively field-tested by the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research. In the coming season, demonstration plots will be set up at 15 locations to allow sesame farmers to see first-hand the benefits the new hybrid offers. IFDC and Advanta are also working with government agencies to develop plans for sorghum seed production.
Sesame is packaged for sale and export at Selet Hulling PLC.
Larger Harvests, Increased Revenue
The partnership between 2SCALE and the SBNSP will help build profitable, sustainable sesame ABCs linked to input and output markets, with access to new production technologies for sorghum and sesame. The technologies will include higher-yielding, drought-tolerant varieties, better pest and disease control (with packages for both conventional and organic farming), more efficient weeding and harvesting techniques and low-cost methods for value addition.
The key to broad-based success will be effective dissemination and training. Community-based facilitators have been recruited and will coordinate technology transfer, information sharing and implementation monitoring. Other full-time field staff will supplement government extension agents, providing training and advisory services throughout the season.
The sesame-sorghum initiative is only a few months old. But with its breadth of partnerships and strong government backing, smallholder farmers in Ethiopia can expect to cash in on the booming sesame market while improving soil quality, food production links to new markets and sorghum rotations.