20 July 2014 News Briefs

Tired soils put future food availability at risk


The increasing degradation of earth’s peak soil through over cultivation and nutrient mining is putting pressure on food production with researchers warning that by 2050 agricultural production will dip by up to 30 percent even as population is expected to hit 9.6 billion, up from 7.2 billion last year.

This is already becoming evident in Sub Saharan Africa where soil degradation has hit unprecedented highs.
In East Africa, One of the most comprehensive studies on soils ever undertaken has confirmed that farming practices have leeched the soil of nutrients without replenishing them, to such a degree as to be halving many key crop yields, threatening the income and food security of over 85 per cent of East Africans.

Measuring the organic and mineral content of the soils, the researchers found that the levels of important soil minerals that sustain plant growth were low, and that the little fertility left was mainly from topsoil organic matter.
The researchers said the problem was made more severe in that East Africa has one of the lowest rates of fertilizer use in the world and a rapidly increasing population to feed.

The barren soils are the result of years of farming with insufficient replacement of nutrients by small-holders, mostly practising low-input agriculture. But the results now threaten future farming and the food and income of millions of people in the region.

“We know far more about the amount of oil there is globally and how long those stocks will last than we know about how much soil there is,” said John Crawford, Director of the Sustainable Systems Programme in Rothamsted Research in England in an earlier interview.

Demand for food and natural resources has led to aggressive soil mining and aggressive cultivation with overgrazing, and deforestation stripping the top soil of vital nutrients and beneficial organisms while reducing the soil’s ability to hold water.

According to Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 25 percent of agricultural land is highly degraded, while a further 8 percent is moderately degraded.

“If we keep treating our soil the way we do, we will have to convert about 70 percent of the earth’s surface into agriculture to meet demand for food by 2050 (from about 40 percent now),” Crawford said.
Emerging nations are also embracing Western diets that include more consumption of meat, which will add further to the strain on agricultural resources.

Food security became a hot topic after record high grain prices in 2008 marked the start of a period of volatility.
Agricultural markets are still unstable, after near-record prices in 2012 prompted increased production, which led to surplus.



Upcoming Policy Seminar on Tackling Soil Health Problems in Africa South of the Sahara


by Sarah McMullan



Human health and soil health are related. Humans get nutrition from food; food gets nutrition from the soil. This linkage is critically important for food security and for the global food system. In much of Africa south of the Sahara, farmers are harvesting more nutrients from the soil than they are putting in. Both scientists and farmers lack information about soil types and missing soil nutrients.


Ethiopia is leading the way in tackling this pressing problem. Combining a variety of technologies with a rich collection of soil samples, soil specialists in Ethiopia are creating a digital soil map of the country. With the new soil map, the specialists will have the information needed to create fertilizer blends that target missing nutrients in specific locations and that are best suited for particular crops.

Join us as Professor Tekalign Mamo, the State Minister of Agriculture, and a panel of experts share Ethiopia’s experiences and discuss the relevance of this program for other countries in Africa south of the Sahara. The Policy Seminar will be held at IFPRI HQ in Washington, DC (Fourth Floor Conference Facility) on July 22, 2014 from 12:15 pm to 1:45 pm EST. To attend the event, please RSVP to Simone Hill-Lee (s.hill-lee@cgiar.org).

To join a live webcast of the event, click here to watch online. 

Maximo Torero, Division Director, Markets, Trade, and Institutions Division, IFPRI

Tekalign Mamo, State Minister of Agriculture, Government of Ethiopia

Joshua Woodard, Assistant Professor & Zaitz Family Faculty Fellow, Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, Cornell University

Shahid Rashid, Senior Research Fellow at IFPRI

Closing Remarks:
Shenggen Fan, Director General of IFPRI



French firm puts new face on Ethiopian wine

French firm puts new face on Ethiopian wine

Beyond the donkeys on a potholed road in southern Ethiopia, is an unexpected sight  — vineyards bursting with merlot, syrah and chardonnay grapes ripening in the African sun.

The scene is more reminiscent of France’s Beaujolais region than this corner of the Horn of the Africa, which for many still conjures images of famine, poverty and war.

“People outside Ethiopia may know of the drought 10 years ago,” Industry Minister Ahmed Abtew told AFP. “But when they see wine with ‘Made in Ethiopia’ on it, their mind automatically changes.”

The French beverage giant Castel, which bottled its first batch of Ethiopian wine this year, is helping change the way outsiders view the country. It is also boosting government hopes of attracting foreign investment, key to its plans to reach middle income status by 2025.

The country’s growth rates are already among the highest in Africa, hitting 11.2 percent last year according to the government, although the International Monetary Fund puts the figure at 8.2 percent.

For Castel, the ambition is merely to produce good wine, and Ethiopia is an ideal — if surprising — place to do that.

“We don’t find it difficult because the climate is good, it’s not too hot,” said Castel’s Ethiopia site manager Olivier Spillebout, at its vineyards in Ziway, 160 kilometres (100 miles) south of the capital Addis Ababa.

The sandy soil, short rainy season, cheap land and abundant labour were what drew the company’s billionaire president Pierre Castel. The company has been working in Africa for half a century, and in Ethiopia since 1998 when it purchased a state-owned brewery, St George.

But the late prime minister Meles Zenawi thought a vineyard would boost Ethiopia’s image abroad, and asked Castel if it would be interested. So in 2008 the firm spent $27 million (20 million euros) setting up Ethiopia’s first foreign-owned vineyard.

Castel aims to sell half of this year’s production of 1.2 million bottles on the domestic market, and half to Ethiopian diaspora communities in North America, Europe and elsewhere in eastern Africa.

But Spillebout has been startled by some surprise customers, including a Chinese buyer who snapped up 24,000 bottles.

“It’s a big surprise,” he said, standing amid rows of merlot vines.

China, however, is home to the largest number of wine drinkers in the world, and in recent years Chinese investors have bought scores of French vineyards as they have become significant players in the wine world.

In Ethiopia, a bottle of Castel wine sells for $10 dollars, and is of better quality than comparably priced imported wines from South Africa or Italy.

The bottle’s design echoes Ethiopian traditions, showing the bulbous carafe traditionally used to serve the still popular,  and potent, honey wine.

Even so Spillebout claims his wines are popular with drinkers of sweet and syrupy traditional wines, which are often served with raw meat, a local delicacy.

Ethiopia is hoping to emulate the growth of Asian nations that have focused on manufacturing to develop rapidly.

“Our vision is that Ethiopia will be a hub for labour-intensive, light industries in Africa,” Abtew said.

But exports have declined from $3.08 billion in 2013 to $2.6 billion in the past year, according to the trade ministry.

Despite its eagerness to attract foreign investment, the country is still losing out to more established African markets like Kenya and Nigeria.

The World Bank ranks Ethiopia 125th out of 189 on its Ease of Doing Business index, with bureaucracy, access to key infrastructure and investment protection rated poorly.

For now, the country is considered a long-term investment destination. Although cheap labour drawn from its population of 91 million, ready access to publicly owned lands and tax breaks make it attractive, investors should not expect a quick return.

Castel, for example, said it does not expect to earn profits from its Ethiopia vineyard until 2016, eight years after it set it up.

France’s ambassador to Ethiopia, Brigitte Collet, said “pioneers” like Castel could attract other investors.

“This important investment is also a very strong statement of confidence in the future of Ethiopia,” she said.

French companies have earned contracts worth €3.0 billion ($4.0 billion) in the last five years with 50 companies operating in the country today, up from 15 only a decade ago.

Castel’s main concern is keeping up with demand, having sold nearly a quarter of its first batch of wine since April, and said it plans to expand the vineyard to eventually boost production to three million bottles a year.

Though sales are modest today, Spillebout is not ruling out Ethiopia’s potential to become a premier wine-producer and exporter in Africa.

“Exports are small now, but year after year the sales will grow very quickly,” he said.



How to inspire a generation of farming entrepreneurs


–  A new report outlines how Africa’s youth can find employment in agriculture without getting their hands dirty

Emily Alpert in London

Guardian Professional, Friday 18 July 2014

Youth in Rosebank, a suburb in Johannesburg, South Africa

Many young people in Africa view agriculture as a deadend, but seeing the business potential could reap benefits.


When we talk about African development, there is a belief that its booming population can only equal crisis. By 2040, Africa‘s workforce could be one billion strong, so finding jobs for this young population should be at the forefront of government agenda. This challenge is coupled with Africa’s increasing demand for varied and nutritious foods.

The solution to both is obvious: build successful agribusinesses. These will not only provide food for Africa, but jobs and wealth for young entrepreneurs.

A new report from the Montpellier Panel sets out recommendations on exactly how this can be done. There is, however, a long way to go before this becomes a reality. Africa’s agricultural value chains are underdeveloped and in places non-existent.

One concrete way to strengthen an agribusiness value chain is to cater for new customers, according to the report. Fragmented producers or businesses can be brought together to combine their resources. Growth of national and regional trade for the urban retail sector should also be supported. Investments that aid these three processes will deliver a stronger environment for jobs and wealth to be created.

Young people still view agriculture as a dead-end career that entails life-long labour on a farm. However, it does not have to be this way. With the right investments to support entrepreneurs in agriculture, profitable careers could await Africa’s young population.

For example, take 27-year-old Senai Wolderfael. A business administration graduate, he spotted a gap in the market for exporting spice blends to Ethiopians living abroad in the US and Europe. Since he set up in 2012, demand for his products has increased, and he now exports to African markets. He has carved a successful career from agriculture – without a hand hoe in sight.

So how can development professionals help fledgling entrepreneurs in rural food production to become business people?

The first intervention that the report recommends is bridging gaps in education. This does not only mean better higher education programmes in agriculture, but also business training courses that equip young people with the skills to run small businesses.

Access to finance is also crucial. And should not stop at access to microfinance. The businesses that have outgrown microfinance, but are still not ready to receive help from mainstream banks, also require finance. They should be supported with their own tailored financial products that will help them grow to a size where they can bank with commercial banks.

Lenders should also to take into account the viability of the whole value chain in which an agricultural entrepreneur operates, sharing the risk among other actors and allowing borrowers to benefit from higher lending on better terms.

Finally, it is important to realise you cannot create an entrepreneur. But you can create the environment that will help them thrive. Governments and donors must invest in the institutions and infrastructure that support them. Economic policies and financial incentives must be put in place to inspire a generation of agriculture entrepreneurs.

Investment in the rural food sector can do more than produce food. It can produce jobs, wealth and robust livelihoods for a young continent that wants a challenge. Let’s show Africa’s youth that agriculture can turn a profit and be an attractive career.

Emily Alpert is the deputy director of Agriculture for Impact, which acts as the convener for the Montpellier Panel.

Read more stories like this:

Africa’s high youth unemployment: is population to blame?

From agribusiness to subsistence: high-tech tools now available to all

Will the $100 million Digital Jobs Africa project solve unemployment?



Mobile Money Continues to Penetrate Africa


VENTURES AFRICA – The GSM Association has released a state of the industry report under the umbrella of the Mobile Money for the Unbanked (MMU) programme. The report tracks the progress of the mobile money industry each year and provides historical context. This year’s report indicates some interesting information on the success of mobile money in Africa.

Globally, the industry is growing and expanding across more regions. At the beginning of 2014, nine markets already had more mobile money accounts than bank accounts compared to just four markets a year before. At the end of 2013, mobile money was available in most developing and emerging markets with the majority of services remaining in Sub‐Saharan Africa. In this region, mobile money is available in 36 out of the 47 countries that make up the region; this could be easily estimated at a 77 percent penetration.

Kenya is a household name as far as mobile money is concerned but the success of mobile money in Africa transcends Kenya. In Tanzania, for instance, 90 percent of the population had access to mobile financial services by September, 2013 all the way from 1 percent in 2008. 43 percent of the adult population was actively using the service in September, 2013. According to the report, the National Bank in Tanzania played a key role in working with mobile operators to expand mobile financial services.

Mobile Money has proven to be a veritable driver of Financial Inclusion in Africa as it extends access to payments and financial services beyond the reach of traditional financial institutions. As more mobile financial services develop, service providers will be able to deepen financial inclusion by offering financial services beyond mobile money transfer and payment. Such emerging mobile financial services include mobile insurance, mobile credit and savings.



Ethiopia’s India connect grows: A Dreamliner named Taj Mahal


In what is being seen as a recognition of the heavy traffic generated on its routes to the Indian subcontinent, the flagship carrier of the East African nation of Ethiopia has named its newest Boeing 787 Dreamliner after India’s most famous monument.

The Ethiopian Airlines (ET) has named its eighth 787 Dreamliner after the Taj Mahal, Mughal emperor Shah Jahan’s monument of love to his wife. This is the first time that the airline has named an aircraft of its Dreamliner fleet after a historical or heritage site outside of Africa.

To meet the demand from the Indian market, Ethiopian Airlines has decided to operate big-bodied aircraft connecting this Ethiopian capital. Officials said the airline has already deployed the 787 Dreamliner and is exploring new direct destinations in India.

More than 13 million people travel out of India every year. Hence, with its large African network, ET hopes that it will be in a position to benefit from the heavy tourism business from India and the large number of those travelling across the region.

Ethiopian, which currently flies daily to New Delhi and twice daily to Mumbai, is also looking at other Indian destinations like Bangalore, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram.

It also has a code sharing agreement with Air India and is set to start services to the south Indian city of Chennai, which it considers to be a gateway to a larger market.

ET has named its previous seven Boeing 787s as Africa First, Lucy, Queen of Sheba, Lake Tana, Walia Ibex and Serengeti, all Ethiopian and African sites.

“In doing so we are heralding the renaissance of Africa globally and we will continue promoting iconic international figures found in the destinations we serve,” the ET official said.

“This will also strengthen our already established relations with India as we have an increasing number of Indian travellers.”

“As a pan African airline, ET is reflecting the global vision and scope of its services through such a naming,” an official from ET told IANS. “This is to also show ET’s commitment to recognise the world’s famous places by carrying their names globally,” he added.

ET is the first African carrier to put Boeing’s new state-of-the-art airplane into regular service in Africa. The first arrived last December and Ethiopian has nine more on order. This comes as Ethiopian becomes the 26th member of the Star Alliance, the world’s largest airline alliance.



Ethiopia wins award for making tourism major income source

Ethiopia received an international award for making tourism resources a major source of income.

Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, on a panel discussion kicked off earlier today, declared that Ethiopia will carry on with its efforts to make use of its tourism resource.

Secretary General of World Tourism Organization Dr. Taleb Rifai for his part said Ethiopia’s exertion in the tourism sector is exemplary one.

According to the premier, the government has given due attention to tourism sector to make it a major source of income, and tremendous improvements have been registered after the establishment of Tourism Transformation Council which allowed the country expand and strengthen tourism destinations.

Dr. Talib Rifai has able to witness Gonder, Lallibela, Aksum, Najid Mosque and more sites during his five-day visit in Ethiopia.

He said Ethiopia has able to won an international award for its strenuous activities – using tourism as source of income.



UNWTO Pledges to Support Ethiopia’s Tourism Industry


Lalibela UNESCO


Addis Ababa, Ethiopia – The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) said it would continue supporting Ethiopia in promoting its tourist destinations.

UNWTO Secretary General, Dr. Taleb Raifi, stated that the organization will help protect heritages, expand tourism infrastructures, develop products, and establish multi- tourism organizations.

The Secretary General noted that as Ethiopia is a museum of mankind his organization has practical plans to work jointly in introducing Ethiopia’s historic, religious and natural attractions.

State Minister of Culture and Tourism, Tadelech Dalecho, on her part said the talks she had with Dr. Raifi was fruitful and would help create capacity.

She added that UNWTO is helping Ethiopia in publicizing its tourist attractions and the development of facilities such as hotels and tour operators.



Upstream States to incorporate CFA into laws


Ambassadors of Nile upstream states said their countries will incorporate the Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA) into their respective laws.

Ambassadors of Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda residing in Ethiopia disclosed that they will ratify the agreement as their domestic law since it has an indispensible role in bringing the overall development of their respective nations.

Uganda’s Ambassador to Ethiopia, Mull Sebujja Katende, stated that the CFA signed in Entebbe before five years is a historic agreement that irreversibly corrects the age-long unjust utilization of the Nile River.

According to the ambassador, the legislative organ will incorporate CFA as part of Uganda’s law since the framework is a key tool to ensuring the country’s socio-economic benefits.

Katende said the agreement, in addition to enabling all the Nile riparian countries to utilize the river fairly and equally, will permit to undertake conservation activities around the river.

Burundi’s ambassador to Ethiopia, Alain Aime Nyamitwe, recalled that his country signed the CFA two years ago and the agreement would bring economic and social benefits to Burundi.

Rwanda’s Ambassador to Ethiopia, Professor Nsengimana Joseph, said his country is the second upper riparian country to sign CFA after Ethiopia and pointed out that the agreement will have huge importance to improving the livelihood of the inhabitants of the riparian countries.

The ambassador, who noted Ethiopia to become the leading country in implementing the agreement, said the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam will in particular be the major source of electricity to neighboring countries.

Professor Joseph underscored that those who oppose the agreement and the construction of the GERD are only the countries that have been utilizing the Nile River alone. He added that the other riparian countries will also undertake different constructions on the River.



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