By FASIKA TADESSE
FORTUNE STAFF WRITER
He has been ploughing on his four qert, equivalent to one-hectare of land for the past 34 years, but he started using improved seed since 2005.
He sowed Kuncho, an improved teff variety, BH-660, an improved maize variety and Guna, an improved wheat variety. He is happy with the production yield he gets from the improved seeds. Despite that, he is always disheartened by the difficulty in the process he runs into when acquiring the seeds.
To get the seeds, he follows the procedure that is commonly practiced by all farmers across the country. Development Agents (DAs) take note of the type and quantity of improved seeds each farmer needs, an information which eventually reaches the seed enterprises. And when the seeds come, they will be distributed through the cooperatives.
Yaregal gets the seeds he needs for each season from Raqat Farmers Cooperative, one of the 160 cooperatives which get improved seed supply from Merkeb Union. Merkeb distributes the seeds for the cooperatives, which is sourced from Amhara Seed Enterprise, based on a quota set by the regional agriculture bureau. And that quota does not fulfil the farmers’ need.
During the last seeding season, Yaregal was only able to get a bag of maize seed which weighed 12.5Kgs and cost 500Br, which he had to share with three other farmers.
“The whole bag should only be used for 0.5ha of land,” said Yaregal.
These farmers had to buy three more bags from private seed producers for 600 Br each.
According to some data only eight percent of farmers in Ethiopia are using improved seed.
With a population of over 90 million people, Ethiopia is an agrarian country. Agriculture accounts for 46.6pc of gross domestic product (GDP) and 90pc of exports but the sector is not well developed mainly caused of limited use of improved seeds, fertilizers and pesticides, and less crop yields, according to a 2013 report from Feed the Future, a global hunger and food security initiative of the United States government.
Farmers using improved seeds could see substantial increases, over 60pc in maize production, while wheat and other self-pollinating crop varieties could increase by 30pc. Overall, there is potential for an increase of seven million tonnes per year, according to data from the Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA).
To improve the use of improved seeds, MoA has a responsible body led by Agricultural Input Supply Director, which oversees the distribution of Agricultural inputs for farmers such as Yaregal. The Ministry works on development and distribution of the improved seeds with universities, research institutes, Ethiopian Seed Enterprise (ESE) and three regional seed enterprises in Amhara, Southern Nation, Nationalities & People Region (SNNPR) and Oromia Regions. The enterprises distributes the seeds along with the universities and research institutes produced for the unions who distribute it to the farmers through cooperatives.
The ESE, formerly known as the Ethiopian Seed Corporation, was established in 1978 to produce and distribute improved varieties of seeds under the Ministry of State Farms. Currently, it is accountable to the MoA. It was joined by the three regional enterprises four years back. Tigray Region is also working on the establishment of its own enterprise that is expected to join the others soon.
Since 1980, the MoA registered a total of 907 improved crop varieties, of which 332 are cereals, 179 pulses, 82 oil seeds, 172 varieties of tubers, roots and vegetables, 36 varieties of fruits, 27 medicine condiment plants, 20 variety of forage & pasture, 23 fibre crops, and 36 stimulant varieties. But not all of them are distributed for the farmers as some of the varieties are obsolete because of productivity decline and diseases, according to a data from the MoA.
For the improved seeds, the Ministry provided three types of seeds for the seed enterprises and independent seed producers. Breeder, Pre Basic and Basic Seeds are the types and processes of seeds until the certified seeds are produced by government and private seed producers to distribute to household farmers, according to Endale Gudeta, higher expert on seeds at the MoA.
Before reaching the hands of Yaregal, the improved seeds pass through a process that starts at the MoA, them goes to seed enterprises, then to unions and cooperatives, having an average price range of 1,450 Br for maize, 767 Br for wheat, 802 Br for barley and 1,188 Br for teff. These seeds are also categorized into two, cycle one (C1) and cycle two (C2). C1 is a seed directly from the seed enterprises or private seed producers, which can be used for three consecutive seeding seasons while C2 is a seed collected from a farm harvested with certified seed sand can be sowed for two years in row.
“But informally, the farmers use C3 seeds, which is not advisable by the Ministry,” said Endale.
Edossa Dadi, a farmer, from Ambo, in West Shoa zone of Oromia is one of the farmers who faces a problem of getting the seed variety he wants. He ordered Huluqa variety wheat seed through the DAs, but he was told he cannot get the variety from the stating that they do not have it and recommend to him that he change to another variety of seed, which he did not want to consider as an option.
“I will buy C2 or C3 seed of Huluqa variety from other farmers,” he told Fortune.
Unlike Edossa, who prefers to buy deteriorated seed following shortage of improved seed, some farmers like Sisay Meshesha, from Bokoji Limu and Bilbilo Wereda have formed an association that is named Limu Dima Improved Seed Producers Cooperative to avoid the problem by preparing seeds themselves. But they cannot fully escape from the problem as they are currently facing problems in getting basic seeds to produce certified seeds, according to Sisay.
Contrary to the farmers’ complaints of the inaccessibility of improved seeds, the amount of seed, which is left over from distribution, has been increasing significantly during the last four years. The amount of seed that was not distributed to the farmers in 2010/11 fiscal year was 270,476ql but it had increased to 378,216ql the following year. The amount went even higher in 2012/13 to 759,454ql but slightly declined to 549,474ql during the last fiscal year.
At the same time, the demand and supply of the seeds equally increased in the same years the left over seed sum increased. In 2010/11 the supply of improved seeds increased considerably from half a million quintals to 1.2 million quintals, after 10 years of stagnation.
The officials of the MoA give three main reasons for the increasing amount of left over seed, including farmers’ preferences, which are always changing, unexpected weather change occurring before the seeds are distributed to farmers, which forces them to sow normal seeds, and late delivery of seeds by farmers who grow improve seeds under contracts from the seed enterprises; these farmers, called out-growers, are paid 15pc premium by the enterprise.
“Our main challenges are the out-growers who deliver the seeds too late for the seeding season, leading to accumulation of stock for the next seeding season,” Endale said.
Every year before entering of the seeding season Development Agents, those are assigned to assist farmers, collect the amount and type of seeds the farmers’ want and send it to the seed enterprises who prepare the seeds.
Tadesse Dessalegne (PhD), technical coordinator of East African Agricultural Products, a research institute established by Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda for Regional Centre of Excellence, cited poor demand assessment made by seed producers, to identify which type of seed is needed in which areas, is the major reason for the increasing amount of left over seed.
“Many varieties of seeds that are produced at the enterprises are demanded less by the farmers,” he said.
Merkeb Union was forced to store 14,400ql of improved seed until the coming seeding harvest season because of the above problems. It had prepared 25,000ql of seed to distribute to the farmers in the last fiscal year but it only managed to sell only 10,600ql. That led them to planning to sell the remaining seed for the coming harvest seeding season by reducing the amount of new supply they were going to receive, according to Migebaru Wube, general manager of Merkeb.
“The main reason for the left over seed is the distribution system,” according to Amsalu Ayano (PhD) director of Integrated Seed System Development (ISSD) Ethiopia, a project aimed to increase the use of improved seeds in Ethiopia with the financial support from the government of Netherlands and launched a pilot project which works on linking seed producers directly with farmers since 2011.
Cooperatives are less interested in selling the seeds as they are not getting good incentives from the government because they are service oriented and discouraged not to have a good marketing strategy to increase the number of farmers who use improved seeds, according to Amsalu.
Less than eight percent of farmers use improved seed in Ethiopia, according to a grain report by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) released in 2013. Even though the MoA claims the percentage of improved seed users reached 20pc stating the supply has been increasing by 15pc every year in line with the GTP.
The MoA projected to distribute 3.6 million quintals of improved seed in the 2014/15 seeding season while it has received a demand of 2.2 million quintals from regions, which declined by 0.5 million quintal from the previous year demand caused by the amount of unsold stored seeds at the seed enterprises, according to Endale.
As of September 2014, a total of 487,472ql of improved seed was distributed by the four seed enterprises and private seed producers. From the total amount, the highest sum went to Oromia, amounting to 171,154ql, Amhara got the second highest amount with 165,590ql, and Southern region got 126,864ql and Tigray got the smallest amount of improved seeds totalling 23,862ql.
From the main cereals improved seed varieties distributed in 2013/14, wheat holds the lion’s share with 1.5 million quintals, followed by barley having 284,000ql share, maize comes next with 249,000ql, and teff stands last with 226,000ql. During the last cultivation season, the country cultivated 12 million hectares of land with major crops with the expectation of obtaining 300 million quintals of yield, according to a data from the Central Statistics Agency (CSA) of Ethiopia.
On average, national yields of the main cereals, such as maize, wheat, barley and sorghum have increased at a faster pace, but still remains 45pc short of the global average.
Sisay feels a sort of frustration while he looks toward the coming seeding season. Members of their cooperative increased after non-member farmers realised members of the cooperatives are benefiting from the improved seed; so 100 additional farmers joined them in the last year, pushing their number of members to 200.
“We were highly challenged to meet the demand of improved seeds for the first 100 members, and I don’t think it will be easy for us to satisfy the new demand from the new members,” said Sisay.
For Amsalu, to avoid the challenges of those frustrated like Sisay and to decrease the left over seed at the cooperatives, the government should encourage the seed producers to sell their products directly to the farmers rather than selling through the cooperatives.
In addition, the MoA should encourage more business oriented private seed producers who can motivate the farmers to use seeds that the private seed producers sell. Furthermore, the government should conduct demand assessment researches to explore the actual demand for varieties receiving a demand aggregate date collected by the DAs, suggests Amsalu.