14 November 2012

Ethiopia: What It Takes to Raise Farm Yield

In the face of increasing population and the existing food crisis improving agricultural productivity has no other alternative. This also implies increasing farmers' incomes.

Consequently, today agricultural productivity has been an essential tool to achieve food and nutritional security as well as to increase prosperity. This will be more true for most African countries where their economic background is highly dependent on the sector.

Hence, increasing productivity of the agricultural sector is highly recognized as the only solution to overcome poverty. Towards that end, the government of Ethiopia has been pursuing the agricultural-led industrialization development strategy. Based on this strategy the government is working to make the country a medium income earning nations in the coming 10-15 years. Obviously, productivity will not be achieved without active participation of the agricultural research institutions. The Debre Zeit Institute of Agricultural Research is one of the institutions working to realize this reality.

Institute's Director General Dr. Asnake Fikire told the Ethiopian Herald recently that intensification of agricultural technology and provision of innovative options have been improving the agricultural productivity of those farmers who are using the technology. However, limited market chain is hindering farmers from exploiting the best out of the sector.

During the recently held field visit to Minijar-Shenkora district of North Shewa zone of Amhara State and Lome and Adaa districts of Oromia State, almost most farmers' land is covered by the agricultural outputs provided by the institute . As a result, the lives of many farmers are significantly improving, the Director General said.

As this reporter managed to personally observe, the agricultural harvests of visited districts is highly promising. From Modjo to Minjar one can see farm fields with varieties of crops with promising yield. Tef and wheat are the dominant crops in the area.

According to the Director, since the last 40 years the Institute has been carrying out research activities based on identified challenges that farmers faced.

A number of research activities on crop, livestock, soil and water, forestry horticulture and others have been carried-out with the main aim of addressing major challenges being faced by farmers. Most of the technologies the institute provided for farmers are bringing significant impacts on productivity.

Dr. Asnake indicated that as a result of the institute has been particularly focusing researches on improving productivity of Teff, Durum wheat, chickpea and Lentil. As a result farmers have managed to increase agricultural production which in turn can contribute to fill local market gaps. As a result of the provision of alternative and appropriate technologies , productivity is increasing from time to time. For instance, while the national average yield of chickpea is 17 quintal/hectare in the Eastern Shoa area where they get the support of the research centre, yield has reached 22 quintals /hectare . Likewise, the yield of lentil has increased from 12 to 15 quintals per hectare while that of teff increased from 12 to 14 quintals per hectare. According to Dr. Asnake, as a result of effective technology intervention average productivity in the district is higher than that of the zonal level. Most of the farmers are also making wealth by improving productivity using the technology As Dr. Asnake indicated, farmers are both beneficiaries of research outputs and partners of the institute in disseminating technologies. It is based on farmers' interest that the institute introduces alternative technologies. Farmers are also sources of information and feed back for the institute. One of the main objective of the field visit was, therefore, to show technology options and the institute's holistic research approach in enhancing productivity of the agricultural sector.

Apart from the crops, the institute has also been providing technology options to farmers on livestock, and poultry sub-sector with significant changes have been achieved at household level. Dairy, animal nutrition and forage, small ruminant, horticulture, forestry and soil and water conservation are also the other research areas the institute is working on.

Durum wheat is one of the crop varieties that the Institute is highly optimistic to promote says Dr. Asnake. Durum is also one of nation's best known wheat varieties for its wise range values. This crop is highly demanded for industry purposes mainly to produce spaghetti, macaroni and other foodstuffs. However, although more than ten varieties of durum are locally growing, local industries are still importing durum to satisfy the need.

Therefore, the Director urged all food processing industries to purchase locally produced quality durum wheat instead of importing; by so doing they will also contribute to the improvement of the livelihood of farmers and the economic development of the country. According to him, limited market chains is hindering farmers from pushing forward to exploit the best out of the sector. "One of the aim of organizing the field day is to strengthen market chains between farmers and the industry sector. If there is well established market network available, farmers would be encouraged to produced more harvest", he added.

Farmers are already organized in the form of cooperatives to be able to provide their products to the industry sector. Thus, issue of Durum wheat is among the topics that requires more policy attention and it has to be seen from the perspective of exploiting local resources effectively and promoting value adding as a development strategy. Usually, farmers must have a market for what they produce. Moreover, producing and then looking for a market is not the best path to growth.

Producers must adjust their producs in accordance with consumers need. Value chains, which link consumer demand back to the farmer, are arguably the best way for smallholder farmers to become integrated in modern markets and to increase productivity. This because adding value can benefit all the links in the chain including farmers. It will also boost the incomes of millions of smallholder farmers, raises living standards and thus build people's capabilities and knowledge. Hence, due attention is needed to look carefully at the economic and food potential of this crop, the Director added.

On the other hand, farmers in the visited areas have organized themselves with different seeds corridors. Currently, they are producing quality seeds that are legally certified. Their production capacity has already reached 50,000 to 70,000 qunitals . However, since the last six years they are still operating in traditional manners for they lack the capacity to get access to improved seeds. Lack of appropriate storage and packaging facility is among major challenges of these farmers.

According to Dr. Asnake, the national policy has no space for these farmers' cooperatives while allocating budget for the agricultural sector. However, socio-economic impacts of these cooperatives is huge particularly in supplying varieties of seeds . Thus, the field day was aimed at promoting the role of these cooperatives as sources of seeds for farmers as demand for improved seeds is highly increasing every year. Therefore, paying appropriate policy attention to the seed producing farmers would help satisfy an increasing demand for seed and also enhance productivity.

The Director stressed the need for policy support and strong market chains in order to sustain effective extension systems and improved practices for processing, storing and transporting agricultural products including wheat in a modernized manner. This is because an increasing agricultural productivity calls for broader policy and strategic frame-works that encompass agro-industrial and agribusiness services along with farming.

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