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Quality Seeds Conundrum


Gemechu Iddo, 44, a father of four, and two hired hands were busy on Wednesday, December 4, mowing his teff harvest from his 0.75ha of land. Fearing that the rains would come, they were rushing to be done with the job before sunset. They had already been at it since the day before, and if the moon shone, they would go on through the night.

He sowed Kuncho, an improved teff variety, and he was happily expecting to harvest about 10qts, so much more than the four quintals he was used to. He had ran into difficulty getting the seeds for this harvest, though.

He had placed his order with the Development Agent (DA) which supervises the farmers in his village, Keta Weregenu, in Bishoftu (Debre Zeit), and provides them with professional support. As the sowing season approached, however, he had still not received the seeds, despite visits to the Wereda Agriculture Bureau and the Farmers Union office.

Finally, he heard from the neighboring kebeles that the seeds were rationed to farmers by theUnion. Only one person from his village was able to get 15kgs of Kuncho seed. Gemechu went to a nearby village, where he bought 50kgs of the seed he wanted for 900Br.

“I have nothing to worry about; I will have a year’s supply of food for my family,” he says wiping the sweat from his face.

On the other side, Sisay Tefera, a father of three, a neighbor of Gemechu, has never used an improved seed on his land.

“I am not a member of the Farmers Union and I have no chance of getting the seeds at the discounted price,” he claims.

Even though Sisay does not have the opportunity to obtain the improved seeds, he goes to the local market to buy the seeds from the farmers who have already sowed the seeds at least three times.  “I do this because the price is cheaper,” he says.

There are many reasons given for the shortage in the supply of the improved seeds by both the Wereda Agriculture Bureau and the Farmers Union offices.

The Ade’a Wereda Agriculture Office says the seed demand is gathered from individual farmers by the DAS, and then submitted to the union, requesting the total amount of seeds, of each of the various types, for the coming farming season.

However, the farmers are not informed of the price and time of delivery of the seeds. The farmers are unwilling to receive the delivery, if there is any increment in the price, according to Belaynesh Demeke, head of the Seed Department at the Office.

“This year, the price of the improved wheat seed such as Fabel and Kekeba was more expensive than the traditional wheat seeds in the market and the farmers chose to buy from the market,” says Belaynesh.

But she claims that there is no shortage of seeds.

In addition to the price increment, when the farmers notice that there will be a change in the weather condition, they alter the type of seed they requested and demand another one, according to her.

The union also agrees that problems occur because of the price increment; however, they also acknowledge that some farmers lack awareness of the improved seeds, especially of the new seeds.

“Whenever there is a new kind of improved seed, the farmers have to be informed and given training. That is the major reason for complaints over the distribution of the seeds,” says Yifru Moges, the board chairman of Erer Farmer’s Association Union.

“We have returned different kinds of seeds that the farmers did not take,” he says.

Nevertheless, according to the data from the Wereda office, the Erer Union had requested the Oromia Regional Agricultural Bureau for 1675.2ql of teff seed, but it had been given only 116ql, 6.9pc out of the total demand. It also obtained 2,031ql of wheat seed, although it had requested 6,943.2ql, but still the farmers had taken only 410ql.

The Federal Agricultural Inputs Supply Enterprise (AISE), however, has supplied the region with 25,574ql of teff seed, or 84.2pc of the 26,487ql that had been requested.

The AISE collects the demand for improved seeds from all regions and organises the seed suppliers for delivery. In 2011/12, it had managed to supply 1,105,782ql  or 74.3pc of the total demand of 1,487,726ql of different kinds of improved seeds. Nearly half of this amount went to the Oromia Region, which received 540,450ql, although its demand was 614,495ql.

According to a 2011 study by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and Ethiopian Development Research Institute (EDRI), the low adoption rates and shortfalls in the supply of improved cultivars can be partly attributed to bottlenecks in the structure of the seed industry and the regulatory agencies that oversee it.

“The problem is not the shortage of seeds, but the assessment techniques of the demand,” says Yebega Eshet Legesse, agricultural inputs market, supply & distribution expert at the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA).

“The estimation from different levels of agricultural offices also needs to be considered. The farmers are the ones who receive the seeds and they have to be consulted during distribution; they need to understand why the change in seed is needed.”

Another expert in crop production points his fingers at poor administration practices and lack of coordination.

The Ethiopian Seed Enterprise, too, feels the problem.

“We could not get the real demand of the farmers,” says Tafese Gebru (PhD), head of theEnterprise. “Sometimes we are requested higher than the demand and at other times lower. It is a major challenge we are facing currently.”

The Ethiopian Seed Enterprise (ESE), formerly known by the name 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.

The ESE has 6,000ha of land in different places across the country, where it produces cereals, beans, oil seeds and vegetable seeds. It also has branches in different regions.

“We have no stock shortage and no delivery problems,” says Tafese.

The Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA) thinks the shortage could be as a result of shortage of transportation, lack of logistics and inaccuracy in assessing the demand, according to Khalid Bomba, CEO of the ATA.

While easy access and availability of seeds has the potential to greatly improve smallholder productivity, there is currently a substantial gap between the country’s production of commercial seeds and farmers’ demand, knowledge, access and usage of these seeds, according to a study by the ATA.

Though he is tired, Gemechu is happy gathering his Teff on Wednesday evening. He expects that the improved seed will provide a much larger harvest than last year.

A study on seed system potential in Ethiopia entitled, “Constraints and Opportunities for Enhancing the Seed Sector” by Dawit Alemu, manager of a Farmers Research Group (FRG) project, also describes that the public sector faces inconsistent and inaccurate demand planning; productivity gaps and financial constraints in contract grower schemes; misalignment of processing and delivery with major seed producing areas; poorly managed capacity; inflexibility of the distribution model in terms of providing farmers with choices and information.

The private sector also faces shortages of basic seed for private seed growers; public intervention in all commercial aspects of the seed delivery chain prevents private companies from charging competitive prices or distributing through channels other than the government.

The business and regulatory environment does not prioritise seed business in terms of resource allocation and insufficient support and start up funding for young seed companies is also a hindrance, according to the Study.

But for Gemechu, the shortage is not the only problem. At times he also gets poor quality seeds.

He first got Kuncho in 2010/11 from theUnion; he followed the advice of the DA during the sowing and subsequent care of the crop. But when it came time to harvest, his farm was full of weed, and he got only two quintals of teff.

“I was suspicious when I received the seed which had different colors mixed to it. I should not have used it,” he said with regret. “It was a bad year for the family.”

This year, Gemechu decided not to use the same seed on the land and sow another crop.

The Wereda Agriculture Office admits to the possibility of such problems. Sometimes the seeds are mixed with different seeds and weeds, says Belaynesh.

“In 2009/10, the weed that was mixed with wheat affected the crop and the farmers got low crop production,” she says.

During these damages, farmers were not compensated and suppliers were not held accountable, both Gemechu and Belaynesh confirmed.

“This is a frequent incident,” says an official in the MoA.

Agriculture is a core driver ofEthiopia’s economy, supporting 85pc of the population’s livelihoods, and accounting for 43pc of gross domestic product (GDP), and 80pc of export value in 2011/12 fiscal year.

According to the Central Statistics Authority (CSA), the total area covered by the crops in the year 2011/12 was 12.1 million hectares and the total area covered by improved seeds during the same year was 430,937ha, which is only 3.5pc.

Another study also indicates thatEthiopia’s current seed certification system is not functioning as expected, with an immense gap between the “rules on paper” and “practice in the field.” Although most seeds sold to farmers are “certified”, most seed production plots are visited less often than the current regulations stipulate and certification tags are rarely attached to seeds bags in the presence of certifying agents.

“The problem is not lack of regulations but lack of awareness and putting it in practice,” says Daniel Mekonen, Variety Registration & Seed Quality Control expert at the MoA.

Some cases have been presented to court because of problems related to seed quality, according to Daniel, but they were not paid a lot of attention.

A new bill currently under discussion by the Agricultural Affairs Standing Committee of the House of Peoples’ Representatives, could remedy the situation.

The Bill states that any person supplying seeds to the market that have not been registered and undergone quality control, or which do not meet the applicable Ethiopian Seed Standards, shall be guilty of an offence and be punishable with five to 10 years imprisonment and a fine ranging from 50,000 Br to 100,000Br.




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