Quality seeds for quicker food sufficiency


The Ethiopian government is working hard to boost the country’s economy, especially in the agriculture, manufacturing, service and mining sectors. To boost the agricultural sector and tackle the problem of food shortage, the government has  vastly expanded the country’s agricultural production in the last few years. In the  second year of the five-year long Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP), the federal government has set up the Agricultural Transformation Authority (ATA), an office that is directly led by the Prime Minister’s Office, to deal with the problems in the agriculture sector that have persisted for the past several decades. The ATA aims to meet the goal of being able to feed the entire country by 2015. To this end, relevant regional, federal and international organizations are working with ATA.
Mohammed Awel, 70, was engaged in the hotel and restaurant business before he began investing full time in the agriculture sector two decades ago.
“I went into this business following a visit to the US,” Mohammed said. “At the beginning of the year1990, I travelled to the US to visit my children who lived there,” he said. “On that occasion I met an American who was surprised when she found out I was from Ethiopia. She said she did not know that there were
people who looked like me in Ethiopia,” he remembered.
“To the outside world our country is mostly known for the drought and hunger we suffer; and after my conversation with the American lady, I decided to play my part in solving the problems in my country. That is the main reason for my involvement in this sector,” Mohammed explained.
Currently, Mohammed and his family are cultivating land to yield agricultural produce on over 1000 hectares of land 194km west of Addis Ababa, in Ashenge Wereda, Gurage Zone, Southern Nation and Nationality Peoples (SNNP) region.        
Mohammed is also one of the stakeholders that came from the private sector to work with the government on food security. He said that, in the last 20 years, he worked with the SNNP Seed Enterprise to reproduce maize seed scientifically known as BH540. “I have been reproducing this valuable seed for the regional enterprises that distribute to the farmers of the region,” he said.
Mera Mohammed, Agriculture Bureau head  of the Gurage Zone, said that Mohammed Awel, Borer and Sofia Umer farms are working on seed development to boost the agricultural sector based on this strategy. “The BH540 maize seed is one of the main seeds used to increase yield,” he stated.  Previously, hybrid seed was not easily available and in the past decade we could not meet the farmers’ demand,” the agricultural office head said.
To solve the problem, the regional government has formed seed enterprises to create the conditions to fill the gap. Currently, the enterprise is working together with private investors to reproduce the seeds to supply farmers in the region.
Mera said that the contribution of Mohammed and his family is high in relation to the reproducing of seed. “They are now supplying, not only our zone, but also providing 80 percent of the seed for the region. No other company is producing this volume of maize seed in the country.  The BH540 is mostly reproduced  with the collaboration of the governmental agriculture centre,” the agricultural office head said.
“We provide support to farmers to allow them to maintain the quality of the seed because it is sensitive and we also organize regional and zone-based farmers’ day to promote the seed to farmers,” Mera explained. The region has also constructed a12km road that connects the farms to the main road; this was also part of the government’s support.
“The regional administration is also facilitating finance without interest for the reproduction, since the seed reproducing process needs huge investment,” he added.
“Last year we undertook BH540 seed reproduction on 450 hectares of land, but during this harvest season we expanded it to 790 hectares,” said Umer Mohammed, son of Mohammed, who manages 225 hectares of farmland with his partner Elias Kedir alongside his father’s farm; both of them are from the Diaspora community in the US.
The two partner farms are expected to produce 5625 quintals of BH540 seed this harvest season. According to experts this will be distributed to 28,125 farmers and will provide over 1.556 million quintals of grain for the farmers in the coming harvest season.
The zone agriculture office head said that BH540 is more difficult to cultivate than other maize seed types. The yield is low when reproduced, he said. From grain reproduction they can get up to 80 quintals/hectare, compared with seed reproduction where the maximum yield is 15 quintals/hectare.
According to Umer, in the last harvest season Borer and his family farms have multiplied 19.5 quintal/ hectare.
The seeds reproduced on Mohammed’s and his family’s farm is one of high quality that have been distributed in the past years. According to farm experts and regional officials the yield from the BH540 seed is quite good and  that farm owners charge a higher price for their supply. They say that price increases in things like daily labour and fertilizer are forcing the hands of seed reproducers.
“Two weeks ago we discussed and came to terms with regional officials at the latest farmers’ day, which was held at Mohammed’s and his family’s farm, to make price adjustments,” the regional official said. The regional enterprise is the entity that makes price adjustments along with a board led by regional agriculture office heads. “We expect that they will get a new price adjustment. While there are other farms that reproduce teff and wheat seeds in the region, this is the only company that supplies maize seed to the region,” Mera said.
This seed can be harvested within a short period and it can survive drought.Due to that, it is in higher demand than other maize seeds, especially in lowland areas; and demand is still not satisfied although the seed reproducing companies have expanded their reproduction capacity in the past two years.
According to Idris Mohammed, technical adviser of the farm, “BH540 is the most successful seed that provides excellent yield, therefore, it ishuge demand.” “This harvest season we expect to yield up to 30quintal/ hectare from this farm,” Umer added. He explained that this will be a record, not only for their farm, but for other research centres. 
According to regional farm experts, 1110 hectares are covered by BH540 regionally, while Borer and Mohammed farms take up 790 hectares. To expand seed reproduction, these private farms have requested more land from the regional and zone office.
According to Umer, the three farms (Mohammed Awel, Sofia Umer, and Borer Farms) supplied 8400 quintals in the last harvest season. “Based on last year’s supply, we covered 60 percent of the total BH540 supply in the region, but in this harvest season our supply will grow up to 90 percent because this year’s harvest is very good and we have also expanded the cultivation coverage compared to the previous year,” he added.
“The seed can yield about 80 quintals of grain for farmers; this is the leading high yield maize seed,” he added. Paper, grain, maize, pea beans and haricot beans are the other products that the three farms produced in the field in the last years.
“We want to get involved in researching and multiply our own seeds in the future to supply sufficient and quality products not only for the Southern region but throughout the country,” said Umer, who moved from the US six years ago to his motherland to become involved in different investments. “For such huge investments, including forming research centres like other private companies in the developed countries, we are awaiting for a license to be issued by the government. It is not yet allowed in Ethiopia,” he added.
“Currently, we want an additional 350 hectares of land to work effectively on seed multiplication to meet the demand,” Umer added.
“Currently, the regional seed enterprise pays 1,350 birr per quintal but it is insufficient to cover our cost, due to that we have requested a price adjustment from the regional office, before we go  back to grain production because it is more profitable than seed supply right now,” Mohamed explained.
According to experts, other regional seed enterprises are paid about 2,000 birr per quintal for similar seed product. Umer is also insisting that his region revise the price it is willing to pay so as to keep the quality and quantity of the product that the farms need.
However, Umer says, “they in fact, give us different support including credit facilitation without interest and a technical advice.”
“There were about ten companies that supply similar seed but most of them are now producing other grains because the price is not attractive when compared with grain production,” an agricultural expert at Gurage Zone explained. “In addition to that, seed multiplication is more labor intensive than grain cultivation,” he said.