Filling pockets and stomachs


A five year program to improve the nutrition and commercial viability of smallholders by improving the performance of the entire value chains was launched in Ethiopia. The program called Feed the Future Ethiopia Value Chain Activity is aimed at eliminating extreme poverty by developing value chains across the agriculture sector.

Over the course of the next five years, USAID’s activity will work with stakeholders to improve the production, processing and marketing of maize, chickpeas, coffee, livestock, dairy, and poultry. The activity will operate in Amhara; Oromia; Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples; and Tigray Regional States that are included within the Agricultural Growth Program areas.

Capital spoke to Dr. Teshome Walle Agricultural Transformation Agency, agriculture commercialization Cluster Senior Director about the new program and what it will mean for the agriculture sector.


Capital: Tell us about the newly launched Ethiopia Value Chain Activity?

Teshome: The program is supported by USAID and it mainly focuses on value added chains on six agricultural commodities; corn, chickpea, coffee, milk, meat and livestock. These are very key commodity for the country. If you look at corn for example, round 9 million farmers produce it, out of the 15 million farmers, which is a significant segment.

Around 28 percent of food production is also corn, but we are not focusing on end to end production. We mainly just focus on production without looking at the market so whenever there is a surplus in production, the market falls, which is not the way it should be. It should grow in both sections, we need to be able to add value to it and we need to be able to employ more people by growing the market.

So that is what the five year program aims to do, it focuses on value chain and will be implemented and we believe it will bring more opportunities.

Capital: Once the program becomes implemented, how will you be monitoring the progress?teshome-walle-dr

Teshome: When the project is planned, it has put in place its own target of how far it will reach within the five years; how many farmers will be involved, how much their income will increase and so on. Other than that, the way a value chain works is that it will involve different stakeholders; there is research, extension work, and input supply and so on.

All of these things come together to create the value chain and there is such a thing called value chain alliance which is a process that examines if things are progressing accordingly or if there is a gap within the value chain. This is how developed countries have progressed.

Then we can move on to agro processing, value addition and so on. Especially now to supply the different agro industry parks that are being established, it will play a very important role because all the commodities the program focuses on are including in the agro processing sector. So with evaluations done, we will continue to see the results the program is bringing.

Capital: The fact that there isn’t a strong value chain in the agriculture sector has been one challenge, what other challenges does the sector face?

Teshome: The availability of technology is one issue. For example when you look at the improved availability of seeds, work is only done on corn and wheat. But in Ethiopia there are over 50 different kinds of grains.

In the animal sector we can say there is no technology at all; if you look at milk cows, chicken, we don’t have improved genes. Besides that, of course there is a capacity problem to bring in the technology as well and then there is the market linkage.

Our Agriculture sector produces to fill stomachs, not pockets right now. It needs to focus on business, our farmers need to produce what they will sell and buy what they eat, and not just produce to eat. We have subsistence agriculture and that needs to stop, it is backwards. We need to focus on commercial farming on a few selected commodities.

Capital: Another program was launched recently on tracing and tracking livestock, how important is to have such set standards to be able to strengthen our presence in the international market?

Teshome: It is very important. One of the ways we are working on this through my department at ATA is again focusing on selected commodities. The commodities are selected based on two criteria one is the export potential and the other is import substitution.

Every year, with 30 to 40 million dollars the country imports barley through the beer factories, but we can produce it here.  We have over two million hectares of land that is suitable for growing barley but we grow a very small amount. So how do we change this in the coming five years? That is what we work on.

Looking at the international market, we did export some corn to Kenya for example but when we enter international markets we need to be able to have a consistent quality supply.

Look at the production of honey, Ethiopia is in fourth place as far as potential honey production but looking at the actual production we are way down the list because we don’t produce it for the market that is available. Again we need to be market oriented.

Capital: We have smallholder farmers in this country, would it make sense to have large-scale commercial farms to be able to cater for the market that is available?

Teshome: That is not true. What we need is not land consolidation, it is attitude consolidation. We need to change the way we think. Look at wheat for example; there are areas where an entire woreda produces wheat, which is what happens when farmers produce for the market, when the market demands it.

Look at China, one farmer has 1,000 square meters of land; this is like a size of a rich person’s residential compound in this country. In our context, on average one smallholder farmer has one hectare of land, if we produce twice a year on that one hectare of land, which is a lot of produce. So it’s the way we think about it, the land doesn’t have to be large, it is how we utilize it.

Capital: Ethiopia always faces food security problems, what is the status in that regard right now?

Teshome: There are different ways of looking at this. There is food security on a national level, there is food security on a region level and then on an individual level. Food security can’t come from only working on agriculture.

There are three things to look at; one is production entitlement meaning farmers produce and be able to support themselves, then there is exchange entitlement which is when an individual has an income and is able to buy food and then the third one is the social security system. It would be farfetched to think the whole population will be able to support itself, so what we need to do is work on income diversification for farmers and increase productivity. Currently 22 percent of the population has food insecurity, this figure was 42 percent 15 years ago.

We need to move on rain dependent agriculture, rain fed agriculture will not get us anywhere. What will get us somewhere is irrigation and being able to produce all year round. If we continue to focus on the right things, it is not hard for the country to have food security.

Currently we only have 12 million hectares of land that is being utilized. For a population of 105 million, 12 million hectares of land is nothing. We have the potential to utilize 64 million hectares of land for agriculture. Even if we manage to increase the 12 million hectares to 20 million hectares and then produce twice a year, not only can we feed ourselves, but we can feed the rest of Africa. But this shouldn’t be just a saying; we need to actually work towards it.