Ethiopia has the potential to earn billions of dollars from spices. However, a poor post harvesting system, adulteration, unsystematic land management, failing to utilize technology and other factors keep it from reaching its full potential. Recently a large amount of aflatoxin in some red pepper and other spices caused Ethiopia to receive a warning from destination countries. Addisu Alemayehu, a senior expert in field of spices, herbs and aromatic products argues that the country should replace traditional methods and utilize a modern system of developing the spice industry. Capital’s reporter Tesfaye Getnet talked with Adissu to learn about the potential and challenges of spices in Ethiopia. Adissu is currently working at the Ethio-Netherlands Trade for Agricultural Growth (ENTAG) Program which is one of the five programs under the BENEFIT portfolio between the Ethiopia and Netherlands government as the spice and private sector association project coordinator. He is also one of the founders and board secretary of the Ethiopian Spice, Aromatic and Herbs Growers and Processors Association(ESAHGPA).
Capital: How much spice does Ethiopia have the potential of producing?
Adissu: CSA and MOA don’t conduct a formal annual assessment of production data but based on a study conducted in 2014/15 the country produced an estimated 418,000 metric tons. Other studies indicate that Ethiopia could make one million metric tons of spice.
Capital: Knowledge of proper cultivation and post harvest management are the key challenges in spice export, for example farmers wet down the red pepper with water so it will weigh more. What should be done to tackle these challenges?
Adissu: Yes, as you said adulteration and such bad practices are major challenges to the spice export and sector development of the country and the best solutions come from understanding the real causes or main reasons behind the problem. Such practices occur for three major reasons. There is a lack of awareness about aflatoxin and limited knowledge on the impact of such practices (wetting) on safety and quality which can be tacked by creating awareness through information, education, communication and training across the value chains (farmers, traders, processors, exporters, consumers, policy makers and
implementers). There is also a lack of spice marketing proclamation; quality based pricing systems, regulation and guidelines along with a lack of spice marketing centers. Thus we need spice marketing regulation and marketing centers in place along with a quality based pricing system. Finally there is a lack of improved and mechanized technologies that either shorten spice drying time or escape from unexpected rain. Thus the research institutions and universities must either introduce and make adaptation trails of innovative drying and processing technologies from abroad or generate similar technologies which are affordable to smallholder farmers.
Capital: Land degradation is another challenge in spice production, do we have proper land management with regard to spice production ?
Adissu: Like other crops mono cropping, poor soil fertility and land management are the other major challenges of spice production in the country These problems make Ethiopia’s average spice productivity much lower than the world average despite the fact that there has been much improvement in production and productivity over the past 10 years. One of the typical examples is the ginger bacterial wilt disease outbreak which occurred six years ago due to over a decade of mono cropping of ginger on the same farm which devastated 85% of the total ginger production of the country.
Capital: Countries like India are using better technology and IT software in both production and transaction but in Ethiopia people still use traditional methods, what prevents us from using technology?
Adissu: I think we as a country are new to IT and new technologies and honestly our behavior is not to explore for science and technology. Let me share with you a funny story (which may be a true joke) One senior researcher was working in my previous employee organization, the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural research; The first computer was introduced in that research center by denotation 1980’s in the wheat research department and other fellow researchers in the center when entering into the office with with their bare feet because they were told by an anonymous person that the computer would be corrupted if it became dusty from their shoes.
So, limited access to IT equipment and lack of practical training (mostly theoretical or like one computer shared for thousands) in the education systems are the major reasons behind it.
Capital: Is the spice sector creating the amount of jobs hoped for?
Adissu: Based on a survey conducted in 2014 more than 5 million smallholder farmers, around 25 million people’s live depend on the spice sector and it can provide more employment opportunities if proper attention and support is given from all stakeholders (GO, NGOs smallholder farmers and the private sector)
Capital: Aflatoxin in the export product it threatening Ethiopia earnings, what is a good remedy for getting rid of Alfatoxin in spice products?
Adissu: Aflatoxin can’t be eliminated once it infects products including spices. Thus prevention is the only remedy and the main strategies are; proper drying using natural sun or if it is not possible due to weather problems use of fast and efficient drying technologies such as solar tunnel driers, heat driers, use of raised beds or cemented floor or plastic sheet for drying. Healthy plants give healthy seeds so implementing proper and improved agronomic practices and technologies, Keeping it in appropriate storage facilities (dry, well ventilated, food grade painted floor) if possible use of cold rooms or storage in less than 10%, use of hermetic bags for packing and storing spice products, If the aflotixin infection starts from soil use of alfa-phase fungus inoculants which is successful in maize and ground nuts.
If all this is not possible selection, cleaning and hand picking of aflatoxin (yellow outside and white inside in red pepper or white mold/fungus materials) infected seed/pods from our product and proper drying on wetted products before we consume or process or export. Steam sterilization and irradiation technologies were also the other advanced spice processing technologies which need huge investment but are used in major spice exporting, producing and consuming countries.
Capital: What is the global spice market like and what can Ethiopia do to export more?
Adissu: Spice trade developed throughout Asia and the Middle East in around 2000 BCE. Its contribution to world civilization is well recognized, as it established and destroyed empires, led to the discovery of new continents, and in many ways helped lay the foundation for the modern world. Spices have lost the status and allure that once placed them alongside precious metals as the world’s most valuable items, but the spice sector remains dynamic. Out of the almost 400 products of the herbs and spices category, about 40 to 50 are of global economic and culinary importance. Global consumption of spices is expanding steadily with growth rates of between 2% and 5% per annum. Globalization, access to information, growing population, shifting consumer trends towards health and authenticity in developed economies, sustained economic growth in developing economies and increased consumption of meat in developing countries (the “march of the meat eaters”) have resulted in a growing spice market.
Asian-Pacific and European consumers are the largest consumers of spice, and the global market for spices is projected to exceed USD16 billion by 2019. The market for spices in developed economies such as Europe and North America will continue to grow, but more slowly than in other regions due to maturity of the industrial sector. The Asia-Pacific region is projected to be the fastest-growing market for spices, at an annual growth rate of 8% from 2014 to 2019. The food processing industry in Asia will be an important driver behind this growth.
In order to tap these growing and enormous market opportunity I advice the government should implement the 10 years spice industry development strategy which is developed three years by Addis Ababa Science and Technology University through MoT ownership and UNIDO financial support.
Capital: A good spice exporters and producers’ association is vital in increasing exports as is the case in India but when we look at the Ethiopian association their work has not been very productive what can be done about this?
Adissu: The major problems of Ethiopian private sector associations including the Ethiopian spice, aromatic and herbs growers and processors association is limited financial capability and lack of proper policy support for private sector associations. European countries have a compulsory rule that enforces that any private company has to be members of their engaged sectoral association. Moreover, the created a spice association (ESAHGPA) only three years ago and it is in its infant stages so it is hard to measure its impact. Besides, support from development partners or NGOs for the spice sector is very limited. For instance ENTAG is the only NGO working in spice sector development.
Capital: What is your opinion about applying food safety standards in Ethiopia?
Adissu: It is my initiative and I have raised the agenda of food safety and aflatoxin in ENTAG since April 2017 and now thanks to all stakeholders and partners’ support after the spice platform meeting in May the agenda was taken to higher policy makers. I hope the food safety regulation will be issued very soon. Thus I strongly support the idea of application of food safety regulation in Ethiopia.