Ethiopia is well known for agriculture and allied industrial activities. The country has the second highest population in the African continent next to Nigeria of which 84 per cent of the populous lives in rural while 16 per cent are in urban areas. Around 2,000 plant species are cultivated for human use. Ethiopia has a favourable climate, comparatively abundant land and labour as well as reasonably good water resources which in turn has created ample opportunities for horticulture development.
Horticulture product earns higher net farm income than other agro activities. This sector will increase rural employment opportunity, increases income and boosts overall economic development.
At present rural Ethiopia is facing a severe marketing and distribution especially in retail sector. Horticultural products are mostly available on market days. The non availability of horticulture/vegetables has also affected the peoples' consumption pattern. The retail market has a very high potential to boost in rural economic development and generating employment.
Horticulture_is intensive_plant _cultivation for_human_use. It is practiced from the individual level in a garden up to the activities of a multinational corporation. It is very diverse in its activities, incorporating plants for food (fruits,_vegetables,_mushrooms, culinary_herbs) and non-food crops (flowers,_trees_and_shrubs, turf-grass, hops,_grapes, medicinal herbs). It also includes related services in plant conservation, landscape restoration, landscape and garden design/constr- uction/maintenance, horticultural therapy, and much more. This range of food, medicinal, environmental, and social products and services are all fundamental to developing and maintaining human health and well-being. Horticulture is practiced in many gardens, "plant growth centres and nurseries. Activities in nurseries range from preparing seeds and cuttings to growing fully mature plants.
Raising per capita income is one of the manifestations of the emerging economy in Ethiopia. The country is one of the fastest growing African economies. It has earned 113 million USD from flowers and other horticulture product exports last year. Economic growth in Ethiopia, is expected to slow to 10 per cent in the current fiscal year from 11.6 per cent a year earlier as exports are hit by slowing demand in key markets.
Over the past two decades it was possible to create middle class population primarily in rural areas. Consumer tastes and lifestyle changes brought about by improved economic conditions have had an impact on feeding habits as well. Exotic and imported foods as well as health foods and organic foods are now in high demand by consumers. Changes are also observed in shopping habits and more time is spent in work places and less time available for food preparation. Thus the demand for fast food, foods continues to grow. Many middle class people in Africa are more likely to shop in supermarkets which offer a wider variety of goods than in traditional open or wet markets and high street retail shops. In addition, because of more amenities at home (e.g. refrigerators and microwave ovens) shopping trips are now fewer than before.
Consumer perception for food and the consumption of sweet potatoes typifies changing consumer perceptions. Once considered a poor man’s food in Ethiopia, now sweet potato is gaining popularity among middle class consumers. Food choices with increasing disposable incomes and the availability of a variety of foods in local markets, the budgetary allocation of consumers to fruits and vegetables is steadily increasing. Consumers are also increasingly becoming aware of proper nutrition.
As a result of a liberalized trade policy the last few decades, many countries have removed entry barriers into their markets through the privatization of public enterprises and have opened up monopolized sectors to competition and removed or reduced regulations and restrictions. As a result of the favourable investment climate many multinational corporations are making Ethiopia as their investment base and spreading gradually to other parts of Africa. Vardant Harvest, is one of these large investment projects laying on 3,500 hectare of land. It is currently engaged in Tea plantation and other horticulture sectors. Horticulture farm is also known for its extended service in mitigating climate change. Scientific, technical, logistical and managerial capacities allow fresh produce to maintain its quality during transportation to distant markets. Cold chain systems and controlled atmosphere containerization have made it possible to transport highly perishable fruits and vegetables rapidly and efficiently between the northern and southern hemispheres, east and west. Developed markets in Europe, America and Japan are now able to consume temperate and tropical fresh produce on a year round basis. At the same time, improvements in the management of marketing information help to maximize the shelf-life and quality of produce in horticulture.
In the year 2000, Zakari reported Agriculture marketing is a milestone for entire horn of African population. Agriculture in Ethiopia records above 50 per cent of the GDP and engages 90 per cent of the total population. Agricultural products comprise the predominant part of the country's total exports, with coffee accounting for more than 60 per cent of the total export value and the remaining 40 per cent are exports of hides and skin, oil seeds, and horticulture products such as fruits and vegetables.
The growth in the world trade has resulted in an increase in international financial transactions and capital flows. One of the most important types of capital flows is Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). Many developing countries in Africa have improved their domestic investment climates, education systems, skills, infrastructure, regulations and institutions and are opening up their markets for investment.
Ethiopia has a lot to benefit from the horticulture. The sector can play a much more significant role in economy than any other farming. Beside creating jobs on the farm, the horticultural sector generates off-farm employment in relation to retailing and wholesaling products for direct export and for the consumption of processing industries.
In Ethiopia, vegetables and fruits are produced in smallholders and some state owned farms. The lion share in terms of area and produce comes from the smallholder sector.
The three geographical areas of North America, Europe and the Far East including Japan are the major destinations for Ethiopia's horticultural products export. While USA’s demand for roses is mostly met through imports from South American producers, viz., Columbia and Ecuador, Europe receives flowers mainly from Africa, Israel and local producers. Japan’s market is catered to by Asian as well as European growers.
In Ethiopia, the horticulture sector is becoming an important income generator throughout the year. Experiences have also shown that horticulture can also be an important source of employment. In relation to this retail marketing and entrepreneurial activities related to the sector will encourage large number of farmers in the country in near future.