Being the mainstay of Ethiopia's largest population with about half of the national GDP, the agricultural sector is going through mixed trajectories.
Last year, agricultural productivity has seen an 8.83 percent growth and this year it is estimated to persist on the upward growth. On the other hand, some areas have been languishing due to rainfall shortages over the past few years. The question then is, what does it take to tackle this discrepancy and transform the sector despite years of productivity boost and two years of difficult time due to El-Nino induced drought?
What needs to be done to sustain the sector by reducing the heavy reliance on rain-fed cultivation is also another concern. Agriculture has long been the focal point of the government with best policies and government commitment put in place. Two concerns have been surrounding the sector: usually poor utilization of technology, dependency on rain-fed practice, not to ignore challenges posed by climate change.
While the sector maintained a substantial growth, experts call for more and practical effort to promote mechanized agriculture and irrigation to at least partially substitute the rain-fed agriculture.
There is considerable room for investment when considering that significant percent of Ethiopia’s crop production is rain-fed, says Yenenesh Yogu, Agriculture Expert at the Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resource.
“To ensure the continuous growth of productivity and production, it is imperative to minimize the heavy reliance on rain. There are areas with full irrigation potential. What it takes to exploit this opportunity is acquainting farmers with new technologies and improved farming package”, she adds.
She also emphasizes the need for developing the country’s irrigation systems and water-harvesting techniques. “Interms of technology utilization, what we need to prioritize is to embolden and create demand from the agrarian population to look for technologies, says Yenenesh adding, "we should give the technologies what the farmers need not what we wanted to give".
“Before introducing technologies we need to assess what is best for the farmers and best fit to the geographic and weather condition of localities. Nowadays, farmers are desirous to adopt new technologies with the help of development agents” she affirms.
In addition to deepening technological progress, Yenenesh believes, providing the farmers with improved seeds, fertilizers and farming packages also requires timely step.
Dr. Legese Wolde, Researcher at Holeta Agricultural Research Center on his behalf says modernizing the sector is a work in progress and requires a fixed eye and continuous commitment. To do so, introducing new technologies, creating robust experts, raising the awareness of the farmers are prerequisites, he says adding that to counter unavoidable impacts of climate change, promoting irrigation is the best alternative.
Once technologies are introduced what should be done is to encourage the farmers to adopt them, he further notes.
At times, improving the functioning of markets for agricultural inputs such as fertilizer, seed and outputs could also be a means to increase production, according to Dr. Legese.
Making agricultural inputs affordable and available can also help farmers get increased production. “There should also be feasible market linkage for smallholder farmers. This is what I think we hardly do”, says Dr. Legese.
Strengthening and diversifying cooperatives to provide better marketing services that serve as bridges between small farmers and the private sector is crucial.
For long mechanized farm has been on the table, but it seems to take place in slow motion. Mechanized farm is both time and cost effective, he believes.
Mechanized farming has been there for long but is at early stage. That is why the ministry designs mechanization strategy that focuses on smallholder farmers, says Tamiru Habte Mechanization Director at The Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resource.
"Mechanizing the sector is capital intensive. It demands huge sum of money to get combiners, tractors and other machineries. The smallholder farmers cannot afford to buy the machinery, hence private investments is expected to play critical role in availing them to users in reasonable price. Interestingly, famers are demanding more for technologies," states Tamiru.
The ministry works with small and micro scale enterprises and other businessmen to provide the machinery in the form of rent, reveals Tamiru.
According to him manufacturers should turn their face to producing agricultural equipment to substitute imported machinery and make them available to farmers. At the same time, the famers must learn how to operate the equipments. To do so, agricultural vocational colleges should be capacitated to train and guide the famers.
Usually, polices and strategies are designed in the way that bring positive impact on the sector but the implementation has been compromising the very objectives of such policies, says Tamiru.
As a check and balance, there is Agriculture Affairs Standing Committee at the House of People's Representative that monitor the sector's performance.
Almaz Mesele is the Chairperson of the Standing Committee. She says one of the limitation facing the sector is shortage of improved seeds. The problem is not about the demand of the farmers, it is up to supply of the seeds not to forget the quality of the seeds as well. There is discrepancy on the distribution of improved seeds, some areas have adequate access while other hardly get them, she stresses.
"We have witnessed production boost but could come under challenge unless the supply of improved seeds and fertilizer is enhanced. Besides ensuring utmost utilization of every drops of rain and expansion of irrigation need to be scaled up", she underscores.
One of the best yet simple way to create productive farmers is to scale up best practices and model farmers. there is no doubt that if farmers are supplied with the required technology and farming package, they would only be able to feed themselves but the whole nation, emphasises Minister Dr. Eyasu Abriha.
The demand for technology should come from the farmers' side. There is a clear understanding that those farmers with the required technology and package gains surplus production while the reverse is also true, according to Dr. Eyasu. That is why the performance of the sector differs among states, and there should be equal commitment and uniform practices to address the discrepancy, emphasises Dr. Eyasu.
What determines productivity is strict application of fertilizer and improved seeds and packages. Of course the sector is transforming. productivity is in steady growth, but brining structural change is far from over. "We need to get out of subsistence farming to commercial one," adds the Minister.
“With estimations showing production to register sharp growth, we need to do much to increase the profits of farmers. it is the combination of leadership commitment , farmers' hard work that help to revolutionize the sector. the nation is self sufficient but it needs to ensure national food security. It is when surplus production is attained that the country be able to feed itself. but what is important is, even if the country is hit by the worst drought, it has been able to contain the impacts and reduce human suffering”, he claims.
BY DESTA GEBREHIWOT