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April 2017 · Africa

Upcoming feature: ETHIOPIA - Agriculture and Natural Resources

Interview with H.E. Dr. Eyasu Abraha, Minister of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Ethiopia

Prisma Reports (PR): How can we translate today the vision that your government has in terms of developing the agriculture in the country and farming in general in Ethiopia?

H.E. Dr. Eyasu Abriha (H.E.D.E.A.): Before talking about the visions and the missions that we have, it is important to know about the Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP). Ethiopia embarked on the Growth and Transformation Program for five years, for agriculture and other sectors. It was a transformation and a structural shift, from subsistence agriculture to market and commission agriculture. Therefore, we have a very nice policy in place. Now we are at the Second Growth and Transformation Plan (GTPII). Basically, we have four pillars.

The first one is security. We are a poor country so we intend to reduce poverty significantly through the training that we give to our farmers. Nutrition security is also very important. The second pillar is export agriculture. We were production-orientated before GTP and now we are heading towards exports such as coffee, sesame and other crops. We are heading for exports and for job creation activities. The second one, agro processing.

The third one is import substitution. We are still importing wheat even though we are high producers of it. Therefore, production and productivity are what we call job creation. We also have what we call Climate-Resilient Green Economy (CRGE). We have to create an agriculture that cannot shock when something is happening: the sustainability of agriculture. We also call it climate-smart agriculture. Those are the drivers of agriculture before going onto the vision. By knowing a little about the policy, you are then able to have a better understanding of the agricultural sector.

With regards to the vision: creating a modern culture with maintained natural resources in society, free from poverty is our vision. Since we are heading towards becoming a middle-income country by 2025, one of the areas of improvement is to significantly reduce poverty. Agriculture is one of the areas that can decrease poverty because 80% of the population is engaged in it. Whether most people are very rich, perhaps middle-income earners, everyone will earn more than $1250 per annum, more than one dollar per day. That is our mission. Therefore, the vision will take us to our destiny of getting into a low-level middle income by 2025, by which the per capita income will reach more than 1,000 USD. Therefore, the future farming trucks will follow the application of modern agriculture technologies, which include base culture and practices together, with the use of productive variety selected commercial act commodities. Those are the areas where our visions lay. In order to become a middle-income country, we need a significant number, for example 26%. By now, 23% of the total population are in poverty. Therefore, we must significantly reduce the level of poverty, especially by the end of GTPII.

(PR): What would you say are the main points to focus on to help develop agriculture in Ethiopia even more? Where are those bottlenecks and how do you explain that everyone in Africa is looking towards Ethiopia as the land of agriculture?

(H.E.D.E.A.): Agriculture revolution, not structural changes are our focus. We have to revolutionize the agriculture, structural transformation. What we mean by this is transformation on production and transformation on market linkage. Those are very important requirements for transformation of the agriculture. Fifteen or twenty years ago we were getting only 58 million quintals in Ethiopia. Now, with smallholder farming we are getting 270 million. You can see the radical leap. However, we are still heading towards getting 500 million quintals by the end of GTPII and surely we will attain that number.

However, there are bottlenecks. 500 million is simple if we can smash poverty significantly and if the country looks after exports, agro processing and nutrition security. Some of our farmers are still using traditional agricultural practices such as broadcasting, which you cannot find in any country. We are shifting away from the traditional way of doing agriculture to mechanization farming. Quality, volume and type of agriculture are all very important factors to consider when exporting. If you want to compete with the European market, products should be organic and of high quality and the volume of production should be high. Therefore, one of the limiting factors is mechanization of farming. Let me give you a simple definition: in lowland areas, we have humble areas with no land problems. We have the budget but the problem is that anyone that wants to farm in lowland areas is a capitalist, someone who has money. With these lowland areas, the problem was neither the land nor the budget (since we have the budget to farm in lowland areas). The problem was labour. We embarked upon a mechanization program. The major population is found in small land areas. We have small land, humble labor and no capital. What we have decided to do is to increase production and productivity from the given area. We have been improving fertilization over the past ten years. Now, mechanization level is becoming serious and is currently one of our bottlenecks.

The second bottleneck is the soil. Although we have very fertile soil, in some areas we also have acidic soil due to the rain. We also have Vertisols management in some areas, which needs to drain the water because it needs very absolute land. Ethiopia is one of the countries in Africa which marks the soil. We know the soil fertility mark very well and we have already marked it. It is very expensive to mark the soil in Africa because it needs money, it needs energy, it needs commitment. We have different types of soil and we need to know their fertility. This is one of the bottlenecks we have identified. Now we are heading for mitigation aspects. In the case of acidic soil, we are treating it with lime. Liming to change the pH of the soil, making it neutral. Therefore, we aim to treat this bottleneck through soil fertility mark, a liming campaign and Vertisols management.

We are not very strong on the breeding aspect, the generation of technologies, which is appropriate for different agroecology – for lowland, intermediate land and highland. We have a lack of early generation seeds, which gives you productive crops in given areas. 30-40% of the total production is determined by the variety.

Another element is the protection aspect against diseases and pests. Climate change is one of the factors that we have to consider. For example, three years ago, maize never had any disease. Now we also have pests on mango, whiteflies. These are some of the examples of emerging pests and diseases which have arrived with the change of climate.

The fourth is the eradication of rainfall. Here in Ethiopia we have free soil conservation labor activities. For twenty days the farmers put labor free. They conserve the soil and the water. With the climate change, we have embarked massively on soil and water conservation. To conclude, we do not have any problems with policy or strategy but with the climate change: pests and acidic soil brought by the rainfall. We are shifting agriculture to revolutionize the production. Those are the strategy bottlenecks that we have had.

(PR): To prepare for this new era of agriculture, what now are the main priorities of your government to sustain and enhance productivity in agriculture? What are your priorities today?

(H.E.D.E.A.): Approximately 14% of the GDP in Africa is made up of the agricultural sector. Agriculture is the backbone of the country. Therefore, we are heading for a very vibrant policy and strategy. After GTPII we are heading towards being an industrialized country. Ethiopia has around 60,000 development agents that are working with the community. In one village you will find four development agents. These include: a crop specialist; a soil and water specialist for forestry, a livestock specialist; and the fourth specialist for irrigation. Therefore, in order to modernize agriculture, you have to have an extension agent.

We also have farming training centres (FTC’s) which educate farmers using the method learning by practice. The third one is an advisory council where we sit together, identify the problem and act accordingly. This is one way that we are transforming the agriculture.

The second area I can identify is the mechanization. What we demonstrate to the farmes is not based on large scale mechanization, we are focusing on tailoring the solution to small farming system which fits our farmers. We are looking at which is cheaper, affordable and accessible. This is mechanization.

The third one is fertilization. For a long time, we were using two types of fertilizers. Now, we are heading for seven fertilizers. Soil fertility is one of the most important areas because without fertility you cannot increase the productivity. Another area is the protection aspect. The use of integrated pest management (IPM) for cleaning and forecasting; using organic products, basically. We have also research centres in each agroecology. Without research or technology there will not be any transformation. The revolution is an extension system, which is perhaps the result of the experience that we have.

A very significant number of the farmers now reach what you would call ‘production level of research’. We have modern farmers, and there are followers and backgrounds, the laggards. There is a small number of laggards who stick to their own mentality and their own traditional way. Nevertheless, we use the majority ones, the followers and the promoters. By shifting this one, by learning by doing and practice, this is the technology shift (technology in terms of mechanization, fertility, technology and protection). What I am saying is the attitude now has changed because without the right attitude you will not be able to change and shift from subsidies to market-oriented system. Therefore, the very important element to work for is an extension in the intervention program, the seeds strategy program, the mechanization strategy program and the soil aspect program. Those create a very important leap from one area to another, which is why production and productivity are now in the level of modern agriculture. Still, we are not attaining what we want to achieve because we are heading towards 500 million and we still are under 300 million. Therefore, we have to work seriously on the extension part, the technology part, the attitude of ‘not-change’ part.

(PR): To go even further to achieve your goal, who would you say are the ones that invest the most today in the country? I am not talking specifically about the government or the local entities but about international community investors, and of course the United States investors. Who are the ones investing in Ethiopia today?

(H.E.D.E.A.): Here we have policies in place for private sectors. The agriculture is very vibrant, especially because we have lowland areas and humble land. Ethiopia also has good agroecology. We have different agroecology in Ethiopia, which is good for diversifying the crops. We have lowland, intermediate land and highland. This is a very good environment to attract investors. Let me give you a simple example: we have different crops like coffee, castor beans (which originates in Ethiopia). There is a barley specialty, a two-sided barley. You can find a lot of diversity in Ethiopia.

For example, looking at mustard, insude you will find the ‘brassica carinata’, which has originated in Ethiopia. We are considered one of the eight centres in the world with high crop diversity, as verified by Vavilov, the Russian scientist. This is attractive to investors because, for example when it comes cotton production, sesame oil production which is very organic and very healthy. We export quality pulses, fava beans and oil crops as well and fiber crops for industrial use. We have meat industry too because our country is the one with the highest cattle population in Africa and the tenth in the world. Meat production is very prosperous if we can sell it to other countries.

We also have big rivers for banana production, mango production, avocado production, grape production just to name a few. What kind of investors would you see? Say, for example, from Middle East to Asia countries, the Indians are coming, the Arab world is coming to Ethiopia. The investors are also coming from European countries like Switzerland. By the way, the USAID, especial agency of the USA, it is not only investing, they are also helping us. It is one country that is helping us by NGOs to support the agriculture. They are very helpful, they are supporting us with ‘food security’ program, which we call Productive Safety Net (PSNP), a development program. This is one of the funds that is coming to the program. There are a lot of funds coming from Canadians, Europeans and development countries as well. The program focuses on sustainable agriculture, soil conservation activities. There a lot of investments and funds coming from Germany as well, we call it SLM, Sustainable Land Management. Those are the areas.

There are also investments coming from not only directly involving the agriculture. The EU is working seriously on coffee production because they need to consume quality products, therefore they are investing. There are other investments on honey products. I can tell you, our honey has four parameters, which is of very quality in the world, BIO standard. It is very organic, medically. In a very dry area you have the best quality and quantity of honey. Regarding the agroforestry aspect, which creates jobs, honey is the simplest product to introduce and to create jobs. So, we have honey production, dairy production, dairy investments and meat production. We are incentivizing them for private sectors and one of the most important things we give to investors is security.

We are embarking upon agro-industrial parks. It is the new vision of GTPII. For agro-industries, we are attracting investors to invest in oil production, so that we produce and process it in the country. Not only by cultivating land but also by putting their processing plants in Ethiopia. The market triggers the production and productivity. This means that we are creating a new job, a new area for our investment, both directly and indirectly.

Agriculture is profitable. Food is very important for the whole world. We are therefore focusing on clean, organic agriculture. Although our internal investment is huge, we are still attracting newcomers. The policies that we have are very brief. We have very clear incentives and our land ownership. By the way, the land is owned by the government and by the public, therefore there are no problems with giving the land to investors. You can invest your money the way you want.

(PR): What would you like the readers or the potential investors to think of when thinking about Ethiopia today? What would you like them to remember after reading the report on your country?

(H.E.D.E.A.): First of all, the geopolitics of the country. We are on the horn of Africa. Ethiopia is rising, as we call it. Three or four years ago, Ethiopia was written in Oxford Learner Dictionary that famine is equal to Ethiopia. We are in the process of reversing it. The country is standing on its own feet. If we commercialize and mechanize agriculture within a short period of time, poverty will be history. In our Ministry, we are working very hard to make it history as soon as possible. That is why there is a huge movement on agriculture. Our Prime Minister is the one who is pushing it. We have a committed government and a committed structure. In each structure, we have political commitment to reduce poverty. The structure is also less bureaucratic. We have very brief democratization and development, although we are not at a developmental state. Looking at the Asian countries, they have been at developmental state for a long period of time. We are not only following developmental states but also democratization. Without democracy, we will not reduce poverty. What does democracy mean in terms of agriculture? You have to convince the people. You do not push it and make it; you teach the farmer that fertilization is good and very important, show him the improved variety and its benefits, this is the process of democratization. For example, co-operative initiatives are good for marketing, we have people organizing to be members of co-ops, saving and credit, for multi-purpose co-ops and making unions for agro processing. This is democratization, it’s exercising their own voice in front of the leaders. This is one of the areas that are very important to me, for agrarians to learn from our country.

We have a very brief and vibrant policy on agriculture. It is a clear strategy for twenty, thirty years of where we were and where we are heading. Both the policy and strategy are very important. For developmental country, if you do not have a clear strategy you will not succeed. Governmental commitment is important. If you are committed, you will have a brief strategy and policy, and you will also invest. You have to invest money in agriculture.

Public-private partner partnership (PPP) is another area. The private sector that we have is not very strong, so we are pushing to lift it up and invest. We are intervening because there is a market for it. The farmers are not getting knowledge, access to technology or access to information. This is why the government is intervening. We are pushing for private sectors to invest in exportable commodities, agro-processing like agro-industrial parks. The rich farmers can go to the agro-industry but they are still very small, therefore we need a private sector that goes to the production and the agro-processing.

The third element is the capacity. We are capacitating our farmers by promotion, training, etc. Also, giving them access to credits because the financial aspect is very important for agriculture, so we have a special access for credit, gift service for our farmers. We have small enterprises, which gives access credit, so that they will not go to the big towns to get money. In the villages, we have small banks where you can do the same, thus, capacitating our farmers by showing technologies: irrigation, lifting technologies. As part of our culture, we are still transforming from subsistence agriculture to commercialized agriculture. Even though we are investing a lot of money, we still have financial problems. We need support and we need capacity levels to capacitate our researchers, our farmers and our staff. This means long-term education and short-term training. We are in the process of transformation, so we need a stone that can bridge this through either financial or skills transferring.