Ethiopia started an agricultural agency that plans to help double production in the economy’s biggest industry over the next five years, said Wonderad Mandefro, minister of state for agriculture.
The Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency, or EATA, is modelled on economic development organizations in South Korea and Taiwan and will be overseen by a council chaired by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, Wonderad said in an interview in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, yesterday.
“In the past five years, the country has made significant progress in sustaining agricultural production,” Wonderad said. “Compared to the potential, it’s still the tip of the iceberg.”
Ethiopia, Africa’s second-most populous nation, is the continent’s biggest coffee grower. A five-year government plan to wean the Horn of Africa country off foreign aid aims to boost agricultural production by 14.9 percent annually. The industry accounts for 45 percent of economic output and employs about 80 percent of the population, according to Wonderad.
The agency was created after the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was asked by Meles in 2008 to assess an Ethiopian program that provides support and equipment for farmers using so-called extension workers, Wonderad said. In partnership with international donors and agricultural-research organizations, the foundation was subsequently asked to assess other aspects of the industry, including irrigation, soil fertility and marketing. These will now be key areas of focus for EATA.
The Seattle-based non-profit organization is providing technical expertise to EATA and may support the agency financially, said Roy Steiner, deputy director of its agricultural development program.
“Ethiopia has tremendous agricultural potential and it’s doing a lot of the right things,” he said in a phone interview from Seattle yesterday. “It’s investing in agriculture in a way that other African countries are not.”
A “critical issue” that needs to be addressed in Ethiopia is better training and support for the 60,000 extension workers, according to Steiner. Yields may also be boosted by increasing the number and efficiency of small-scale irrigation works using groundwater or pumps, he said.
“It’s a small thing, but boy it can make a difference if your pump lasts 10 years rather than one year,” Steiner said.
Ethiopia has the potential to be self-sufficient in grain production and for export development in livestock, flowers, oilseeds, sugar, vegetables and fruit, according to the U.S. State Department’s website.
Crops being targeted by the EATA include the most-widely grown teff, a cereal used to make Ethiopia’s flatbread staple known as injera, which is currently grown on about 2.5 million hectares (6.2 million acres) of land. The government wants to increase yields to as much as 60 quintals (13,228 pounds) per hectare from 10 quintals currently, Wonderad said.
A small improvement in the productivity of teff would “automatically transform” the agriculture industry, he said.
About 3 million of Ethiopia’s 80 million people are in need of emergency food assistance, the government said on April 12. Another 7.8 million people receive food or cash under an aid program, World Food Programme spokesman Susannah Nicol said in a phone interview yesterday from Addis Ababa.