Great expectations from Ethiopia's wheat initiative

09Nov 2018
Correpondent
The Guardian
Great expectations from Ethiopia's wheat initiative

SMALL-HOLDER farmers in sub-Saharan Africa often experience lower yields, and efforts to increase them have sprouted throughout Africa. Many farmers fail to adopt modern inputs or farming techniques that would increase productivity due to several constraints, such as lack of available technology.

Initiating reforms given this background is a slow process. Any new intervention to address these concerns, however, dramatically raises the expectation of national governments, and undervalues modest but significant gains from such interventions.

 

Ethiopia provides a clear example of agricultural underperformance, as the country's wheat production has consistently lagged other African nations. In 2012, Ethiopia's wheat yields were 29 percent below neighboring Kenya, 13 percent below the African average, and 32 percent below the global average.

To help address these shortcomings, Ethiopia's Agricultural Transformation Agency introduced the Wheat Initiative in 2013, a package intervention program designed to boost wheat yields through improved inputs and procurement. In recent IFPRI research, published in Agricultural Economics, we examined the impact of the Wheat Initiative on farmers yields, which provides important lessons for how programs can boost yields in underperforming areas.

The Wheat Initiative provided a package of three broad interventions to 2,000 farmers across 41 woredas, or districts, in the four-major wheat producing regions in Ethiopia. Interventions included better access to improved inputs such as certified wheat seed, fertilizers, and gypsum to improve soil structure and enhanced techniques focused on lowering seeding rates, row planting, and balanced fertilizer use. Additionally, it included a government commitment to buy farmers' wheat at or above the market rate to reduce marketing risk to farmers. The Initiative first worked with lead farmers to promote the new package, and then other farmers would learn about both types of inputs and techniques that would improve their wheat productivity.

To measure the impact of the Wheat Initiative, 504 potential lead farmers were randomly allocated into three separate groups; one received the entire package program, one accepted market assistance only, and a control group. All three were informed of the recommended new techniques and inputs, but only one group received them at a subsidized rate. We found that the group that received the full package program had a 14 percent increase in yields. If such a result was uniform across the entire country, the yield increase would translate into additional half million tons of wheat!

While these findings represented a significant positive change, this growth was smaller than the Ethiopian government's expectation, which hoped for doubled yields. It is likely the difference between expectations and actual results may underestimate the true change associated with the technology because of incomplete adoption of the recommended practices. For example, 39 percent of farmers chose not to adopt row planting completely, due to the implicit cost of additional labor to row plant. Changing material input rates when they are made available is not particularly difficult, whereas changing farmer behavior takes significantly more time.

Nonetheless, important lessons for both intervention design and policy can be gleaned from this study. A drawback of using a package approach, an intervention with several components, is the difficulty in determining which is the true catalyst of yield improvements. The findings represent a substantial improvement in wheat production. If the package was adopted by all wheat farmers as lead farmers did in the trial, and average gains remained the same, aggregate wheat production in Ethiopia would rise by 600 thousand metric tons, nearly the size of Ethiopia's net wheat imports! So, the key then is for governments or other practitioners to remain engaged, spreading interventions like this one, while taking a long-term perspective for these interventions to bear fruit.

Meanwhile,  Despite challenges in making use of technology in farming coupled with low farmers' awareness to this regard, the country is striving to ensure nationwide mechanized farming, the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock said.

Though it is small portion of the national cropland, farmers who are engaged in a vast farming are now cultivating 1.4 million hectares of land through utilizing agriculture machinery Ministry Agricultural Mechanization Director Tamiru Habte told The Ethiopian Herald.

Out of the total of the national 14 million hectares of cropland, only five percent is being cultivated using mechanization agriculture, he said.

However, understanding the ineffectiveness of working in a small holding and sole farming, farmers are keen on working in vast farming and additional four million hectares of land would be cultivated next budget year through utilizing modern technology, he added.

Therefore, the farmers are looking forwards using modern technologies which require cooperative cultivation activities in those farmlands, he noted.

Accordingly, the productivity of vast farming by private farmland is comparatively low than those organized farmers but with small economies, he noted.

"The organized farmers produce 35 quintals of wheat per hectare while the private ones' yields around thirty."

The private owners are similar to the smallholders in technology utilization and that is why the ministry is striving to increase the number of farmers that use technology, he said.

The technological support includes agricultural input, machinery and selected seed at fair price, according to him.

There is also initiation to support the private farmland through material and technical assistance and extensional services, he stated.

The effort is to ensure food resilience, substitute import and supply quality agricultural product input to the growing number of industries, he stressed.

"On the other hand, there is low investment in the sector and companies are not possibly attracted to engage in importing agricultural technologies."

As to Tamiru, various developed countries that Ethiopia taking as role model were once invested widely in agricultural mechanization.

Revising the overall structure of the sector, providing incentives and building the capacity of agricultural input suppliers is critical to save the sector from sluggish productivity and to transform it to mechanized level, he underlined.

In the same vein, having completed the irrigation development tasks of Winter and Autumn rain farm, Ethiopia has set its course to finalize this year's major agriculture of the rainy season. According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Resources, the government is exerting level best effort to achieve three important goals through the agricultural sector.

Alemayehu Berhanu, public relations director at the ministry on a recent press briefing told journalists that these goals are ensuring food security, abundant input yield for the Integrated Agricultural Industry Parks (IAIPs), that have been established in four states and producing quality export commodities in large quantity by the end of the current regular agricultural season.

Speaking of food security, the director noted that even though the Gross National Production has been improved over the past few years, there is much to do in ensuring the food security of every citizen in terms of appropriate nutrition.

According to Alemayehu, the IAIPs require huge amount of inputs. "The IAIP, which is established in Bure, West Gojjam Zone of Amhara state, requires two million tons or twenty million quintals of oil seeds annually. In addition, we are still importing high amount of wheat for our food processing industries and bakeries. Thus, we have to create a potential that can deliver sufficient input for all IAIPs. We cannot afford to build an industry and import its inputs," he stressed.

Therefore, taking in to account the aforementioned goals, the government has planned and is exerting multi-stakeholder inclusive effort to produce 375 million quintals of yield from 14 million hectares of land during this season of production.

By the end of the second Growth and Transformation Plan (GTPII) agricultural production is also expected to exceed by 406 million quintals. Based on the data or information of the Central Statistics Agency, 306 million quintals of yield was gained from the planned 345 million in the past production year.

Alemayehu also noted that based on the current potential of the sector, producing 406 million quintals of yield is not that much difficult. "Thus, there is a hope that the country would get closer to achieve this goal or meet the plan. But above all, what we have planned and trying to achieve is reaching maximum level of production during the implementation of GTPIII," noted Alemayehu.

Meanwhile, input supply, environmental protection and conditions of rainfall throughout the country as well as prevalence and prevention efforts of Fall Army Worm are vital issues of concern, which need to be dealt with at national level.

According to, the National Meteorology Agency prediction there has been and would be conducive climate and promising rainfall distribution in Amhara and Oromia states at the current season.

It was also indicated that this year's rainfall distribution during Autumn, in comparison with the same season of the previous three years, was much better. Most areas of the SNNPs State are producers of Autumn, covering close to fifty percent of the Nation's agriculture production of the season. As a result, apart from few exceptional areas of central and western parts of the state, there was not much rain in most of its areas during this summer.

However, no matter how much the summer rainfall distribution in these areas of SNNPs State, there would not be a significant impact on the crop production, assured Alemayehu.

Though, the Summer rainfall in Tigray State has begun late, current data indicates that the distribution is better than the previous year.

In terms of agricultural inputs, Alemayehu said additional to the 248 million quintals of chemical fertilizer, which has been in store, over 13,500,000 quintals has been imported this year. He emphasized that the amount is more than sufficient adding, the distribution process has so far been effective as 98 percent of the fertilizer has reached the states throughout the country.

Meanwhile, state Bureaus need to exert level best efforts in collaboration with basic cooperatives and unions in order to avoid inconveniences and make sure the fertilizer is distributed for the farmers in time, according to him.

In terms of improved (special) seed, 3.5 million quintals seed of different types has been prepared. There was a gap in multiplying best seeds, particularly serial crops. Somehow, the Ministry is working with bureaus and agricultural research institutes to make sure that the existing amount of special seeds has reached the farmers in time due to the fact that this is the right time for farming.

In cases of Fall Army Worm Woldehawariat Asefa Director General of the sector said a strategy for plant protection has been implemented over the past years but the traditional or manual system remained the best option in order to prevent the damages of fall army worm.

He said the country has been successful in reducing the destruction rate of the worm by five percent using the manual method in the previous year. The same strategy would be implemented in this production year but improving the information exchange system is crucial, said Asefa.

However, the farmer is questioning for how long would the manual system has to continue. But according to Assefa, as long as the chemical is not effective, it would remain as the last option.

"Our practice in the previous year was killing the worm only. But now taking serious inspection inside the Maze fields and destroying the eggs is best. And we will train the farmers and extension workers how to identify the eggs and take the prevention actions," he noted.

On the other hand, a new maze virus has occurred recently but it does not need chemical treatments and the traditional or manual way, which is by removing the infected maze, would help to tackle the problem.