Ethiopia has 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 agricultureThe Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency, or EATA, is modelled on economic development organisations in South Korea and Taiwan and will be overseen by a council chaired by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, Wonderad said in a recent interview in Addis Ababa.
"In the past five years, the country has made significant progress in sustaining agricultural production," he 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 per cent annually.
The agency was created after the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was asked by Meles in 2008 to assess an Ethiopian programme that provides support and equipment for farmers using so-called extension workers, Wonderad said. In partnership with international donors and agricultural-research organisations, 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 organisation is providing technical expertise to EATA and may support the agency financially, said Roy Steiner, deputy director of its agricultural development programme.
"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 2.5mn hectares (6.2mn 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 three million of Ethiopia’s 80mn people are in need of emergency food assistance, the government said recently. Another 7.8mn people receive food or cash under an aid programme, World Food Programme spokesman Susannah Nicol said in a phone interview yesterday from Addis Ababa.