Cover of the ILRI-published proceedings of a 2009 Dialogue on Ethiopian Agricultural Development (cover image credit: ILRI/Mann).
Proceedings of a comprehensive review of the history and current state of Ethiopia’s agricultural development, made in a 2009 ‘Dialogue on Ethiopian Agricultural Development’ held in Addis Ababa have been published by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).
The 2009 Dialogue was jointly organized by Ethiopia’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and ILRI to honour Gebisa Ejeta, winner of the 2009 World Food Prize. Held on 12 November 2009 at the United Nations Conference Centre, the Dialogue was opened by Ethiopian President Ato Girma Woldegiorgis.
Gebisa received the prestigious prize on 15 October 2009 at Iowa’s state capital, Des Moines, USA. His research with sorghum hybrids resistant to drought and the devastating Striga weed have dramatically increased the production and availability of one of the world’s five principal grains and enhanced the food supply of hundreds of millions of people in sub- Saharan Africa.
Gebisa’s high academic standing in his undergraduate years paved the way to financial assistance and entrance into higher education institutions, leading to his bachelor’s degree in plant science in 1973 from the Alemaya College of Agriculture. In 1973 his mentor Berhane Gebre-Kidan introduced Gebisa to a renowned sorghum researcher, John Axtell of Purdue University, who invited him to assist in collecting sorghum species from around Ethiopia. Axtell was so impressed with Gebisa that he invited him to become his graduate student at Purdue University. Gebisa entered Purdue University in 1974, earning his PhD in plant breeding and genetics. He later became a faculty member at Purdue, where today he holds a distinguished professorship.
Gebisa’s dedication to helping poor farmers feed themselves and their families and rise out of poverty has propelled his life’s work. At the Dialogue, he spoke on science-based agricultural development with particular emphasis on Ethiopia. Abera Deressa, state minister of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development; Solomon Assefa, director general of the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research; Belay Kassa, president of Haramaya University, made presentations on the challenges, opportunities and achievements of agricultural research in Ethiopia and the role of agricultural universities. These presentations were followed by others, including one by Carlos Seré, director general of ILRI, and a panel discussion by representatives of key institutions and universities.
This ILRI proceedings volume includes all the papers presented and slide presentations given and transcripts of the panel discussion. Some excerpts of the presentations follow.
World Food Prize Laureate and Purdue University Distinguished Professor Gebisa Ejeta
on enhancing science-based development in Ethiopia
‘. . . African farming has not been significantly influenced by advances in the agricultural sciences that have benefited the rest of the world. Contributions from improved genetic stocks of plants and animals have been limited. Currently less than 20% of African farms use modern seed, and even fewer have access to improved stocks of livestock. Use of modern plant and animal husbandry has been very limited. African farmers grow their crops and raise their animals using traditional practices that have been passed through the generations. African farming has been organic with a continental average use of inorganic fertilizers still standing well below 10 kg/ha. Uses of other chemical inputs for control of weed, pest, and diseases in Africa have been nearly insignificant. The strongest limitations are imposed by lack of knowledge of modern farming practices. And when smallholder farmers develop some awareness through organized public interventions, they often lack the financial means to purchase inputs and tools that enhance efficiency and lessen the family burden on their livelihoods. Overall, the vital institutions of agricultural research and extension services in nearly all African countries lack the needed full capacity and institutional infrastructure to reach out to smallholder farmers and to readily generate and dispense badly needed new science-based technology or to effectively deploy those from past findings. . . .’
Haramaya University President Belay Kassa
on Ethiopian agriculture and institutions of higher learning
‘. . . Ethiopia is one of the largest countries in Africa both in terms of land area (1.1 million km2) and human population (estimated at 82 millions in 2010). Agriculture is the basis of the Ethiopian economy. It accounts for about 40% of the GDP and 90% of the total export revenue and employs 85% of the country’s labour force (FDRE 2010). Ethiopian agriculture is virtually small-scale, subsistence-oriented and crucially dependent on rainfall. About 90% of the country’s agricultural output is generated by subsistence farmers who use traditional tools and farming practices ( MoFED 2008; Dercon et al. 2009). Low productivity characterizes Ethiopian agriculture. The average grain yield for various crops is less than two tonnes per hectare (Byerlee et al. 2007; Dercon et al. 2009). The livestock subsector plays an important role in the Ethiopian economy. The majority of smallholder farms depend on animals for draught power, cultivation and transport of goods. The subsector makes also significant contribution to the food supply in terms of meat and dairy products as well as to export in terms of hides and skins which make up the second major export category. However, the productivity of the subsector is decreasing as a result of poor management systems, shortage of feed and inadequate health care services (FDRE 2010). Despite the importance of agriculture to the Ethiopian economy, food insecurity has been an enormous challenge to the nation since the early 1970s. In this connection, it is important to note that over the last three decades Ethiopian agriculture has been unable to produce sufficient quantities to feed the country’s rapidly growing population (Gill 2010). As a result, the country has been increasingly dependent on commercial food imports and food aids. . . . Available evidence shows that yields of major crops under farmers’ management are still far lower than what can be obtained under research managed plots (Abate 2006; EIAR 2007). This is a clear indication of the gap, which exists between researchers and farmers. The absence of effective linkage between agricultural research and extension systems has repeatedly been reported as one of the major reasons for the low productivity of Ethiopian agriculture. There had been no forum where this linkage problem had not been raised as a result of which it has become a concern among policymakers, researchers, development workers and funding organizations (Belay 2008). . . .’
ILRI Director General Carlos Seré
on the impact of climate change on agriculture and food security in Ethiopia
Carlos Seré, director general of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), whose principal campuses are located in Ethiopia and Kenya, spoke of the need to enhance the capacity of societies to learn quickly and respond to climate and other changes. ‘I do not think there is a trade-off between climate change and food security,’ Seré said. ‘Our agricultural and climate challenges have much in common. Agriculture has to be central to climate change discussions.’ The ILRI director general remarked on Ethiopia’s rare agricultural, biological, human and institutional diversity: ‘There will be a lot of variability in how the climate changes. Ethiopia has greatly diverse farming regions. It has great biodiversity. How can we use cutting edge science to understand that diversity and use it better? Lessons learned in one place may be valuable in another. We need to empower people at the local level to provide solutions. Science can quicken this work. The centres of the CGIAR have been working side by side with the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research and other institutions in this country. We stand ready to deepen our cooperation with the diversity of institutions in Ethiopia.’
Find all these presentations and more in Dialogue on Ethiopian Agricultural Development, held at United Nations Conference Centre, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 12 November 2009, published by ILRI in 2011.