Agricultural experts drawn from the ministries of agriculture of Eritrea and Ethiopia, and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) charted the pathways to make crop production and productivity in the two nations transformational.
In a 4-day validation workshop held in Bishoftu, Ethiopia, the experts critically analysed the findings of the studies, which were spearheaded by FAO, with the support of the ministries of agriculture of Eritrea and Ethiopia. While the first study assessed wheat, sorghum, and sesame in Eritrea, the second study considered maize, wheat, and teff in Ethiopia.
Both studies unearthed several key challenges, including gaps in policies and institutions, limited research and extension services, moisture stresses as a result of erratic rainfall, pests and disease, dearth of mechanization, poor pre and post-harvest management, and inadequate access to finance and markets. Moreover, they highlighted the critical challenges that farmers have confronted in accessing improved seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides.
Having evaluated the outcomes of the studies, the agricultural experts recommended interventions that can increase crop production and productivity in the two nations. In this regard, efficient seed systems, sustainable soil fertility and water management, and robust pre- and post-harvest loss control were highlighted as prime areas of intervention. Included in this category were activities related to the delivery of agricultural extension services to farmers using Farmer’s Field School (FFS), creating an enabling policy environment, and establishing efficient input and output marketing systems.
During the workshop, Solomon Gelelcha, Crop Production Specialist at FAO Subregional Office for Eastern Africa, remarked that crop production needs to adopt new approaches for it to address the challenge of technical and environmental obstacles to ease the plight of smallholder farmers while meeting the global commitment to end hunger and malnutrition. The current regime of resource-intensive agriculture can be transformed into knowledge-intensive agriculture.
“Scientific and technological advancements have made it possible to increase food production notwithstanding its shrinking resource base. However, several factors may deter the realisation of such opportunities. Farmers’ lack of knowledge and their access to technology, inputs and mechanization are some of the roadblocks. The appropriate mechanisms and institutions to deliver the knowledge and technology, policy instruments, and inputs to farmers need to be further developed,” he noted.
Agriculture in Eritrea
According to FAO’s Consolidated Report on the National Agricultural Innovation System Assessment, agriculture in Eritrea has in the past been the cornerstone of the Eritrean economy and is still the main source of income and food for more than 75 per cent of the population. Eritrea has a potential of 2.1 million hectares of arable land, of which an average of 500 000 hectares are currently cultivated under rain rain-fed (mainly cereals) system. About 600 000 hectares is potentially irrigable, out of which 60 000 hectares are irrigated with spate irrigation, being the most commonly used technique. Traditional rain-fed farming accounts for more than 88 per cent of the cropped land. Despite considerable climate variability (erratic rainfall) and recurrent drought spells, the country has a huge potential for expanding its agricultural area, including irrigated agriculture. The main crops cultivated in the country are cereals (sorghum, maize, wheat, barley and teff); oil crops (sesame and linseed); pulses/grain legumes (faba bean, field pea, chickpea and lentil) and horticultural crops (vegetable: tomato, potato, pepper, onion leafy vegetables; Fruit crops: orange, lemon, mandarin, mango, papaya and guava). Sorghum is the main and dominantly cultivated crop in the highlands and lowlands, covering over 48 per cent (240 000 ha) of the cultivated land in the country, followed by pearl millet and barley with 16 and 15 per cent, respectively.
Agriculture in Ethiopia
Agriculture continues to be the backbone of the Ethiopian economy. It generates much-needed foreign currency through export, creates employment, supplies food for the nation and raw materials for industry. The sector accounts for more than three-quarters of employment, 36 per cent of the national economy, and more than a third of total exports. It constituted nearly 38 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and contributed 24 per cent of the GDP growth in the 2019/20 fiscal period. The predominance of agriculture in the economy indicates that agricultural growth will remain an important driver of economic growth and poverty reduction. Agricultural GDP grew by an average of 6 per cent between 2011 and 2015 by 5.6 per cent between 2016 and 2020. It is estimated to grow by 6.2 per cent between 2021 and 2030.
The crop sub-sector, which is dominated by five major cereal crops – teff, maize, wheat, sorghum and barley – contributes one-third of the agricultural GDP and the lion’s share of the food economy. The Ethiopian government has been investing substantial public resources to increase the overall production of cereal crops such as teff, maize and wheat.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of FAO Regional Office for Africa.