Farmers adopting improved crop varieties and farming practices has made significant gains in their crop production and productivity, such that they produce surplus that tends to be supplied in the market for commercialization and these in turn result in earning for the farmers a substantially increased income from their farming. In contrary to this situation, those farmers who are not using improved crop varieties and farming practices have not made any significant gains and characterized by very low production and productivity. Fisseha Zegeye is a researcher and currently director for Public Communication and IPR Directorate at Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR). The research institute has commenced scientific research in major agricultural fields such as crop, livestock and natural resources since 1966.
Fisseha received a B.Sc. degree in Agricultural Extension in 2004, and M.Sc. degree in Agriculture (Rural Development and Agricultural Extension) in 2010 from the then Alemaya University, now named as Haramaya University. His current research interests include farming system, food security and climate change, agricultural technology and science. Capital spoke to him about the institute’s current focus and their future plan. Excerpts;
Capital: Can you tell us the major achievements that EIAR have achieved in the last 50 years?
Fisseha Zegeye: Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR) is a federal research institute and has commenced scientific research in major agricultural fields such as crop, livestock and natural resources since 1966. In the last five decades of its research activities, EIAR has generated over 3,000 agricultural technologies and information in collaboration with national and international research institutes. Of these technologies and information, 1,234 are improved crop varieties and 46 forage species, which has been released and registered for various agro-ecologies of the country. Furthermore, the outputs includes agro-techniques in crop and animal husbandry, pest disease management techniques, animal feeds, farm implements, soil and water management techniques, socio-economic and policy study recommendations. Among the major successes, the release of CBD resistant coffee varieties, the supply of the first superior hybrid maize varieties in 1980s, and the release of yellow rust-resistant wheat varieties in 1990s. In recognition of its valuable contributions and impact in the country’s agricultural development, it received several national and international science, technology and innovation awards. By advancing its scientific research capacity, creating technology capital and ensuring technology security, EIAR is working towards meeting the growing demand for agricultural technologies created in different chapters of the journey of the country’s renaissance.
Capital: Which current projects are you working and particularly excited about at the moment?
Fisseha: On top of my current responsibility of communicating research outputs for wider awareness and intellectual property management in technology transfer, I am supporting technology demonstration and popularization projects under Technology Transfer and Commercialization Research Directorate of the Institute. I am very much happy at this moment that it gives me immense opportunity to meet, discuss and exchange views with various actors in the system, technology beneficiaries and journalists. With their diverse views but reach in thoughts, I am very much excited of having learning opportunity from and with those practitioners in agricultural research and development system and those of the journalists who are typically interested to work in the field.
Capital: What is EIAR vision for the Agriculture?
Fisseha: The vision that EIAR aspiring for agriculture is to see improved livelihood of all Ethiopians engaged in agriculture, agro-pastoralism and pastoralism through market competitive agricultural technologies. The mandate areas that the Institute is currently working is to conduct research that will provide market competitive agricultural technologies contributing to increased agricultural productivity and nutrition quality, sustainable food security, inputs for agro-industries and export market, economic development and conservation of the integrity of natural resources and the environment. EIAR is working to realize the vision and its mandate through its triple research functions, such as i) generation of technologies that addresses food and nutrition security, agro-industry and export/domestic market needs inputs, and natural resource management technology needs; ii) demand creation through demonstration, popularization and capacity building of farmers, agricultural experts, etc.; and finally iii) source technology multiplication and maintenance.
Capital: The cost of food is too high and many farmers still use their products for their home consumption and some associated this with poor agricultural researches. What is your stand on this point?
Fisseha: Despite the performance of agricultural research, the efficiency and effectiveness of the system of the technology multiplication and transfer and its full utilization by the beneficiaries determine surplus production that directly leads to enough supply of agricultural produces in the markets. This is to say that the performance of the technology generation is not always necessarily linked with high food price and the farmers’/pastoralists’ use of agricultural produce for their own home consumption. Apart from the use of these agricultural technologies with their full improved packages of crop and animal husbandries, pest and diseases management practice, post-harvest handling technologies, etc., there are so many determining factors for high food price and the use of produces in home consumption. These factors as to my knowledge include production costs, nature of the product and customer preferences, market structure and competition, transportation costs, weather/climate conditions, those factors related to national and international political and economic situation will also determine food price.
Over the past half century, in realizing the country’s food security, EIAR has been working to generate proven agricultural technologies and bringing an impact in Ethiopian agricultural development. The impact of EIAR and its generated technologies have been felt by the growing number of famers, pastoralists, agro-pastoralists, and local agro-industries. It has supported millions of Ethiopian who are engaged in agriculture with various agricultural technologies and information that substantially contributed the growth of the national volume of agricultural production. With the efforts of EIAR and other key actors in the system, the country achieved its food security at national level as the world Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has witnessed.
Capital: Reports from funded projects in Ethiopia indicate that while farmers have made significant gains by adopting improved crop varieties and farming practices, productivity still falls far below the full potential along the commodity value chains. How can this problem be solved?
Fisseha: It is indeed, that those farmers adopting improved crop varieties and farming practices has made significant gains in their crop production and productivity, such that they produce surplus that tends to be supplied in the market and these in turn result in earning substantially increasing their income. In contrary to this situation, those farmers who are not using improved crop varieties and farming practices have not made any significant gains and characterized by very low production and productivity. This contrary prevailing situation make the overall volume of the country’s production far below the full potential along the commodity value chains. Moreover, there is also significant difference between those farmers who are adopting improved crop varieties that determine 60% of the productivity along with improved farming practices that limit 40% of the productivity and those farmers who are only adopting improved crop varieties. Therefore, the use of only improved crop varieties and crop farming with these technologies characterizes our agricultural sector low productivity taking other factor that determine the productivity of the crop sub-sector as being constant. In order to boost the productivity of the sub-sector to its attainable potential we need not only enhance access and use of improved crop varieties along with its full packages by the farmers but also work to improve other factors that determine the productivity of the sub-sector.
Capital: The other area to make big research is the shortage of researchers in agriculture. What are you working with local universities to get more professionals in the sector?
Fisseha: EIAR has established strong partnership with national and international higher learning institutes to increase its human resources capacity of the research programs. We have signed memorandum of understanding with selected national universities to train those researchers at MSc and PhD level with the required degree of qualification. We also have project based collaboration with some international universities for overseas scholarship and long and short term training supports. The Institute also supports the researchers to search by their own and get scholarship and training opportunities in prominent international universities.
Capital: How are you working with African and global research centers to share experiences and to bring new technology from abroad?
Fisseha: EIAR has been working with international development partners, donors, and agricultural research centers since its establishment in 1966. The Institute has strong partnership with international agricultural research centers called CG Centers through either represented branch offices in Ethiopia or they cooperate through their various networks. Funding agencies like FAO, BMGF, UNDP, World Bank and the like also assist us either sponsors or co-sponsors to the particular joint initiatives. The contribution of research partners to achieve the milestones of EIAR is tremendous. It is ranging from carrying jointly the research projects, germplasm exchange, technology demonstration and promotion, value chain development and creating market access, to physical and human capacity buildings, etc.