Consuming fruit and vegetables as part of the daily diet ensures an adequate intake of most micronutrients, dietary fiber, and essential non-nutrient substances, and can help prevent major non-communicable diseases (NCD) such as heart disease and obesity. Despite the rich benefits, vegetable consumption in sub-Saharan Africa is the lowest of any region in the world. To bridge the ‘vegetable gap’ people need opportunities to produce and market vegetables to generate income and contribute to an accessible, affordable supply of nutritious food.
In order to bridge this gap, over the years, the World Vegetable Center has been conducting research, building networks, and carrying out training and promotion activities to raise awareness of the role of vegetables for improved health and global poverty alleviation. For a better understanding of World Vegetable Center’s projects in Ethiopia, Capital drew links with Wubetu Bihon (PhD), who is a Scientist for plant health and liaison officer for the center, here in Ethiopia. Excerpts;
Capital: Tell us about the ‘Veggies 4 Planet & People (V4P&P)’ project?
Webetu Bihon: The project was launched by the World Vegetable Center in collaboration with SNV Netherlands Development Organization, IKEA Foundation and the Ministry of Agriculture. ‘Veggies 4 Planet & People (V4P&P)’, is a five-year( 1 July 2020- 30 June 2025), €6M project that aims to establish 200 vegetable business networks (120 in Kenya, 80 in Ethiopia) to engage an estimated 4000 women and youth in market activities designed to improve their livelihoods and diets.
The initiative will also work with policy makers and implementers to facilitate an enabling environment for vegetable business networks. As a result, this project is of paramount importance in reducing poverty and in booming the country’s economy.
Capital: How many participant farmers are there?
Webetu Bihon: Currently we have 31 vegetable business networks and each has about 30 members which will increase to 900 members.
Capital: The project started in February, how is the progress thus far?
Webetu Bihon: In the first few months we gave training for the farmers, on the production months based on the country season of June and July. They have planted their produce, and currently the plants are growing and are expected to get in the market soon.
So far the progress has shown it is healthier and better than the old process, but it is still too early to give a full detailed progress. We have started the project in three places, namely: Welmera, Ejere and Weliso. We have arranged farmers in each place with vegetable business network under one lead farmer and we have also prepared learning plots, on different issues including using organic bio pesticides, water management and so on.
So far it is great as it has helped to minimize cost. It has gone a long way in helping farmers to have a better understanding about chemicals and has aided in minimize using chemicals whilst still having good production. Overall, we are working to expand the project in the overall community.
Capital: Does the project create conflict from chemical users or companies?
Webetu Bihon: Yes it creates conflicting issues from chemical companies but not from users. The issue is when the farmers using natural fertilizer get less-price than the chemical users. However it has positive acceptance among the users that are in need of non-chemical plants, but still we need to work in the promotion of such products and expand it over the country.
Capital: What kind of changes does the project make in farmers’ lives?
Webetu Bihon: Vegetable diversity in the market and also in our food consumption is small. One of the fears is non-organic pesticide, which affects the overall production of vegetables and market price for farmers. Using organic pesticides can increase their production and their income.
In order for organic fertilizers to work, the soil has to first break them down. This means that both the soil and the plants in it get the nutrition they need when they need it. Synthetic fertilizers, although speedy, often over-feed the plant, do nothing for the soil, and can damage plants by burning them.
Organics are just as easy to apply as their synthetic, non-organic counterparts. Organic materials and fertilizers improve the soil texture, allowing it to hold water longer, and increase the bacterial and fungal activity in the soil.
We are introducing farmers to start using organic fertilizers and non-chemical bio pesticides in order to increase their production and protect their soil. The acceptance among the farmers has so far been good.
Capital: What are the challenges in the vegetable sector?
Webetu Bihon: Even though through time we are seeing changes in the agriculture sector, yet the vegetable sector is backward than others. One of the problems here is there is huge gap in the system, for example, finding best seeding companies is a challenge in that: they are not strong; they lack enough knowledge about the seed itself. This is because there is a systematic obstacle, finding land access to irrigation, lack of rules to import seed as we need foreign currency. Similarly, the registration process is cumbersome and there is lack of an international seeding company in Ethiopia.
The other thing is finding eco-friendly bio pesticide. There is a lack of a system to import and distribute in the market yet you can simply import chemicals which are harmful to the environment. It is difficult to find inputs to use as organic pesticide.
Furthermore, the policy and overall system should be looked into, which the Ministry of Agriculture is working on at the moment.
Capital: What should be done as a solution?
Webetu Bihon: The first thing we need to do is make soft policies, some of the systems are complicated. We have to provide seeds for the farmers and train them on using their best seed as business by reproducing seeds.
Introducing and promoting the production of local eco-friendly pesticides using local plants, is also a great solution.
Besides increasing capacity on seed agents, we also ought to plan to work and support these agents.
Capital: How do you assess government’s support on the sector?
Webetu Bihon: I think it is getting better from time to time. There is a horticulture division in the Ministry of Agriculture led by the state minister, and they are doing a lot, in that regard. There is focus on the commercialization, but still the system needs to be faster and there is room for growth.