Attractive and delicious tropical and temperate fruits are much in demand in the local markets of Tigray, particularly Mekelle town. Over the past two decades, research and development partners have worked to improve the regional fruit supply system; mainly through the establishment of public fruit nurseries in some of the major fruit areas.
This has led to the development of high value fruit corridors in some parts of the region. For instance, mango and orange fruit corridors are successfully developed in the Rama-Hamedo plain along the Mereb River; there is a papaya and mango corridor around the Raya-Alamata plain; and there’s a banana and papaya corridor around the north-western flanks of the Tekeze River drainage. These fruit corridors have started supplying fruits to the nearby small and large towns. Targeted customers include juice houses, supermarkets, fruit shops and hotels that established linkages with the private fruit producers. Private consumers have shown a high preference to the taste of these fruits as well.
Most of the successful fruit corridors are in lowland areas. However, a large swath of the regional potential, for instance the highlands of the eastern zone (apple potential areas) and a large part of the central zone (Tekeze and Mereb rivers) remain untapped. The main reasons for limited fruit development in these areas are largely attributed to:
- shortage of dependable improved fruit seedlings supply
- The scattered planting of a few fruit trees by individual households hardly warrant improved fruit management
- Farmers are discouraged to adopt improved fruit development because some of the introduced non-grafted fruits take more years to bear fruits.
To overcome these challenges, the Livestock and Irrigation Value Chains for Ethiopian Smallholders (LIVES) project in collaboration with research and development partners, mainly the regional Bureau of Agriculture and Rural Development (BoARD) and its district branch offices have initiated a new fruit development intervention in central and eastern zones of Tigray.
The approach integrates private fruit seedling suppliers with fruit development clusters in a new fruit corridor. The new approach was launched to enhance the uptake and development of improved fruit corridors. The key elements of the new approach are: delineation of fruit development clusters of peasant associations (PAs) and establishment of private improved grafted fruit seedling suppliers.
The fruit development clusters were introduced in 14 PAs in the eastern zone and in three PAs in the central zone of Tigray. The fruit development clusters entail the growing of improved fruits on adjacent or continuous landholding within an irrigation scheme or village. Using such a ‘cluster’ approach, 69 farmers in the eastern zone planted 1545 grafted seedlings of apple in adjacent landholdings in 2013. Similarly, 52 farmers in the central zone of Tigray planted 1662 mango and avocado grafted seedlings.
The establishment or strengthening of private fruit seedling suppliers follows along the delineated fruit development clusters. For instance, four private improved grafted fruit producers and suppliers are functional in the highlands of Atsbi-Womberta district in the eastern zone. The private seedling suppliers were initially organized and trained by the Improving Productivity and Marketing Success (IPMS) project. These private fruit seedling suppliers have started marketing grafted apple seedlings to other farmers in the eastern zone. More and more private grafted seedling suppliers are also emerging in districts of LIVES in eastern Tigray.
The private grafted fruit seedling suppliers are purposely aligned with PAs for irrigated fruit development. In the central zone, primarily in Dura and Tahitay Logomti PAs, the focus of private fruit supply and development is mainly on tropical fruits such as mango and avocado. So far, four private grafted fruit suppliers are successfully operating in the central zone. The supply of grafted fruit seedlings is expected to start in the next rainy season. The private grafted fruit supply centers are spatially aligned with the targeted PAs ecologically suitable for the production and marketing of mango and avocado as indicated by the performance of privately managed pockets of the fruit trees.
In this approach, some positive advantages have emerged:
- the approach enables effective skills and knowledge sharing and transfer among fruit seedling suppliers, growers, other value chain actors and service providers.
- the cluster of fruit development has the potential to trigger competitive marketing.
- In the medium and long term, fruit growers can make informed decisions on fruit variety selection based on the performance of fruits in nearby sites.
- The cluster based grafted seedling supply could reduce the introduction of fruit diseases and insect pests.
- The beneficiaries of the fruit development clusters have been grouped into manageable co-located units.
- Beneficiaries have developed practicable bylaws that help them protect their fruit trees from freely roaming animals and passers by.
- Concurrent feed development is an additional incentive that reduces the pressure of livestock open grazing on established fruit orchards.
Integrating support for private grafted fruit seedling suppliers with fruit development clusters is expected to enhance the income of both parties in a sustainable way. Indeed, a new fruit development corridor initiative will improve the environmental services through the transformation of the crop lands into year round green fruits. Once widely familiarized, the nutrition and health of rural households, mainly women and children will improve as well. The move from mainly public to private grafted fruit seedling supply and its close association with fruit growing clusters system will serve as a live learning corridor for others. The new fruit development approach is also expected to enhance the uptake of improved fruit production and marketing techniques; and the lessons can be easily scaled out and up to the nearby irrigated schemes with similar ecology and access to market.
Contributed by Gebremedhin Woldewahid, Yayneshet Tesfay, Haile Tilahun and Dawit Weldemariam