Irrigated vegetables such as tomato and onion can easily be produced in the lowlands of Gamo Gofa Zone in Ethiopia. However, despite growing market demands by local hotels, restaurants and lodges in Arba Minch town, there are only a few farmers who produce irrigated tomato and onion in Arba Minch and Mirab Abaya districts. The Central Rift Valley areas around Ziway and Meki were regular suppliers of onion and tomato until recently.
The main reasons for low yields of locally produced vegetables in Arba Minch include; lack of proper inputs such as seeds and agro-chemicals, frequent damage by pests and diseases, limited knowledge and experiences of improved production techniques, and poor access to market information and linkages.
For years, Ayele and his wife Amarech produced irrigated banana and maize with gravity irrigation from the Sille River. This year however, they decided to try market-oriented irrigated vegetables as well and they allocated a hectare of land to tomato and another hectare for onions.
After receiving proper training on vegetable production – the quality and amount of seed required, the couple spent ETB 5,000 (approximately USD 250) to buy the Marglobe tomato variety and the Adama red onion variety. They were also trained on proper techniques of seedbed preparations, sowing, watering, field preparation, transplanting in proper spacing, furrow irrigation techniques, weeding, staking of tomatoes, proper applications of fungicides and harvesting.
To fill the gap in the supply of high quality tomato seeds, the couple started extracting tomato seeds. They supplied their neighbours and community with high quality seed and earned about ETB 5,000 from seed sales.
On their farm, the yield of tomato and onion was 254 quintal/ha and 224 quintal per hectare, respectively. As they were linked with potential traders, restaurants and hotels at Arba Minch town, they sold the tomato and onion for ETB 6.50/kg and ETB 5.50/kg on average, respectively.
The overall cost-benefit analysis revealed that Ayele and Amarch earned a gross revenue of ETB 191,000 per hectare and a net return to family labour of about ETB 110, 000 per hectare (ETB 98,000 per hectare from onion and ETB 122,000 per hectare from tomato) per season.
Although tomatoes have high initial investment costs and require lots of engagement through the production season, the profit is still higher than onions.
Given their success, Ayele and Amarach are trying to produce twice a year by rotating these two crops. This makes profit margins high while also reducing pest and disease cycles.
Following a field day that was organized to share the couple’s story, several more farmers showed interest in irrigated vegetable production.
It’s the hope of LIVES staff that improved production techniques of irrigated tomato and onion will be adopted by many smallholder farmers, satisfying demand from Arba Minch town. Attention should be given, however, to stagger planting in order to avoid excess supply.
The case of Ayele and Amarech proves that smallholder farmers can transform themselves to a more market-oriented production system with proper extension services that build their capacities and foster market linkages.
Written by Birhanu Biazen, LIVES Regional Expert, SNNPR With contribution from the SNNPR LIVES team and Dirk Hoekstra