Hybrid tomato seedings at Florensis Ethiopia PLC (photo credit: ILRI\Amenti Chali).
In recent years, use of hybrid varieties of vegetables has become common in East Shoa zone of Oromia region of Ethiopia. This zone is endowed with favourable climatic and edaphic conditions and is close to major markets. At the moment, East Shoa is the source of fresh fruits and vegetables for major markets including those in Addis Ababa.
Hybrid vegetables reduce environmental pollution as high productivity reduces expansion of irrigated land and thus reduces the aggravation of soil salinity, especially in the Rift Valley areas. In addition, hybrid vegetable varieties are more resistant to disease and pests compared to conventional ones (open pollinated varieties) and thus help reduce the amount of fungicides and pesticides that need to be applied.
In the past few years, farmers have started using hybrid varieties for better yield and to fetch higher prices. Greenlife Trading and Markos PLC are some of the pioneer suppliers of hybrid vegetable seeds in the country. In East Shoa, farmers estimated revenue from the sale of hybrid tomatoes is 200 times more than the open pollinated varieties (OPVs); which means that there is higher yield and better market price. Farmers in Bora and Dugda districts of East Shoa zone say the yield of recently introduced hybrid tomato (Galilea variety) is about 80 ton/ha while that of OPVs is about 20 ton/ha. One farmer from Bora explained that farmers who grew hybrid tomatoes on 1.5 ha harvested 7 times more and earned 700,000 Birr (about 3,500USD) while, OPV tomato produced only twice more and earned 30,000 Birr (about 1,500USD) from the same size of land.
The practice of germinating and raising hybrid vegetable seedlings is emerging as a professional and commercial activity in East Shoa. Previously, farmers produced seedlings of open pollinated varieties at a relatively low cost in their own nurseries. The price for 200 seeds of locally produced tomato seeds was 0.46 Birr, while the price of one seed of hybrid variety is 0.46 Birr. Despite their higher price, there is increasing demand for hybrid seeds in the zone.
Initially, many farmers started raising seedlings of hybrid vegetables in traditional nursery beds but were unsuccessful. One model farmer in Bora District purchased Galilea hybrid tomato seeds which he planted, as a trial, in traditional nurseries in one hectare at a cost of 23,920 Birr (about 1,196 USD). But the seeds were of poor quality and most failed to grow and he lost about 11,960 Birr (598 USD).
In 2012, Florensis Ethiopia PLC, a private commercial company, started producing high quality tomato seedlings to make more hybrid tomato seedlings available to farmers. The company uses special media (peat moss) imported for rooting of flower cuttings, for seedling production on trays. The seedlings are then sold to farmers in the zone and to those in other parts of the country like Alamata, Dire Dawa, Arba Minch and to commercial farms like Upper Awash Agro-industry PLC.
After the failure of his first trial, the model farmer from Bora District entered into an arrangement with Florensis Ethiopia to raise seedlings on 2.25 ha. He bought the seeds for 23,920 Birr and paid a service charge of 18,000 Birr (about 900 USD) to have the seedlings raised, incurring a total cost 41,920 Birr (2,096 USD). After three weeks, he collected healthy seedlings from the company for planting. He gave away excess seedlings to a relative, who planted them on a 0.5 ha piece of land. Had he followed his own traditional way of seedling management using seeds of hybrid variety, he would have paid 65,780 Birr (about 3,289 USD).
Despite the success of such arrangements, Florensis Ethiopia allocates only 5% of its time and resources to raising seedlings for farmers.
Smallholder growers therefore have to wait at least two months to submit their orders and a minimum of 19 days is required for the seedlings to be ready for transplanting. This supply delay has forced some farmers to pay about 2.80 Birr per seedling from farmers with excess seedlings grown at Florensis Ethiopia (at only 0.35 Birr/seedling). Lack of hybrid seedlings is therefore a major bottleneck for expanding hybrid tomato production in East Shoa and other parts of Ethiopia. Also, no attempt has been made so far to substitute the imported rooting media with locally available materials except from ongoing research efforts at Adami Tulu Agricultural Research Centre.
To ensure sustainable hybrid tomato production in the zone and beyond, alternative sources of quality seedlings supply are important. Hence, the Livestock and irrigation value chains for Ethiopian smallholders (LIVES) project is exploring options for formulating and demonstrating vegetable seedling growing media from locally available resources by improving previous attempts with technical support from local players.
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Written by Amenti Chali and Zewdie Adane with contributions from Kahsay Berhe, Dirk Hoekstra and Abule Ebro.