Agriculture / Amhara / ASSP / Crops / DFATD / East Africa / Ethiopia / Extension / ILRI / Irrigation / Value Chains / Vegetables

Onion seed production: A lucrative business for smallholder farmers in Amhara

Onion seed production_demonstration_Kalu district (Photo:ILRI\Yigzaw Dessalegne)

Bulb to seed method of onion seed production demonstration in Kalu District, South Wollo zone (photo credit: ILRI\Yigzaw Dessalegne).

Different vegetables require different climatic conditions and agronomic practices to produce good yields. Ethiopia’s agro-ecology is suitable for producing both the edible parts and seeds of temperate and tropical vegetable crops. Majority of these vegetables are grown for their edible parts but seeds of most vegetable crops are imported from African, Asian and European countries. As a result, high prices and inadequate supply of seeds are primary bottlenecks in vegetable crops production in the country in general and in the Amhara region in particular. Vegetable seed production is a lucrative but untapped activity for Ethiopian smallholder farmers and these seeds have the potential to provide a viable export commodity for the country.

Onion (Allium cepa) is a recently introduced and one of the few widely-grown vegetable crops in Ethiopia. It is mostly grown using irrigation and the amount of land under onion cultivation is steadily increasing as a result of expanding irrigation systems and other factor. Unlike other bulb crops, onion is propagated by seeds. However, the onion seed in Ethiopia is either imported or produced by informal seed producers. The price for such seed is often high, the quality low and the supply is largely inadequate. Also, farmers in the country lack knowledge and experience in onion seed production and handling.

To address this challenge, the Livestock and Irrigation Value Chains for Ethiopian Smallholders (LIVES) project team in Amhara demonstrated onion seed production practices in Kalu District of South Wollo zone. The demonstration took place in the farms of six intervention households (four male-headed and two female-headed) from August to December 2014.

Each of the households planted a mother bulb of the ‘Adama red’ onion variety on a 100m2 plot of land in August 2014. The household managed the plot using recommended onion seed production practices. LIVES and horticulture experts from the Amhara Office of Agriculture coached and mentored farmers in these households at all stages of the project including in site and mother bulb selection as well as harvesting and processing. LIVES contributed mother bulbs while the households contributed land, fertilizer, water for irrigation and labour for the demonstration.

The mother bulbs planted on the demonstration plots started flowering in the first week of November 2014 and seeds were harvested at the end of December 2014. The whole process of ‘bulb to seed’ took five months in Kalu District. According to reports, in the central Rift Valley region, which is the major onion seed production area in the country, a similar process takes 6-7 months.

Once the onion seeds were ready, LIVES organized a field day to demonstrate onion seed production practices to officials, experts, input suppliers and farmers. A total of 86 people attended the event.

Farmer retailing onion seedlings after planting for his own_Kalu (Photo:ILRI\ Mesfin Tefera)

Farmer retailing onion seedlings after planting on his own plot in Kalu District (photo credit: ILRI\ Mesfin Tefera)

The seed yield from the demonstration plots ranged from 8-10 quintals per hectare. The six households sold onion seeds to 35 fellow farmers in surrounding areas at a price of ETB 800/kg (USD 40), obtaining a total income of  ETB 6,400 to 8,000 (USD 320-400) from each 100m2 plot of land in just five months, which is more lucrative compared to onion bulb production.

The farmers from the intervention households shared this method with fellow farmers and organized themselves into an onion seed producers group in Woraba tulu Peasant Association of Kalu District. In addition to being suppliers, these farmers have also sown seeds on 40 seed beds to produce seed for their own use and also to sell onion seedlings.

The farmers who bought the onion seeds from the newly established seed producers group have sown the onion seeds on 90 seed beds in total and recently planted their seedlings on a larger area of land (3.5 hectares).

As a result of this success, LIVES is carrying out similar demonstration in the farms of three intervention households of Dembia and Gondar Zuria districts of North Gondar zone and promising results are being observed and documented. Next, LIVES and its partners will establish certified onion seed producer groups in these districts and provide short-term training on onion seed production, processing and handling practices for these groups. The groups will then be linked with seed suppliers and other onion producers

Read related stories:

The rift between variety development and seed supply in Ethiopia

Vegetable seedlings: An emerging business and alternative input supply system in Ethiopia

Mobile phones boost vegetable marketing in Ethiopia

Written by  Yigzaw Dessalegne and Mesfin Tefera.

4 thoughts on “Onion seed production: A lucrative business for smallholder farmers in Amhara

  1. My question is, in term of consumption/market which of the two onions is preferred; what the price difference in relation to cost to arrive at profits and longetivity?

    • Are you referring shallot and onion the two bulb crops? If so shallot has long shelf life relative to onion but its productivity is lower than onion. In terms of price onion was preferred by consumers here in Ethiopia and had higher price. Now a days, the price difference is not that much. Therefore, onion production is more profitable compared to shallot. However, shallot is relatively disease resistant and farmers grow in the rainy season too.

  2. Yigzaw/Mesfin – thanks very much for the blog story. One problem we faced with onion seed production in the past was the timely availability of bulbs from which the seeds can be produced. Because of agro-ecological conditions/storage problems, such bulbs were often not available at planting time and therefore had to be “imported” from other areas, which could be costly. Is this a problem in South Wollo.and are you trying to address it?

    • Dear Dirk,
      You are right this has been a problem in the previous years since onion bulb production was practiced in few parts of the country. Now onion is produced in different parts of the country and get onion bulb throughout the year due to the ecological diversity of the country. Therefore, the problem you raised is partially solved and our intervention households obtained bulb from the nearby area Shoa robit.

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