by Dirk Hoekstra, Yigza Dessalegn, Worku Teka and Beamlak Tesfaye
In a recent field visit, we came across two interesting innovations in Gondar town. The first is a banana ripening house which we had heard about while visiting banana farmers working under the Livestock and Irrigation Value chains for Ethiopian Smallholders (LIVES) in Lay Armacheho District, North Gondar Zone. Such a ripening house would be required in the future, in the district, when banana production expands and home ripening techniques are no longer adequate.
A similar approach of setting up a ripening house was used after banana production expanded in Metema District. Banana farming was introduced there six years ago by the Improving the Productivity and Market Success of Ethiopian Farmers (IPMS) project which preceded LIVES. A banana ripening specialist was brought in from Atkilt tera (fresh fruit and vegetable marketing centre in Addis Ababa) to train traders from Gondar town and some farmers from Metema.
One of the trained banana traders did, in fact, start a ‘Chella‘ (banana ripening) house in Gondar town but it only functioned for a short time as a result of low prices offered to farmers and conflicting interests between traders. But by then, the IPMS project had ended and the development and scaling up of banana ripening was not pursued further. So it was quite a surprise to find a fully functional ripening house in Gondar which is operated by Fiseha Aregawi. We noticed many women retailers collecting bananas from the ripening house for sale in town. Another surprise was the fact that most of the ripened bananas were not from Metama (which we expected) but from Arba Minch District, where the project originally introduced banana farming.
The second innovation we came across in Gondar town was industry packed Red Bombay onion seeds, which we found in Mohamednur Ahmed’s agricultural input supplies shop. We learnt that the seed is produced and packed in Mecha District, West Gojjam zone by a commercial company, Jemma Integrated Agriculture PLC, in Merawi.
It reminded us of an onion seed production initiative started by IPMS in Fogera in 2005. Starting with only three farmers, it had grown to 92 farmers in 2009/10, producing onion seeds worth ETB 2,361,000 ( approximately USD 110,000). To professionalize the sale of onion seeds, the project at that time worked with Adet Agricultural Research Centre and the Amhara Bureau of Agriculture regulatory department to train farmers to produce quality seeds. It even resulted in a brand name (FOSP) for the onion seeds which was used by some of the farmers. When LIVES started in the Koga irrigation scheme a few years later, it was found that one of the leading onion seed producers in Fogera leased land in the scheme to produce onion seeds. This person introduced onion seed production in Koga irrigation scheme.
The project in Fogera further expanded and a seed producers cooperative was established in support of Local Seed Business and AgroBig projects. In addition, an entrepreneur, Jemma Integrated Agriculture in Mecha District, started onion seed production, processing, packaging and marketing. The company is now selling packed onion seed to onion producers in west Amhara region at a lower price compared to imported seeds.
Our experiences in Gondar show that projects can plan, initiate and facilitate scaling up of interventions but it is ultimately up to the value chain actors to actually implement them and in their own ways, ensure their long-term success. In addition, innovation requires incubation period to takeoff.