By Ephrem Tesema, Abebe Mamo, Dereje Legesse and Worku Teka
About a year ago (August 2015), the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)-led Livestock and Irrigation Value chains for Ethiopian Smallholders (LIVES) project in collaboration with the ILRI/GIZ FeedSeed Project organized a training on forage seed production and marketing for 21 female smallholders and five forage experts.
The event, held at ILRI’s seed unit in Debre Zeit, targeted farmers already engaged, or willing to engage, in forage seed production and marketing from Tigray, Amhara, Oromia and the Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s (SNNP) regional states were involved in the training. Most of the trainees said that capacity development support was key next to access to land, quality seeds and output market outreach.
The training gave participants practical skills on quality seed identification, agronomic practices and on selection of suitable source seed on the basis of soil types and agro-ecological zones. It also offered business and marketing skills to the women farmers.
After the training, most of the participants allocated parts of their farms to forage seed production and decided to fully engage in the feed seed marketing business and to use the forage they produced to improve the feeding of their animals.
Bringing together these female smallholders, both young and adult, enabled an exchange of lessons from across four LIVES intervention regions-Tigray, Amhara, Oromia and SNNP. The experience of these female farmers revealed that there are potential opportunities that can be capitalized on despite the constraints they face in establishing themselves as feed seed suppliers.
Neteru Takele, 32, from Maksegnit Chira Manterno, Gonder Zuria Woreda in North Gonder Zone, was one of the women who already allocated plots and decided to produce high-quality feed seeds after the training. She also decided to share the practical skills she had learned with other smallholders to help them produce feed for their livestock.
Before the training, in June 2014, Neteru had started growing Rhodes grass and Alfalfa mainly to feed her dairy cows. She had two dairy cows (one local and one crossbreed) and two heifers. At the time, she fed her dairy cows locally available feed mostly made up of treated grass traditionally called gefera.
The change in engaging to produce seed feed happened after LIVES project team and extension agents from North Gonder zone were approached her. Then after, she learnt not only to grow livestock seed to feed her own animals but also to produce feed seed to sale for other farmers and to generate income for the household. As a result, in November, 2014, she produced Rhodes grass seed for the first time and bartered the seed with 45 kg of teff. The price of teff was estimated to be about ETB 560(≈ USD 26). However, among 32 male farmers who bought and bartered the Rhodes grass seed from her, only 2 became successful in producing livestock feed.
During the skill training in Debre Zeit, Neteru said that the failure of the seed she sold to other farmers was likely due to seed quality problem or mistakes done by farmers in cultivating the grass such as prematurely harvesting it or harvesting it after it had dried.
A March 2016 review of the farming and business progress of these women farmers, seven months after the training, also evaluated Neteru’s progress. It showed that she was now growing Rhodes and Desho grass on 0.125 hectare of land and she also produced onions on 0.125 hectare giving her an income of ETB 2, 000. She has also started fattening oxen partly using the feed from her plot and concentrate feeds. Recently, she bought oxen with ETB 4,000 and resold it with ETB 8,000.00 after keeping the animal under improved fattening management for three months. She is currently fattening a bull bought at ETB 6,000 which she expects to sell at a profit in a few months. She has also used a cross-bred bull from a neighbour to impregnate her cow and recently got a calf.
Additionally, Neteru has managed to buy a house worth ETB 5,500 of which ETB 1, 500 was generated from the sale of forage harvested from her own plot. She is now preparing an additional 0.125 hectares of land in the backyard of the newly-bought house to expand the production of forages and onions.
Neteru appreciates the improved extension services given by LIVES agents in recent years who used to visit her forage plots. She says that the commitment from the project to supply source seed and to render practical and field-based training has helped improve the lives of her family members. She says farmers like her are now able to run their farm activity in line with market orientation and with cost-benefit assessment.
Neteru’s trajectory shows that capacity development of female smallholder farmers can lead to viable household-based forage seed production and marketing enterprises that improve the livelihoods of farming households in Ethiopia.
 Eragrostis abyssinica – a cereal indigenous to Ethiopia
 1 USD = 21.92 ETB