Increasing food security through cooperatives in PSNP woredas

Chronic food and nutrition insecurity continues to affect many rural households. Seed producer cooperatives, supported by ISSD, are improving resilience in some of Ethiopia’s most food-insecure woredas.

The Productive Safety Nets Program (PSNP) of the Ethiopian Government supports chronically food-insecure households in rural Ethiopia. PSNP focuses this support on increasing access to safety net and disaster risk management systems, complimentary livelihood services and nutrition-related support and advisory services.

PSNP is active in woredas with lower agricultural productivity. Limited water availability and soil degradation are common challenges in PSNP woredas, constraining their ability to achieve fuller potential as is contrastingly seen in woredas of the Agricultural Growth Program (AGP).

Many PSNP woredas though, offer encouragement and form the motivation to engage in sustainable development initiatives. In an effort to reach and support these food-insecure households, ISSD has been strengthening seed producer cooperatives (SPCs) in PSNP, AGP and other woredas.

SPC membership key to PSNP success
Since 2012, ISSD has organised over 450 SPCs in PSNP woredas across the regional states of Amhara, Oromia, SNNPR and Tigray. Together these SPCs have produced close to 20,000 tonnes of quality grain crop seeds. This achievement and the derived benefits for producers has motivated an increase in SPC membership.

Since 2012, an additional 2,500 farmers from PSNP woredas have joined supported SPCs. Another encouraging sign is the notable increase in women’s participation in seed business, accounting for 21% of membership in PSNP woredas, an increase of close to 5% since 2012. In its efforts in PSNP woredas, ISSD continues to give special attention to increasing women’s access to quality seed and the varieties they prefer.

SPC membership is voluntary, but requires clear commitments from aspiring members. Firstly, members are required to contribute a registration fee and commit to buying a certain number of shares, dependent on the specific SPC. Further, members are required to allocate specific sections of their plots and follow quality control procedures during production.

Members of SPCs benefit greatly from participation and through ISSD’s support. They receive technical capacity building in pre- and post-harvest techniques of quality seed production, handling and storage; seed business management; organizational management; and marketing.

ISSD staff members also facilitate their linkage to institutional support for improved  access to inputs (e.g. basic seed) and services like seed quality assurance, auditing and credit. ISSD also facilitates SPCs’ involvement in wider value chain development.

To the benefit of other SPC members, active participation in SPC activities and assemblies, as well as participating in sub-committees is required of members. The sharing of experiences and collaborative decision-making is key to the success of PSNP SCPs and enables the SPC to respond better to prevailing situations.

Enhancing resilience through varieties
The Super El Niño of 2015/16 again highlighted the challenges faced in PSNP woredas. As drought set in, the amount of grain seed, for example, produced by SPC members fell by over half compared with 2014. Promoting resilience through diversity, ISSD-supported SPCs cultivate many different crops and varieties with preferable traits to minimize the risks associated with climate stress.

Efforts to address fragility of production in these woredas included participatory variety selection (PVS) trials,
conducted on 6,000 smallholder farmers’ fields, with a goal of identifying and deploying new, improved and adapted varieties, and crowdsourcing farmers’ preferences of those varieties and their specific traits. PVS and crowdsourcing are approaches to rapidly deploy many new, improved and adapted varieties of different crops. Additional support in the informal seed systems component of ISSD includes training in seed selection, seed storage and maintenance.

A total of 25 crops and 138 varieties have been put in seed production at least for one season over the five years of activities. A relatively higher number of varieties of bread wheat (26), potato (19) open-pollinated maize (10) and tef (8) are used for seed production.

Resilience though, not only applies to climactic impacts on production. The availability of multiple crops and varieties is essential for a diverse and nutritious diet, with improving the wellbeing and livelihoods of PSNP woreda inhabitants being the ultimate objective.

Realising success in PSNP woredas
Within PSNP woredas, ISSD works closely with a large number of partners engaged in related activities. These include the Bureau of Agriculture & Natural Resources and Cooperative Promotion Agency at regional, zonal and woreda levels; ATA; research centres of the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR), agricultural research institutes of Amhara, Oromia, SNNPR and Tigray (ARARI, OARI, SARI and TARI respectively); multiple universities, cooperative unions, as well as with NGOs including CARE, CRS, HCS, REST, and ORDA. This network of partners informs and extends the impact of our work.

In 2018, ISSD hopes to expand its work in PSNP woredas with the proposed PSNP-REALISE project, enabling the development and execution of strategies for sustainable and resilient seed systems in many more PSNP woredas than ever before.