Private sector development to deliver on nutrition targets

Ethiopia and the Netherlands are committed partners in seed sector development. Building on Ethiopian seed sector transformation, planning is underway to strengthen and broaden this partnership and enable mutually beneficial business and trade. With nutrition top of the agenda, ISSD Ethiopia facilitated a recent scoping mission to frame the challenges and opportunities ahead.

With over ten years of positive and productive partnership in seed sector development and transformation, there are sound foundations between Ethiopia and the Netherlands for enhanced partnership. This was the rationale to organise a scoping mission under the auspices of ‘SeedNL’, an emerging public-private partnership of Dutch seed companies and the Dutch Government.

SeedNL supports alignment between Dutch business and development interests and in doing so matches the ambitions of the Ethiopian Federal Government to professionalise and internationalise its seed sector. There is strong complementarity between the countries too, with key focus areas on enabling environment, variety development and deployment as well as professional capacity building.

An attractive environment
Members of the visiting team represented both Dutch public and private seed sector organisations. The team of seven were accompanied by ISSD management to a range of destinations, including the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, the Dutch Embassy, multiple seed companies and producers as well as an agricultural research centre and finally with ATA.

The various visits confirmed that Ethiopia offers many opportunities for the seed industry to strengthen seed production for domestic and export markets. This is especially the case for vegetables, including potatoes, where space exists for large growth in domestic and export production.

More and more Ethiopian farmers are attracted to hybrid varieties as their performance and uniformity in production is enhanced compared to OP varieties. Moreover, farmers are starting to use vegetable seedlings produced by specialised propagation companies as starting material for cultivation as these offer a stronger starting position to get the most out of the expensive hybrid varieties.

This is a shared top priority; to improve the functioning of vegetable value chains is essential to reach targets on nutrition. Despite the progress in seed sector transformation nationally, vegetable production remains lagging and is now seen as an urgent area of attention, both at local and national levels.

The capacity to excel
However, the use of hybridised and generally high-cost specialised seeds and seedling is risky given a prevailing lack of technical capacity across the sector. Fully capitalising on the improved performance and uniformity that these improved varieties requires better agronomic practices.

Several initiatives have contributed much to the functioning of seed markets and the development and adoption of best practices in production, business management, quality control and marketing, but there remains a lot to be achieved. These capacity gaps were evident during the visit, but so too was the enthusiasm and political energy to continue and build on the major transformations that the Ethiopian seed sector has experienced in recent years.

Shared development
The success of international seed business in Ethiopia is tied to this continuing transformation. The various visits and discussions highlighted the need for development and shifts in thinking on a number of issues.

An independent seed regulatory agency, responsible for variety registration, trade regulation and licencing is seen as offering a lot of benefits. Such a body would boost transparency and accountability and greatly support professionalisation.

How to fund seed sector developments also needs new thinking. Companies and development partners are capable of providing funds, but how to best align these with much-needed in-country public funding, needs further exploration.

And how such a partnership engages with local stakeholders needs careful consideration. Protecting the interests of smallholders in the journey of internationalisation requires close monitoring and alignment with development projects and initiatives.

Next steps
The insightful scoping visit is but one step in the formation of this emerging new phase of the Ethiopian-Dutch partnership on seed sector development. In the coming weeks and months, more visits and discussions are planned, including high-level Governmental dialogues. Stay tuned for more information via