Seeds & Services: Partnership projects support Ethio-Dutch cooperation on seed business

RijkZwaan & Enza Zaden, two leading Dutch seed companies are increasingly active in Ethiopia. ISSD Ethiopia created Partnership Projects to guide learning on how partners can maximise mutual benefits

Partnering for resilience
The Ethiopian vegetable market is ever changing. Growing urbanisation and a changing need for the nutrition of the city’s inhabitants is creating a bigger market for farmers to sell vegetables. Increased demand asks for higher productivity of farms and therefore new vegetable varieties and agronomic practices are being introduced to Ethiopia.

The introduction of new varieties creates new opportunities for local farmers. Besides improved productivity and better quality, the introduction also solves some other issues that farmers face. For instance, limited crop rotation results in pest and disease problems. And if all farmers only grow onions and tomatoes, two highly popular crops, and harvest them at the same time, supply will outstrip demand and prices plummet. Having a larger crop portfolio makes farmers less vulnerable to the whims of the market.

Over the past years ISSD Ethiopia created partnerships with two Dutch seed companies: Rijk Zwaan and Enza Zaden. Using different approaches, these companies are demonstrating new varieties and agronomic practices to local farmers. ISSD’s partnership projects work with a 50-50 co-financing mechanism in which the company bears at least 50% of the cost and ISSD Ethiopia provides the other half. Here, we look at two activities as part of these projects.

RijkZwaan’s Cucumbers
Cucumbers are a relatively new crop to the Ethiopian market. Mainly used in salads and as children snack they are yet to gain a major market share.  RijkZwaan, a Netherlands-based international vegetable breeding company, officially registered the first hybrid cucumber variety  in Ethiopia, Mydas F1, in 2017. Over the last three years this slicer cucumber variey has gained popularity especially by hotels and restaurants, and retailers like Fresh Corner.

In partnership with ISSD Ethiopia, Rijk Zwaan developed a demonstration site on the border of Bishoftu, a city 35 km south of the capital Addis Ababa. At the demonstration site, a number of experiments have been set up to study the best growing techniques. At the site cucumber plants are grown both without a support structure (flat on the ground), the most commonly used production method, and staked, while using furrow irrigation.

During the project period, neighbouring farmers visited the demonstration site several times and received training on seedling raising, water management and fertilizer application. All of them are experienced growers and open to innovations. Factsheets about the possible (financial) benefits of growing this type of cucumber helped them to recognize the potential.

On the 19th of February, RijkZwaan organised a field day which was attended by over 50 farmers. Amare Gebeyehu, Country Representatiev of Rijk Zwaan in Ethiopia, presented the results of the experiments. One of the interesting features of the cucumber variety is that harvesting is possible continuously for a period of three months generating a stable cashflow for the farmer. The most successful production method turned out to be the staked A-frame structure, with the cucumber plants positioned on the side of the ridge (receiving maximum water from the furrow). With this method, profits per acre turned out to be higher than that of tomato. These numbers sparked enthusiasm amongst the farmers which reflected in RijkZwaan’s sales. At this moment, all the stock of the Mydaz F1 seed has been sold by two of RijkZwaan’s distributors.

With the demonstration site and training activities, Rijk Zwaan shows that they are committeed to a long-term relationship with Ethiopian farmers. Short-term profits cannot be expected for a crop  like cucumber, given the high registration costs of over €4.000,- per variety.


Amare Gebeyehu of Rijk Zwaan: “We are not only selling seeds but, importantly, also providing services to farmers.”

Onions and Tomatoes
ISSD Ethiopia also partners with Enza Zaden and its Ethiopian distributor, GAWT International. The partnership focuses on introducing new crops and varieties in areas dominated by food crops like maize, teff and wheat. These areas are outside of the vegetable hotspots like the Central Rift Valley where support activities already take place under the umbrella of HortiLIFE. In the ISSD-Enza partnership onions and tomatoes were selected as suitable crops for smallholders to diversify their cropping system and generate more cash.

Even though tomato and onion are two of the most important vegetables of the county, average yields are still low. For tomato, Ethiopian farmers produce on average 8 tons/ha, which is low compared to the world average of 34 tons/ha. One of the key reasons for the low yield is the use of poor quality seeds of often old open pollinating varieties. Together with poor management practices, these are the two main causes for the yield gap.

Bridging the gap
The project introduced new hybrid varieties to the selected farmers in sixteen woredas in Amhara, SNNPR and Tigray. Two tomato (Randah and Batool) and two onion (Malbec and Red Coach) varieties were selected for demonstrations and trainings. The four hybrid varieties offer traits like high yield and disease resistance that can contribute to higher productivity and income of small-scale farmers.

Within the demonstrations, model farmers are selected based on a set of criteria. The farmers have to be open to innovation and have irrigation. After following two training sessions on new production techniques like seedbed preparation and transplanting, the farmers are provided with the hybrid onion and tomato seeds. Once the seedlings are raised, they are transplanted to the farmer’s fields. Results of the crop cycle are presented at farmer field days before harvest.

In close collaboration with the Woreda Office of Agriculture and the local Development Agents, this scheme is now implemented in different regions throughout the country. In sixteen woredas spread over Tigray, SNNPR and Amhara, between five and ten model famers are selected per woreda. At each field day, the crops are demonstrated to over 100 farmers, ensuring the project has a large outreach.

















Shimels Getachew, technical manager Ethiopia of Enza Zaden: “To make a difference for the small scale farmers, we need support from programs like ISSD.”

Outstanding issues
The introduction of new varieties and training of farmers has been regarded as a golden combination. Rijk Zwaan, Enza and ISSD are therefore planning to introduce more crops and crop varieties to the Ethiopian market and to train more farmers. In addition, ISSD also aims to broker market linkages for the farmers by introducing them to major buyers in Addis Ababa.

However, the vegetable seed sector faces a number of challenges to reach this goal. Training sessions and demonstrations in remote rural areas are expensive and therefore smallholder farmers are often not targeted. In addition, the lack of foreign exchange makes it difficult to import seeds for local distributors like GAWT, which results in low availability of quality seeds for smallholder farmers. Lastly, the lengthy and costly registration process, especially for ‘smaller’ crops like cucumbers, is limiting the farmer’s choice for both new crops and new varieties.

ISSD Ethiopia will continue to focus on these challenges in the coming year. By overcoming these challenges, both seed companies and farmers can grow their business together and gradually transform the vegetable sector.