Vegetable seed import: A growing trend in both import volume and government spending 

The use of quality seed is essential for production and marketing of vegetables in Ethiopia. So far, large proportion of the vegetable seed is imported while the remaining proportion is produced domestically. Locally produced seeds include low yielding local varieties of some vegetables and relatively high yielding improved ones which have been released by public research institutes, almost all of which are open pollinated varieties. However, the remaining ones (most of which are hybrids) are being imported from various countries of the world by private seed importer companies. Out of the total vegetable crop varieties registered in Ethiopia, 26% of them were released from public research institutes while the rest 74% were imported. The major crop types are tomato (55 varieties), onion (30 varieties), sweet pepper (28 varieties), cabbage (21 varieties). The trends for registering/releasing of varieties over years by private companies are increasing as compared to that of the public research institutes (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Registered/released varieties over years

A scoping study made by ENSP revealed that imports of vegetable seeds to Ethiopia started well before two decades. Seventeen years import data obtained from Customs Commission of Ethiopia (2005 – 2021) indicates an increasing trend of vegetable seed imports over years at a rate of 5% per annum. Even though the import trend reveals ups and downs over time, overall trend appeared positive which is also an indication that the demand for vegetables is growing from year to year. For instance, Ethiopia imported 93 tons of vegetable seeds in 2005 while this quantity has increased to 260 tons in 2021. Even though there are also improved seeds of vegetable varieties developed and released locally, they could not meet the ever-growing demand. Apart from this, vegetable growers believed that imported seeds are high quality and productive compared to locally developed ones.

In the last 17 years, Ethiopia imported vegetable seeds from a total of 39 countries with varying numbers each year. The Netherlands is among the top importing countries accounting for 62.6% of the vegetable seed import volume in the last 17 years followed by Italy (14.9%), these two countries alone accounting for more than 75% of the import volume.

In terms of value, vegetable seed imports is also steadily growing at a rate of 12.4% per year. As provided in Figure 2, Ethiopia’s spending used to be USD 3.8 million in 2010. Within only a decade, this expenditure has grown to the record high level of USD 12.4 million in 2020. In light of increasing demand for quality vegetable seeds in the country, importers expressed their concerns that they are not able to get the amount of hard currency they demanded to import the seed. Limited availability of hard currency in the country is reported to be the major challenge for the government to allocate adequate amounts for imports of vegetable seeds

Figure 2. Ethiopia’s spending on imports of vegetable seeds in million US Dollars, 2010 – 2021

In general, expansion of vegetable production in Ethiopia is pulling the demand for adequate and quality seeds. Imports of vegetable seeds increasing from time to time from diverse countries of the world, especially The Netherlands, Italy and Denmark. Even though the demand for quality seed is increasing, shortage of hard currency is the key challenge for Ethiopia. Future interventions of ENSP and other programs need to focus on such critical challenge.