The National Seed Forum urged the government to devote more emphasis to the seed sector

A National Seed Forum was held at Desalegn Hotel, Addis Ababa on 27th of April 2023. The Forum was organized by the Ethiopian Seed Association (ESA) with support from the Ethiopia Netherlands Seed Partnership. The forum’s theme was “Guiding efforts towards seed sector transfiguration in Ethiopia”. Mr. Abdulsemed Abdo, a delegate of the Minister of Agriculture, inaugurated the forum. He emphasized in his opening speech the importance of improving seed quality and availability in Ethiopia, where current supplies meet less than 20% of farmers’ needs. He said the seed sector in Ethiopia is vital for the country’s agricultural development and food security. However, the sector faces many challenges that hinder its performance and potential. He assured the participants that the Ministry of Agriculture is committed to working with the Ethiopian Seed Association (ESA) to transform the seed industry and enhance its role in food security and economic growth.

Mr. Abdulsemed Abdo, a delegate of the Minister of Agriculture, making opening speech

The chairman of the ESA board, Mr. Melaku Admasu, also adressed the forum and highlighted the achievements and challenges of the association in supporting its members and the sector. He recognized that there is still a lot to do to strengthen the seed system and called for more collaboration and coordination among all actors. He explained that the objective of the forum is to set an agenda, share positive developments in the Ethiopian seed sector, and for B2B linkages. He appreciated ENSP, for organizing the forum in collaboration with the association.

Mr. Melaku Admasu, ESA board chair, making welcoming address

Mr. Justin Rakotoarisaona, Secretary General of AFSTA, delivered the keynote address at the forum. He discussed the African seed sector’s challenges and prospects. Some of the challenges include seed control and certification, harmonized regional seed legislation, plant variety protection systems, a plant genetic resources exchange network, and the development of new varieties. Some of the opportunities include: efforts by UPOV, OAPI, ARIPO, and AFSTA to promote Plant Variety Protection in Africa; implementation of harmonized seed regulations by Regional Economic Communities and the African Union (AfCFTA); availability of seed technologies such as gene editing (PBI); donors/development partners interested in seed sector development in Africa; and the existence of seed trade associations (national and AFSTA). Mr. Justin also offered thoughts for improving the Ethiopian seed industry, including developing an enabling environment for the private sector, expanding the public-private collaboration, and promoting national seed trade associations. Mr. Justin praised the Ethiopian Seed Association’s efforts to promote the Ethiopian seed sector, as well as its assistance to AfSTA.

Dr. Mulugeta Mekuria, Lead Technical Advisor: Sustainable Agriculture World Resources Institute and SeedSAT Ethiopia former Country Coordinator,presented the status of the Ethiopian seed industry. Dr. Mulugeta’s presentation showed the evolution of the seed sector in Ethiopia from the pre-1992 period to the present. He highlighted the progress and gaps of the different initiatives in the seed systems in the country so far. In the presentation he stressed that actor and stakeholders in the sector failed to deliver on their commitments hence he said ‘we keep on hearing the same challenges again and again’. He also stressed that though a seed law and regulations are announced to be there but not implemented or delayed for years, are worth nothing and are as good as not having them at all. Dr. Mulugeta proposed that the seed industry needs to be reformed and diversified through privatization, liberalization, competition, foreign investment and trade, research and development, and public-private partnerships.

Dr. Mulugeta Mekuria presenting the status of the Ethiopian seed industry

The forum discussed the positive developments that could transform the Ethiopian seed sector, which was the main theme of the event. Different stakeholders from the seed industry participated and listened to various speakers who shared their insights and experiences on how they are supporting the seed sector development. Some of the speakers were:

  • Ben Depraetere from BASF/Nunhems, a hybrid vegetable seed company that has been operating in Ethiopia for several years and has built a strong network of farmers, distributors and extension agents. The company also offers training, agronomic advice and quality assurance to farmers.
  • Boortmalt, a barley breeding and seed production company that works with research institutes, farmers’ cooperatives and malt factories to improve barley quality and productivity in Ethiopia. The company also provides farmers with improved varieties, inputs and market linkages.
  • CORTEVA Agriscience, a global agricultural innovation leader that has implemented a rigorous system of testing, certification and traceability for its seeds, which ensures high standards of quality and performance.
  • Mr. Fisha Teshemo from Ethiopian Agricultural Authority, who explained the new seed policy that has introduced some important changes that aim to foster the growth of the private sector in the seed industry.
  • Amuari plc, a seed production company that works with more than four hundred smallholder farmers on an out-grower scheme. The company works closely with farmers to provide them with improved varieties, inputs, technical support and market access.

Following the sharing of experiences on new developments in the sector, participants thoroughly discussed the sector’s most pressing challenges. Senior scientists in the seed sector and other attendees expressed their concern about the problems discussed in the presentations. They stated that the challenges expressed in the forum have existed for many years. The challenges that were repeatedly mentioned were a big gap between seed demand and supply; research efforts that were insufficiently aligned with government priorities and stakeholder demands, a focus on a few crop types; an inefficient and poorly organized early generation seed supply system; an increase in counterfeit seed supply, seed companies with limited access to financial services and forex, and poor coordination among sector actors. On the other hand, considerable effort has been devoted in documenting the problems and opportunities, as well as developing improvement options. However, participants lauded concern that the sector is still facing the same challenges with little progress. They urged the government to step up its efforts to transform the seed sector.

The forum provided attendees with a valuable chance to share information, learn from one another, and pinpoint potential areas of collaboration. The main outcomes of the forum include increased awareness of recent industry developments and current challenges, improved networking opportunities for seed industry players, and discussions that confirmed the sector is constrained by challenges that have existed for many years and urgently require government support to transform. They argued that a weak regulatory system undermines the quality, safety and diversity of seeds in the market, as well as the trust and confidence of consumers. They urged that the seed law and regulations need to be operationalized. Participants recognize the critical role of communication in seed sector development and urge ESA to take leadership to promote and sensitize seed sector challenges using different communications means and channels to enhance visibility and establish the agenda.

Participants disclosed their discontent regarding senior government officials who have been invited but failed to appear. Participants, having considered all the main outcomes and recommendations as well as other issues relating to the current status of the seed industry, urged ESA to push the government more to set the seed agenda and fasten the ratification and implementation of the seed law.

The forum concluded with a call for action from the government side and actors in the sector to address the persistent challenges and seize the emerging opportunities in the seed sector. The participants agreed on the need for more dialogue, coordination, innovation and investment to transform the seed sector and make it more responsive to producers need and emerging issues.

The national seed forum participants

The National Seed Forum was successful in providing an opportunity for greater interaction among seed industry players and in establishing the agendas for the seed sector. More than 55 people, including senior scientists in the sector and representatives from member seed companies of ESA, EAA, MoA, development partner organizations were attended.