In the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region (SNNP), one of the nine ethnic divisions (kililoch) of Ethiopia, Wulchafo Surage, is busy constructing a granary for the first time in his compound in anticipation of a bumper harvest.
The 44-year-old father of 5 is one of a few smallholder farmers in Ethiopia who have boosted their maize yields by planting high-quality hybrid seeds, and using the recommended amount of fertilizers.
According to official records, hybrid seed uptake in Ethiopia stands at only 10%, particularly among smallholder farmers. This compares poorly with a country like Kenya, whose uptake of hybrid maize seed is about 60% nationally.
A recent report by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), titled ‘Seed System Potential in Ethiopia’, points out that the shortage of hybrid maize seed in the country is a national concern because farmers are unable to access seed in the quantities they need.
As a result, the average yield of maize in Ethiopia stands at 2 t/ha, which is far lower than the potential average of 6 t/ha, depending on the hybrid variety planted, prevailing weather conditions, and the quality of field management.
To bridge this gap, Alemayehu Makonnen, a large-scale farmer in the SNNP region, is now dedicated to producing hybrid seed (with support from AGRA) as a way of boosting food productivity in the country – and farmers are already taking it up.
“I tried out hybrid maize seed for the first time in 2011, after attending a farmer field day at Makonnen’s farm,” said Surage, a farmer in the region.
After realizing that the yield from a half-hectare piece of land planted to hybrid maize was higher than that from two and a half hectares planted to non-hybrid seed, he decided to plant the recommended hybrid maize variety and apply fertilizer on his entire 3-hectare piece of land in 2012.
This gave him a yield of 18 tons of maize from three hectares, six times more than he had been harvesting before. He has continued with this practice, with similar results in 2013 and 2014.
“Many other farmers who have seen my crop have turned to hybrid seeds,” said Surage, who is a member of the Adjo Farmer Association.
And Makonnen now reports that he expects to sell the hybrid seed to over 20,000 farmers for the next planting season, as farmers continue adopting the hybrid technology.
Up to 80% of smallholder farmers in the region who planted hybrid seed and used improved management practices over the past three years have realized an average yield of 4 t/ha, with the highest recording 6 t/ha, according to Makonnen.
“From my observation, many people do not use high quality seed and farm inputs simply because they do not know where to find them, and sometimes because they lack the working capital. Experience has shown that a little capacity building can change the situation within a very short period,” he said.
In 2011, when he expanded the production of hybrid maize seed using a grant from AGRA, 1,000 farmers from the region purchased it. Their yields were quite impressive, attracting an additional 5,000 farmers in 2012. And in 2013 (the latest available data), 16,000 farmers bought the seed – a clear indication that adoption is growing rapidly. This number is expected to have increased yet again in 2014.
The impact is evident from farmers’ testimonies. “Last year I harvested 20 bags (90 kg each) of maize, which is the highest I have ever achieved in my life as a farmer,” said Hilda Alem, a smallholder farmer from the region. “This hybrid seed is changing my life!”