Changing Hands: A new model for selling seeds to farmers in Ethiopia

Drought-resistant maize seeds can help increase farmers' crop yields. Photo credit: Flickr (Anne Wangalachi/CIMMYT)

Drought-resistant maize seeds can help increase farmers' crop yields. Photo credit: Flickr (Anne Wangalachi/CIMMYT)

For farmers in Ethiopia, buying improved seeds through the formal system has not always been reliable. Sometimes seeds are delivered too late for the planting season or the wrong type of seed is delivered; often there are seed shortages, and the seed quality can be low. “Farmers have limited options to access improved seed beyond their primary cooperative in their [local] kebele (district), especially when seed is unavailable or not at the appropriate level of quality," says Robel Alemu, Program Associate at the  Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency’s (ATA) Seed Program.

This situation leads many farmers to turn to informal sources where seed is recycled from a previous harvest. Encouraging farmers to purchase improved seed varieties that are “genetically superior” with better resistance to pests, disease, and drought or other unfavorable weather conditions can help improve crops yields.

“Cooperatives currently lack adequate technical and infrastructural capacity to effectively [sell] seed. In addition, very low commission levels do now allow cooperatives to invest in proper storage facilities and sale's services.”

-Robel Alemu

In 2011, the Ethiopian government in partnership with the Integrated Seed Sector Development (ISSD) program sponsored by the Dutch Embassy, launched a pilot program in the Amhara region to promote direct marketing of mostly hybrid maize seeds from both public and private seed producers to farmers. By 2013, with support from the ATA, ISSD, and Regional Bureaus of Agriculture (RBoAs), the program was expanded to the Oromia and the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples (SNNP) regions and included 31 woredas from all three maize-producing regions.

The idea behind the Direct Seed Marketing (DSM) program was to allow seed producers to sell directly to farmers through certified seed-marketing agents. By encouraging competition, farmers can decide where and when they buy their seeds, which will in turn encourage producers to cater to farmers’ demands and find more efficient ways of doing business. “This enables real-time market forces to drive production and pricing of seed,” says Alemu. Another change under the piloted DSM program is that “seed marketing agents, for the first time, are evaluated and certified [to ensure] quality during transportation and distribution” says Dr. Yitbarek Semeane, Director of Seed Program at the ATA. Farmers can also inspect the seed before purchasing by opening up sample bags from each brand, which is all done at the point of sale.

Last year, IFPRI researchers were asked to evaluate the new seed marketing model to determine whether the DSM model was a success and should be scaled up to the national level. Todd Benson, David Spielman, and Leulsegged Kasa documented their findings in an IFPRI report released in May.

Researchers found that the seeds were delivered on-time, farmers reported better overall seed quality, and seed sellers had lower levels of carryover stock at the end of the planting season. And farmers weren’t the only satisfied customers. Ninety percent of seed sellers in Amhara and Oromia were satisfied with the changes, reporting that they would participate in a DSM program down the road.

The report finds, however,  that there is room for improvement. “The DSM presents a useful opportunity to press Ethiopian seed producers to become marketers of the seed that they produce,” say the report’s authors. According to Benson, “Marketing will lead to better provision of information to farmers.” With additional information on the types of hybrid seeds that are available and the benefits that improved seeds provide, farmers will be able to make informed choices that better meet their needs.

Many of the report’s recommendations have been incorporated into the next phase of the program in order to make the model more effective. For example, seed producers now bear the risk for low-quality seed or carryover stock, whereas prior to the DSM program, the government would bear these risks and incur any resulting costs. This has led to a decline in carryover stock; early ATA estimates show a 1-4 percent rate of carryover stock among seed producers, which is significantly lower than in past years. Additional improvements include open pricing, which allows retailers to set their own price without government influence; in addition, seed marketing agents are now evaluated and certified before they can sell seeds to farmers, and researchers, marketers, and producers are now linked through “clear and binding” contracts. “This has created accountability among value chain actors and improved commercialization of new and existing varieties,” says Alemu.

With the initial success of the DSM program, the MoA plans to scale up the pilot in 2015 to span the four main cereal-producing regions — Amhara, Tigray, SNNP and Oromia — in more than 100 woredas.

This article originally appeared in Volume 2 of REAP's project Newsletter. Read the full newsletter here. Download a PDF of Volume 2



Related Content

Read IFPRI’s evaluation of the DSM pilot, Direct Seed Marketing Program in Ethiopia in 2013: An Operational Evaluation to Guide Seed-sector Reform