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“Research is not a simple task,” says Dr Birru Yitaferu taking off his glasses, “if we have better staff, we can deliver better support.” The ‘we’ refers to the Amhara Regional Agricultural Research Institute (ARARI), of which Dr Birru is the Director General. The support is laid out in four petri dishes in front of him and comes in kernels of different shapes and sizes. The institute has eight research centres in Amhara region adapting, screening and testing new varieties of crops among other things that will hopefully increase productivity of Ethiopian farmers in the near future.

The first improved varieties achieved positive results and were received well by the farmers, increasing overall demand for new varieties especially from the regional government. “They need technologies and are very ambitious and ask the researchers to find the solution over night,” he says. It can take however up to seven years before a seed comes even close to a field. The seeds are brought in from abroad or taken out of ARARI’s own multiple collections. “Ethiopia is a centre for bio-diversity for many cultivated crops. We take them from our gene bank, test, screen, and compare them – for some varieties like e.g. for maize, the breeding is entirely done in Ethiopia,” he explains.

Release

Dr Birru points at the petri dish containing seeds of maize, one of the high potential crops. Whereas farmers in Amhara produce the national average of 30 quintal per hectare for maize, the new varieties promise yields of 100 quintal per hectare. But how do the seeds get to the farmers? First, the National Seed Variety Release Committee assesses candidate varieties tested in multi-locational trials. Only if they give the green light for the release and registration, production can start on a large scale. For important crops like maize, farmers are able to purchase them through their cooperatives, unions or private companies. Before the project, researchers at the ARARIs trained the development agents (DAs): “We had some demonstrations but we could not involve more farmers or DAs in a wider environment, so CASCAPE was really helping us to bring our technologies to the farmers,” Dr Birru adds.

He casts another look over the petri dishes. Even the best seeds when planted wrongly will not yield the desired results. “When we gave out our technologies directly to the extension programme, there was a gap in understanding and properly transferring the technologies,” he says and adds that now with the help of the IT experts “it is a proper transfer of technologies.” A researcher at heart, Dr Birru puts the latest test results in a black folder. He believes that research and agriculture belong together, especially in an agrarian society like Ethiopia. However, well-educated young people strive for jobs in the business hubs of the big cities rather than working in rural environments where ARARI operate. “If we support the farmers, they will produce more. Agriculture must be supported by research.”