It is past the normal office hours. One door is still open in the office building located near the main road. The last beams of daylight fall through the cream-coloured curtains. Debebe Gashowbeza sits behind his wooden desk, immersed in reading a research paper. After a busy day of meetings, the Deputy Head of the Bureau of Agriculture (BoA) in Hawassa finds time to prepare for a meeting in the capital of Addis Ababa next week. “This is a great advantage of ISSD. I like it when they organise exchanges where I can meet with highly skilled experts, gain knowledge and learn from them,” he says.

ISSD or the Integrated Seed Sector Development Programme started in 2009, and since then has tackled the heart of agricultural growth. “We sat down with the ISSD team and discussed the main challenges in the seed sector,” he explains. These included the quality and distribution of seeds as well as regulatory and marketing issues. One of the first solutions was the introduction of Local Seed Businesses (LSB) according to Debebe “the role of community seed producers is important for local business”. The LSB project marked the first phase of the ISSD programme, in which 42 groups of farmers were trained to sell their seeds in and beyond their districts (woredas). Compared to the formal system using seed enterprises as selling points, hardly any quality complaints were raised. “We are on the way”, he says positively and puts the paper aside.

Impressive figures

Instead he gets out his calculator and starts typing away. He lets the numbers speak: 20 – 30,000 farmers are engaged in seed production in the 135 districts (woredas) of his region. Whereas the experts of ISSD provide the initial push, it is up to the relevant state institutions to implement the innovations. For that, Debebe can rely on 20,000 so-called Development Agents (DAs) that ensure a timely delivery of seeds to the farmers. Using his calculator again, increases in yield of 8,000kg/ha could be achieved. Based on these figures, Debebe is convinced that food security is possible in Ethiopia and does not shy away from the difficulties. “I have always wanted to solve the challenges of market access, marketing and distribution,” he says determined.

In his private life, Debebe shows the same kind of determination. Coming from an agricultural background, he knows first hand the struggle of farmers not getting the maximum out of their harvest. The valuable lesson he learned was that “farmers are the best seed experts”. Following this mantra, he cultivates his own plot of land where he can test the varieties. For him, the seed sector is still in its infancy. “There are hardly any seed scientists in the country. The seed sector is like an orphan,” he says. After having completed his Master in Science at Panjab University in India, his goal is to do his PhD in seed science. With a doctorate in seed science, he would have also worked towards tackling this problem.