The road leaving Hawassa to the north is straight like a line. It is nestled in a landscape of rolling hills and expansive rural farmland. Next to wheat, maize is the most grown crop in the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Region (SNNPR) and the reason for Meseret Getahun’s field visit. Since 2011, she has been the Facilitator of the Partnership & Innovation component of the Integrated Seed Sector Development (ISSD) programme. Her main task is to “bring all major stakeholders of the seed sector together”. In addition to the Bureau of Agriculture and the regional research institutes, the regional seed enterprise is also part of this core group. With her notebook in hand, Meseret climbs out of the white four-wheel drive and walks through the fields of maize that almost seem to swallow her.

The pill Meseret and her team had to swallow at the start of the project in 2011 was quite bitter. “We faced total resistance, especially from the seed companies. They didn’t want to leave their comfort zone,” she remembers the introduction of Direct Seed Marketing (DSM) in SNNPR - a new approach to quicken the supply of farmers with quality seeds. Owed to Ethiopia’s brief communist past, the country’s seed sector has been organised in a centralised system with long value chains. When the core group started discussions about the major challenges faced by all actors, it did not come as a surprise that seed distribution topped the list.

Another eye

A great deal of tact and persuasion was needed to introduce the idea of local sales centres where farmers could directly purchase their seeds. The positive results from the first test plots in Amhara region played in their favour. The project also received the backing of the Bureau of Agriculture and most importantly – of the farmers themselves. In 2012, the maize-growing district (woreda) Bona was picked as a pilot in SNNPR showing the benefits of faster access and higher productivity. “One farmer told me: I can prepare my land now, leave my ox standing on the field while I purchase the seeds, then I plant them straight away,” she recounts and smiles. Agriculturally, just-in-time production. In the second year, the approach was extended to nine woredas, and in 2014 the number had grown to 22.

Eventually, the seed enterprises warmed up to this new approach. “They have a wider market reach, less carry-over stock and we have created another eye for them,” she says. Whereas the tracing of bad quality seed was almost impossible in the conventional system, sales agents can now be monitored more easily and serve as a bridge between farmers and seed suppliers. Having studied Business Management and Rural Development, the young mother enjoys the systematic approach of ISSD and “the way we communicate with others”. Open, knowledgeable and supportive also summarises today’s meeting with the director of the regional seed enterprise. After an hour, she is back in the car, her line of vision as straight as the road.