Agriculture is the mainstay of the Ethiopian economy. It accounts for the lion's share of the total GDP, in foreign currency earnings and in employment creation. Both industry and services are dependent on the performance of agriculture, which provides raw materials, generates foreign currency for the importation of essential inputs and feeds the fast growing population.
In spite of its importance in the national economy, agriculture is based on subsistence farm households, whose modes of life and operation have remained unchanged for centuries. Agricultural productivity had been deteriorating from the early seventies until 1991, rendering a good proportion of the farm households unable to feed their families and frequently dependant on food aid.
Prior to 1974, the oppressive tenant-landlord relationship was a deterrent to agricultural development in general and to small-holder and pastoral farming in particular. From 1974 to 1991, the Derg imposed policies that were inimical to agricultural development. Its socio-economic policies degraded or destroyed the manpower and ecology of rural Ethiopia.
According to various government and international sources, agricultural production had been sluggish for the 20 years before 1991, with an average annual growth rate of only 0.6 percent for major food grains. Compared to the high population growth rate of about 2.9 percent per annum there was an annual decline of 2.3 per capita in food grain availability from domestic production. This suggests that the country was not self-sufficient in food.
The Base for Overall Development
Some three years ago the government designed an "Agricultural Development Led Industrialisation" (ADLI) strategy which aims to use agriculture as the base for the country's overall development. Central to this strategy is the objective to enhance the productivity of small farmers and to improve food security both in the rural and urban areas. Within the framework of ADLI, the government initiated a five-year Agricultural Development Programme with the objective of closing the country's food gap in the medium term. The government also introduced specific policies and provided technical and institutional support to farmers, in its drive to increase food production through intensive cultivation. These policies included fertiliser supply and distribution, improved seed supply and distribution, development of small-scale irrigation, conservation of natural resources and environment, agricultural research and extension work as well as marketing and price policy.
Formulated within ADLI is the new system of agricultural extension known as the "Participatory Demonstration and Training Extension System" (PADETES) - a system based on demonstrating and training of farmers in proven technologies in a participatory manner. The intervention strategy in this system involves a package approach geared towards three different agro-ecologies, namely: reliable moisture, moisture stress, and nomadic pastoralist areas.
Three-years after its launch in 1995/96, the programme has today become an integral part of the country's agricultural activities, covering all regions of Ethiopia. The programme, which embraced only 35,000 farmers three years ago, has now, with the latest inclusion of the Afar region, incorporated some 2.8 million farmers as direct beneficiaries of the programme.
As the number of participating farmers continues to grow, so does the demand for inorganic fertiliser. Notwithstanding adverse climatic changes, agriculture was envisaged to grow by about 5.5 percent with an increase in fertiliser usage - from 230,000 tons to about 380,000 tons - in three years, based on a target of 500,000 tons in five years. That percentage of agricultural growth has indeed been over-fulfilled in the middle of the five-year plan, with fertiliser usage having increased to 529,207.5 tons, well over the target of 500,000 tons set for the last year of the five year plan.
With some 14,000 development agents spread all over the country, the programme has of late incorporated new packages like apiary, forestry, and conservation, with yet more packages in the pipeline with the view to achieving food-self sufficiency and ultimately food security within the time framework of the strategy for national agricultural development.
With all efforts and resources focused on the "Agricultural Development Led Industrialisation" strategy Ethiopia's use of agriculture as the base for the country's overall development has indeed begun to justify itself, from the positive early signs that it has been able to achieve.
What is the current situation vis-a-vis agricultural extension work?
The extension programme mainly focuses on assisting small-scale farmers to improve their productivity through disseminating research-generated information and technologies. It has been widely accepted by a large number of farmers across the country. It is obvious that, as the number of participating farmers in the extension programme increases, the demand for agricultural inputs also increases at a considerable rate.
Currently the supply side is lagging behind the demand for specific production inputs such as improved seeds, improved livestock breeds, improved beehives and farm machineries. However, this does not apply to chemical fertiliser, since farmers get what they demand based on their request on a timely basis. The number of farmers involved in the package programme is increasing more than ever before. The Afar region, which was not previously involved in the extension programme, has recently started to participate.
What about the extension packages?
The extension package programme is being well managed. New packages have been included. Farmers have access to the packages based on their needs, and production inputs have been distributed across the country on time. Development Agents are now being deployed at grassroots level. Extension activities and training programmes have been conducted as envisaged. All these activities indicate that the agricultural extension intervention programmes are being conducted with no hitches. To this effect, there is expected to be a bumper yield if the rain continues.
What about future plans?
The extension programme, which was limited to seven regions and 35,000 farmers in the initial year, has now expanded to all regions and to over 2.8 million farmers in the current production season 1998-99. Because farmers are convinced that the package programme will bring them profits and improve their well-being, many more farmers will be expected to join the extension programme in the coming production season.
Has farming been affected by the current conflict with Eritrea?
With the exception of those in the occupied areas, farmers are currently undertaking their farm operations without any disruption. Farm land belonging to those who are now at the war front, is being taken care of by the nearby communities, and farming activities are being carried out as usual.