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Planting Hope with Crop Rotation

Written by Hiwot Shimeles, BoP Marketing Specialist

The farms in Amhara and Tigray Regions of North Western part of Ethiopia have become well known for production of sesame in the past decade. Sessame has become one of the top export commodities of the country. Despite high cost of production, sesame was a rewarding crop for farmers, traders, exporters and the country at large. However, the trend of international market prices in recent years has not been favorable to these actors. Smallholder farmers are worst off, with their commitment to sesame production either for profit or at least market security, since mono-cropping has been increasingly reducing productivity and soil fertility in the regions.

Since 2012 2SCALE is working with different partners to introduce market-pull rotational crops to the sesame farming areas. The first two years focused on testing different varieties and popularizing potential rotational crops among farmers. These crops can help improve soil fertility and make decent return on the market. Parallel to the trial, potential large scale buyers were identified. In 2016 we launched the production of sorghum & soy bean in rotation to sesame at smallholder level, after brokering an agreement with large scale buyers. 2SCALE partnered with four Farmer Cooperative Unions for this, two from each region, targeting 9,000 smallholders both directly and indirectly.

As part of this intervention, a Business Model Canvas workshop was organized to assist the Unions in developing marketing strategies for the rotational crops, and thereby identify opportunities around these two crops. It was pleasing to witness the curiosity of farmers to learn about the tools and content of the workshop. They were active participants and contributors throughout the workshop. Farmer Melkamu Demilew, Board Secretary of the Selam Union said: “Although we already are aware of the importance of crop rotation for our land, this exercise helped us appreciate additional opportunities around the crops.” As the workshop ended and its outcomes were shared, the farmers were already thinking one step ahead. They argued they don’t want to be dependent on the market linkages alone, and want to learn how to use the soybeans they are growing. “We thought the soybeans could be used to make our stew, but we couldn’t cook it at all”, one of the farmers said. Others supported him, saying they’ve heard of processing soybeans into different healthy products, and they asked for our support to get them acquainted with these techniques.

There are two ways to do to this. Either from local sources where trials took place on a small scale, or by replicating the successful Soya Goussi production and marketing in Benin which was carried out with support of 2SCALE. Furthermore, we thought of the religious practice in Ethiopia where Orthodox Christians keep a fast of about 200 days spread over a year, during which no animal products are consumed. Processing of soya into milk, cheese and related products could be very relevant alternatives during these fasting times. In addition to this, soya products could serve as an affordable source of protein to low-income households who can’t afford to buy products like meat and eggs. Hence our team studied these options and luckily identified documented trials, and discovered that trained experts are available locally. As we are planning for a possible intervention on this, we’ve noticed it could even be more successful if women and youth are involved in the processing and distribution of the products. The model would then involve smallholder farmers producing soya, supplying the soya to women groups, who in turn process it into milk and other protein-rich products to sell to Base of the Pyramid consumers. Of course all of this is on paper and will require a lot of effort to get it up and running. Still, I am enthusiastic to make this model work and share the results.

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