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Higher quality and more accessible forage seeds - a pathway to better feed Ethiopia's livestock

ILRI News

Ethiopia faces a major challenge in feeding its large livestock population in a sustainable way. Most animals are fed on low-grade crop residues or graze natural pastures, which are suffering serious degradation. As a result, livestock remain relatively unproductive despite the key role they play in the rural economy. This problem has been recognised by agriculturalists and other professionals for many years and key national policies have attempted to address the problem. But as livestock numbers continue to increase so does pressure on livestock producers to feed their animals sustainably while protecting the environment.

One recommended way of improving livestock feeding is to increase the use of cultivated forages that have a much higher nutritional value. Ethiopia has benefitted from the introduction and evaluation of many forage varieties by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and partners, and these have passed into the national research system. But wider uptake of these crops has been constrained by the lack of good quality seed and this has also been the subject of intensive research. Much of this research was brought together at a national conference organised by the Ethiopian Institute for Agricultural Research (EIAR) in 2012 and a comprehensive proceedings was published.

Despite this substantial research effort and related extension work, it has still not been possible to mobilise a functioning forage seed supply system; producers frequently say that they cannot sell what they grow while users complain that they cannot obtain sufficient seed of good quality. Feed improvement projects spend a lot of time trying to source good-quality seed. The problem is not primarily in seed production but in making a more connected supply chain and giving buyers greater confidence to allocate their resources to seed. The integration of cultivated forages as a cash crop for arable farmers would improve their rotations while commercial livestock units would benefit from having more high-quality feed available close at hand.

In 2019, the ACDI/VOCA FEEDIII Project supported a study by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) to prepare a certification scheme for forage seeds that would improve quality assurance and market opportunities by bringing these seeds into the formal sector. The unexpected conclusion of this study was that all necessary regulatory arrangements for the certification of forage seeds are already in place but for various reasons, these are not being used by seed producers or by the regulatory authorities in the regions. With limited resources, these authorities naturally focus on the staple grain crops such as maize while more specialist crops such as forages remain ‘orphans’.

The report proposed the adoption of ‘quality declared seed’ (QDS) as a simpler intermediate step towards full certification of forage seeds. ILRI recently published a policy brief on this topic. The key element of QDS is that seed producers carry out much of the quality assurance work themselves and are monitored by the regulatory authorities. The official Proclamation on Seed (No 783/2013) recognizes the category of ‘quality declared seed’ and the Ministry of Agriculture subsequently published a guide for implementing this system. This is already being used for specific crops in some regions and discussions are in progress to see how it can be adapted to meet the needs of forage seed producers.

At the end of the study in 2019, two stakeholder workshops were held to review the report and suggest follow up actions. Views were sought from the public sector organizations and from companies and producers. There was agreement among all parties about the need for a fresh initiative to overcome this long-standing problem of forage seed supply. To maintain the momentum from these meetings, ILRI established a Forage Seed Consortium in April 2020.

The Ethiopia Forage Seed Consortium

The consortium provides a forum for dialogue among all stakeholder groups and especially aims to link seed producers and other crop specialists with potential users in the livestock sector. It will facilitate the exchange of information and experience between members, leading to closer engagement and hopefully more direct linkages in the supply chain. The ultimate goal is to establish a sustainable forage seed supply chain driven by demand from users who recognize the advantages of cultivated forages and will purchase seed on a regular basis. 

Achieving this goal will be supported if some policy and regulatory measures are taken including:

  • strengthening quality assurance mechanisms to give buyers greater confidence;
  • encouraging government agencies and projects to purchase only quality assured seed, either QDS or certified;
  • promoting producer groups or associations, and if possible, introducing a logo or similar brand image to identify their products in the market.

In fact, all these measures are interrelated and will benefit from strong endorsement by policymakers, regulatory agencies and development projects. For this reason, it is important to create awareness at all levels of society from senior officials to farmers about the opportunities for improving livestock production through the wider use of cultivated forages and the challenges presented by lack of affordable high-quality seed.

The consortium was established at exactly the same time as the COVID-19 pandemic arrived and all its meetings have been conducted virtually so far. However, it has still been able to stimulate interest and encourage participation. The consortium does not have any funding of its own; it will depend on members to share what they are doing and thus achieve better coordination and synergy in all stakeholders’ efforts to deal with the seed supply issue. 

The consortium welcomes participation by representatives of any organization from both supply and demand sides, who can contribute to achieving its objectives. ILRI is providing the nodal point for communication but members may also wish to communicate directly among themselves on specific topics. 

Following on the workshops held last year, the consortium has benefitted from the participation and guidance of staff of the Agricultural Transformation Agency, the Ministry of Agriculture and members of the National Seed Advisory Council. This work was funded by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) through the Feed Enhancement for Ethiopian Development (FEEDIII) grant to ACDI/VOCA. It also received matching support from the CGIAR Research Program on Livestock.

For more information contact Alan Duncan (a.duncan@cgiar.org)

Quality-assured forages to feed Ethiopia's livestock better