- KHALID BOMBA, was the Chief Executive Officer of Ethiopia’s Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA), an agency of the Ethiopian Government when he granted this interview to YASMIN JEMAL LALI, AAA’s Country Director in Ethiopia. He was replaced by DR. MANDEFRO NIGUSSIE on January 8, 2021, after nearly ten years in the saddle. His golden thoughts on the subject reveal a man of wisdom who gave all to the job and might now be available to play a continental role. He is at the moment the Director, Office of Innovation and Chief Innovation Officer at the FAO, United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation. Excerpts:
How has the ATA impacted Ethiopia positively, in terms of agricultural economics since it was founded ten years ago? Khalid Bomba
Thank you for having me in this interview. In terms of how the ATA has impacted Ethiopian Agriculture, there are a few different ways: first and foremost, ATA takes a systematic approach to address the agricultural sector by trying to unblock the structural bottlenecks in the sector. By that I mean we don’t just focus on production and productivity issues, but rather on market leakages, inclusiveness, environmental sustainability, and the while ecosystem related to agriculture.
We have helped the Ministry of Agriculture and other partners to take a system approach to agricultural transformation. Beyond the micro level, the thinking and impact we have had on the sector, we have also implemented a number of major projects that have changed the landscape considerably. ATA in the last ten years has implemented 48 different projects, many of which have gone scale and reach over a million farmers. For example, our 8028 Farmer Hotline have reached over five million farmers who have registered on this hotline. And they see information regularly, as the locust problems, depending on what crops you are producing and what part of the country, we are able to target information most effectively.
Another major project is the digital soil map that we have created for the whole country. Through this project, we have collected over one hundred and fifty thousand soil samples across the entire country. We have created a digital soil map so that farmers and other policymakers know exactly what the nutrient mission is. Now we have targeted fertilizer recommendation for farmers all over the country, depending on what whether they are in, the soil they have and what kind of crop they are producing. So, these are just two of the projects we have implemented, but we have implanted many more.
In the last decade, Ethiopia has had a series of policy formations like the Accelerated and Sustained Development to End Poverty (PASDEP) and Transformation Plan (GTP). What are the economic fruits of these strategic pursuits to improve the quality of life of Ethiopians and ATA’ implementation challenges?
Each of the five years strategies of the government has been launched over the past fifteen years and you are right, there was PASDEP between 2005 and 2010 and we did GTP 1between 2010 and 2015, and most recently, the GTP 2 between 2015 and 2020. Only recently, the government has launched a new ten years agriculture strategy that will take us from 2020 to 2030. All of these different strategies highlight a series of targets for the agricultural sector that accomplishes not only production increase but rather, how to make sure that there is a sustainable and structural change in the agricultural sector. The most important of that is the commercialization of farmers. All of these strategies are trying to move farmers from a subsistence-based production, where they are producing food mainly for their own consumption and food security, to one that makes them market-oriented where they are producing based on what the market is demanding, and then sell that to generate income to buy all the other things they need. And this is the part that every country in the world has gone through, except countries like Hong Kong and Singapore that are not based on agriculture or that did not use agriculture as a starting point for their development. But every other country, be it the United States, Germany, China, South Africa, all of these countries used agriculture as a way to transform their economy but first moving from subsistence production to commercialize production. So, that is the main approach of most of these five years strategies is to help farmers in rural communities move from subsistence production to commercial orientation.
What does this statement mean: “ATA’s aims to fulfil its mandate within 15-20 year”? And how successful has this mandate been, looking back now?
The ATA is a unique organization because it’s time-bound, which means it’s not like the normal government’s bureaucracy. It’s not supposed to exist forever. Instead, our goal is to help catalyze agriculture transformation, and then phase out as an organisation that no longer exists. The assumption was that it will take fifteen to twenty years but in reality that is probably a twenty to thirty years journey. And we have just finished the first ten years’ journey. So, for the first ten years, I can say that we are extremely proud of what we have contributed towards catalyzing transformation. But we are in the first step in the process. We probably have another ten to twenty years to fully support the Ministry of Agriculture to transform the sector and for the ATA to no longer exist. So, that’s what that statement means.
Tell us the impact of Covid-19 on the Ethiopian agricultural sector and the urgent help required to reposition it.
Covid-19 is certainly having an effect across the economy and agriculture is a big part of the Ethiopian economy; inevitably, it was going to be affected. Now, much of the impacts have really been on the logistic and the supply chain aspect of the agricultural system; be it the supply chain of the import distribution, or the supply chain related to market leakages. Another area Covid-19 has impacted Ethiopia’s agricultural sector is in the extension system: where farmers were typically getting advice from extension workers and development agencies on a face to face basis. Covid-19 makes it slightly difficult to engage with farmers. In the same way, big groups and demonstration farms sued to be able to do. But nevertheless, the government has tried to mitigate some of these issues by coming out with modern ways in which the farmers are more effective, such as the 8820 Farmer Hotline which provides farmers with agronomic information, extension information through mobile phones. Although Covid-19 is affecting the supply chain, there are other aspects to the supply chain in the agricultural sector that it has accelerated technology adoption.
Educate us more, about Eragrostis tef, and the tef laboratory office complex which was inaugurated recently by H.E Ato Oumar Hussen, the Minister of Agriculture.
Tef is a crop that is indigenous to Ethiopia. About 90% of the global production of tef actually comes from Ethiopia and her neighbouring countries. Tef is a highly nutritious crop, it consists of one of the most ancient crops, very similar to quinoa popular in America and now becoming very popular around the world. It’s high in protein and many different nutrients among others. There is already a niche market in Europe and in the West that are demanding to have more aggressive results, given this market opportunity. Other countries across Africa has started producing tef; even in Australia, Europe, the United States and Canada. However, Ethiopia has a huge amount of variety of tef. When it comes to the different types of tef, we have white, red, and black. We also have tef with different tastes and textures. So, when it comes to variety, there is no country that has tef variety as Ethiopia does.
The laboratory facility that was inaugurated by Minister Ato Oumar is the largest standalone research facility in the world. The purpose of the facility is to provide support for rural farmers when it comes to new generic varieties tef that are targeting different issues that farmers might face, be it drug or disease resistance, this kind of research can now be undertaken in this dedicated facility so that we are able to produce the most effective types of varieties for our farmers.
Kindly describe the relationship between the past and current leadership of the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the Ethiopian authority.
I can’t comment too much on the relationship between the AfDB and the Ethiopian Authorities because that is not my area of engagement or expertise. What I can say is that the current leadership of the AfDB under the leadership of Dr. Akin Adesina is very good for the agricultural sector across Africa. Dr. Adesina, as you probably know, was the Minister of Agriculture in Nigeria, and before then he was the Vice President of AGRA, which is aimed at creating a green revolution in Africa. So, I know Dr. Adesina and I am fully aware of his commitment to the agricultural sector. And think that his leadership of the AfDB is a positive thing overall, for Africa’s agricultural sector.
Now that the AfDB has an agriculture ambassador as its president, what agricultural projects should the bank fund in Ethiopia, in line with the country’s national development plans, economic growth and poverty reduction?
The AfDB at the moment in Ethiopia is engaged in different projects. But the one I will highlight which is critical and very welcome, is the support for Ethiopia’s development of Agro-Industrial Parks (AIPs), creating market opportunities for farmers, but importantly, the processes of adding value to our production, so that we are able to substitute finished agricultural products that come into the country; and hopefully, creating import substitution, and then to begin exporting. So, the AfDB’s support to Ethiopia’s agribusiness and AIP, areas is one very impactful contribution that they are making at the moment.
What roles do you candidly believe that if played effectively, the AfDB can increase intra-trade between African countries?
There is a great deal that the AfDB can do to support intra-Africa trade. Two of the ones that I will highlight are number one, supporting African countries to harmonize their legislation to make intra-Africa trade much more efficient and effective. The other one is related to data availability and transparency. So, the AfDB can also support and ensure access to data and information regarding trade flows, and market opportunities on what is readily available to each individual country as well as across the whole continent.
What advice do you have for the leadership of AfDB regarding the mechanization, industrialization and development of Africa agriculture?
The biggest advice I will give to AfDB in this area is to enhance the level of financial liquidity and resources available to those that are mechanizing and investing in mechanization as well as agro-processing and food production. Many times we hear that financing is a bottleneck and liquidity being an issue. And AfDB as a financial institution can play a major role in supporting entrepreneurs and other partners and stakeholders in the agriculture sector by providing liquidity and capital that support the endeavours.