Intensification of Smallholder Agriculture in Ethiopia. Options and Scenarios

By Samuel Gebreselassie
March 2006

Ethiopia’s inability to feed its population and thus its continued dependence on foreign donations of food to sustain millions of its citizens is a dilemma that triggers a broad economic and sociological debate. The problem of Ethiopian agriculture cannot be primarily explained by natural endowments. By any measure, Ethiopia is well endowed at least in part with a fertile soil, abundant water resources and good climatic conditions until recently.

What needs careful analysis is why Ethiopian farmers continue to practice essentially the same farming methods with very little technical or management improvement for so long. The prevailing orthodoxy among Ethiopian development practitioners, however, is largely to see the problem of smallholder agriculture in Ethiopia strictly as a technical and resource related problem.

This view identifies the low level of agricultural productivity as the key problem and the solution that follows is to find ways to enhance productivity. Furthermore, productivity is essentially regarded as a technical/technological problem. Since the technology required for enhancing productivity is internationally available, what remains to be done is to widely diffuse this technology(particularly fertilizers and improved seeds) to areas with low productivity (Berhnau Nega, 2003).

The government of Ethiopia has tried to implement this technology-led extension programme particularly since the mid-1990s in a high-profile national program. But has this worked, and what the limitations of such a strategy? The national strategy chimes with a widely held view that poverty reduction in Ethiopia is impossible without significant growth in crop yields for major staples, and this requires improving farmers’ access to fertiliser, improved seeds, agricultural credit and other inputs. However, this view is not new. Indeed, it has dominated development thinking for the past four decades, and some developing countries have implemented it with some success, as part of a ‘green revolution’.

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