Procured with Pride, Delivered with Peril

Mekelle: 22 May 2024 (Tigray Herald)

Procured with Pride, Delivered with Peril

With the impending Meher season, lawmakers’ focus shifts to the distribution of fertilisers. The conversation during the Ministry of Agriculture’s nine-month performance report has shifted from purchasing to distribution this year. While officials were content with the historic success of importing more than double the amount of fertiliser compared to last year, members of the Standing Committee for Agricultural Affairs chaired by Solomon Lale had concerns about the delivery.

“All the hard work will be rendered futile,” said Solomon.

Solomon believes the Ministry’s control of improved seeds and fertiliser distribution mechanisms should reach down to the kebele and wereda levels to ease farmers’ frustration, which he felt during sight visits.

“These are the sources of farmers’ anguishes,” he said.

The Ministry changed its procurement strategy for fertiliser this year through a newly formed Board which includes officials such as Mamo Mihretu, governor of the National Bank of Ethiopia (NBE); Alemu Sime (PhD), minister of Transport & Logistics; Alemtsehay Pawlos, chief of Cabinet; Semereta Sewasew, state minister for Finance; and Abie Sano, president of the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia (CBE). This strategy coincided with a global drop in fertiliser prices, which allowed them to spend 20 billion Br less on fertiliser despite an increment in quantity and an early procurement date.

MPs confronted Ministry officials over shortfalls in meeting fertiliser distribution targets, improved seed procurement, and coffee export objectives. They were able to meet 16pc of the fertiliser distribution targets, about 38pc of nearly a million quintals improved seed procurement plan, and less than the 1.2 billion dollars coffee export target.

About 6.2 million quintals (52pc) of the imported fertiliser had been distributed until May 13, 2024, according to Sophia Kassa (PhD), state minister. But for her, the discussion which has evolved from procurement of fertiliser the previous year to delivery is a milestone by itself. She noted the surge in the distribution since the report was submitted to parliament due to the rise in demand in the Meher farming season.

“Our distribution followed seasonal cultivation patterns,” Sofia said, “We have reached all our destinations.”

The chairman intervened, sharing discrepancies in fertiliser distribution, particularly in Central Ethiopia and certain parts of the Amhara regional states. A few other members echoed the concern with locations of their own.

Alemu Jemberu, an incumbent MP from Amhara Regional State, said that farmers in northern Shewa weredas with over 100,000 people have not received fertiliser. Another MP pondered if the increased attention given to wheat had disrupted the previous cycles of fertiliser deliveries by reflecting on the experiences of potato farmers from Arsi Zone, Oromia Regional State. Wheat coverage from last year has increased by three million hectares, accounting for 42pc of the total farmland developed through irrigation.

The only opposition member in the Committee, Bartema Fikadu from Ethiopian Citizens for Social Justice (EZEMA) warned that the distribution issue may persist if not addressed adequately. He recalled last year’s performance report where Ministry officials reported that fertiliser would reach all farmers by the end of the year.

“It has not reached the farmers,” he emphasised.

However, the comments did not sit well with the State Minister. She reminded the MPs of the prevailing security concerns in the region, indicating that drivers and security personnel had even risked their lives to ensure fertiliser reached the farmers. Major stock had been warehoused in Debre Berhan town until the proper passage to farmers could be guaranteed, according to Sophia.

“We have been sending them with military convoys,” she told Fortune.

Sophia said illegal channels exist in some parts of the country where people were caught red-handed pretending to be from unions. She disclosed seizing 250qtls hidden with sugar on the day of the presentation.

Farmers’ productivity is not limited only by the available fertiliser stock, as nearly a quarter of the country’s farmland has become acidic.

Eyasu Elias (PhD), state minister for Agriculture who has studied soil science for the past two decades, was content with the progress made during the year— a nearly 1.4 billion Br financial package from Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) for limestone procurement and distribution. While he acknowledged the process may be time-consuming and the amount was far from meeting the country’s requirements, he expects progress over the coming years if the financial allocation continues.

“It’ll probably remain an issue until your terms end,” he told MPs.

Members of the standing committee also expressed concerns about how the massive cultivation of wheat had not translated to a decrease in wheat products in urban areas or a marked increase in food security. The Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO) report exposed alarming levels of food insecurity in Ethiopia where 70 million people do not have consistent access to meals while over 25 million people go by days without food.

Minister of Agriculture Girma Amente (PhD) pinned the success in food security achievements in integrated supply chain, mechanisation and private sector engagement. He said some food insecurity arose from poor market linkages, not a mere lack of production where better logistics, cold chain facilities and massive expansion on five key products (wheat, maize, sorghum, barley and teff) would make a difference.

“There are parts of the country where ripe fruit merely rots away,” he said.

Girma said mechanisation towards increasing productivity would not translate to a combiner and tractor for each farmer but would be marked by increased use on the current farms developed in clusters.

“Mechanisation means much more than tractors,” he said, “It is about increasing economies of scale”.

The Minister urged for private-sector engagement to improve seed provision for farmers. He believes that allowing foreign companies to settle in agrarian communities will scale up their productivity.

“Our farmers need to observe the benefits physically,” he said

Source፡ Addis Fortune

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