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Ethiopia shares ‘rare’ success story, sets its sights on becoming an African breadbasket


Ethiopia has set its sights on becoming a regional breadbasket, the country’s finance minister Semereta Sewasew said on Thursday.

Sewasew was speaking on the sidelines of the African Development Bank Group’s Annual Meetings in Accra during a discussion on building climate resilience in the agriculture sector. The topic has gained renewed currency in light of the Russia-Ukraine war, which has deepened food shortages and led to soaring world food prices. Africa in particular is vulnerable, given that the two European nations are major suppliers of grains to the continent.

Like many African countries, Ethiopia has historically suffered from food shortfalls, compounded by the impact of climate change. The World Food Program said this week that it had provided assistance to 3.5 million Ethiopians in March(link is external).

Sewasew said her country’s chronic food problems were becoming a thing of the past. She credits much of the recent agricultural success to support from the Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT) program, sponsored by the African Development Bank and various partners.

“Ethiopia is mainly known for food security challenges. It’s very rare that you get to hear about the incredible success story that we’re doing as a result of the support that we’ve received from the African Development Bank. The TAAT program has come into Ethiopia and helped us to develop heat-tolerant seeds which we’ve been able to plant in lowland areas of the country,” Sewasew said.

“I’m very happy to inform you that Ethiopia has now, because of this program, increased its coverage to 600,000 hectares of land. This is a big success story,” the minister added.

African Development Bank Vice President for Agriculture Beth Dunford said TAAT’s success was being replicated in 29 countries on the continent. In just three years, TAAT has provided 11 million farmers with proven climate-adapted agricultural technologies. It provided heat-tolerant wheat varieties to 1.8 million farmers in seven countries, and increased wheat production by 2.7 million tonnes.

“Right here in Ghana we’re working with national authorities and turning TAAT pilot programs, really, into points of pride. We’ve transformed more than 16,000 hectares of underutilized land into no-till soy and maize production fields,” Dunford said. Ghana’s 2021 national best farmer winner is a TAAT farmer.

Despite a complex matrix of issues aired on Thursday — climate change, the Covid-19 pandemic, the conflict in Europe — there was consensus that the agricultural sector was chipping away at both current crises and historical problems.

Eric Wafukho, Kenya’s Chief Administrative Secretary in the National Treasury, said his government had an integrated approach that incorporated all relevant ministries. It also relies on research and innovation from around 60 think tanks. “As government in Kenya, we have priorities in the agriculture sector, where we are convinced that agriculture must work for us,” he said.

These achievements notwithstanding, Thursday’s session made the magnitude of challenges clear. Souleye Iro, a Director General in the Niger government, said Sahelian countries faced multiple crises, including food shortages and drought. “All this calls for significant efforts to mobilize resources, first at the national level, to finance...food security, but also to ensure that there are many appropriate technologies available to small producers to improve production and strengthen their resilience.”

Eric Meyer, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Africa and the Middle East, called for “cohesive and collective” international action. He cited steps taken by the United States to rally international financial institutions around a plan. He said he was encouraged by a $1.5 billion emergency response announced by the African Development Bank last week.

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