Transforming Quality of Ethiopia's Products
A new National Agricultural Products Quality Infrastructure (NAPQI) for Ethiopia has been designed to greatly improve the quality of the entire value chain for producing and marketing agricultural products for both the local and international markets.
The renovation of the existing Ethiopian Institute for Agricultural Research (EIAR) Crop Quality Testing Laboratory is the first step in this process. It seeks to put in place a world-class centre of excellence for agricultural commodities, medicinal and aromatic plants research with the key role of providing high quality analytical data for all upcoming EIAR projects.
- Agriculture is the foundation of Ethiopia’s economy and is responsible for 81% of national employment, 47.5% of gross domestic product and 52% of exports for foreign exchange.
- The Ethiopian Institute for Agricultural Research (EIAR) is responsible for providing overall coordination of agricultural research throughout the country. It conducts research at its regional centers and advises the government on the best ways of shaping and formulating agricultural research policies.
- The Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA) acts as a catalyst for positive, transformational, and sustainable change. It identifies and works with existing structures to address systemic bottlenecks in the agriculture sector.
- One of UNDP Ethiopia Country Office's pillar programmes in focuses on supporting the development of the agricultural sector, and linking value addition and markets to production.
The initiative has been supported by the EIAR and the Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA) in close partnership with United Nations Development Program (UNDP).
For the first time, an Ethiopian laboratory will have its capacity built to conduct quality based research on agricultural inputs and mediums and serve both local and international industries. Ethiopia's farmers will now be able to access information, meet the international quality standards and sell their products more competitively on global and local markets.
EIAR has used the latest good laboratory practices to equip the new facility. Placing emphasizes on strongly gearing up towards quality and market driven practices, all laboratory technicians and researchers were trained in Total Quality Management and the application of latest standard operating procedures.
Previously, researchers at the laboratory focused solely on addressing productivity constraints and the need to address food insecurity in the country; largely focusing on volumes rather than quality and nutritional content.
The new quality driven thinking will enable researches and the entire laboratory to also tackle the possibility of increasing yield on the agricultural products, enhance the nutritional value of food crops and position Ethiopia's agricultural commodities exports more competitively on the international market.
Future research projects, however, will all be initiated by setting clear data quality objectives and by closely studying the global market and its needs. Malt barley, durum wheat and haricot beans are examples of agricultural products that multi-national and local companies have shown keen interest in buying from the local markets.
Changing Mindsets to improve quality and access to markets
By changing the thinking of researchers and challenging them to become more business-minded and aware of market demands, the new laboratory will be able to provide EIAR with valuable inputs on how the farmers should modify the highly demanded agricultural products to meet the international quality standards. The researchers have also undertaken field visits to gain a deeper understanding of the farmers' needs.
As the new laboratory will enable researchers to study both agricultural products and mediums, it can effectively analyze samples, more proactively produce relevant data and share it with EIAR. The EIAR, in turn, can convert the data into information that will empower the smallholder farmers to further develop their products and successfully enter the global markets. To enhance the linkages and foster dialogue, the national laboratory is allied to several satellite laboratories in the regions. These regional laboratories are strongly interconnected and actively collect data from the farmers and share new information with them through an extensive lT network.
Potential to Transform Agriculture in Ethiopia
Agriculture is the cornerstone of the Ethiopian economy and accounts for 41% of the GDP, close to 80% of exports earnings and employs 80% of the country's labor force.
The continued growth of this sector is crucial for the country to achieve its food security, job creation, poverty reduction, and human and economic development goals. The current, five-year Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP) outlines targets that include the need to double the agricultural production by 2015.
The growing global trade in commodity crops and medicinal and aromatic plants presents an opportunity for advancing the agricultural transformation vision. Investing in these products,could allow Ethiopia to significantly increase its export earnings and further promote the establishment of agro-based small and medium sized enterprises. In order for this to happen, the smallholder farmers who currently account for more than 90% of the country's agricultural sector need to be able to access information and improve products to meet quality parameters set by the global and local markets. Hence, investing in the laboratory is a crucial step in the process of implementing the National Agricultural Products Quality Infrastructure (NAPQI) successfully.
The laboratory will also be enforcing national food standards and aiming to improve nutritional value of food crops, therefore it will play an important role in enhancing food security in Ethiopia.