Examining Ethiopia’s Agricultural Potential
Teff goes by many aliases, Williams’ love grass or annual bunch grass. It is an annual grass native to Eritrea and Ethiopia. It is farmed for its edible seeds, also known as Teff. Teff, in recent years, has been growing in popularity across the world. Powered by growing demand, its prices have hit the roof, so much so it earned itself a ban on exports from the Ethiopian government keeping it in check for six years. The underlying reason for the ban is that it is a main crop to the common Ethiopians wasn’t affordable for them anymore.
The demand for Teff stems from the health and nutritional benefits accrued to its consumption. It’s rich in iron, calcium, magnesium, protein, amino acids and has a high fibre content. Europe and the US have contributed majorly to its widespread popularity with the discovery that it is gluten-free. This means that it appeals to people who seek a gluten-free diet most notably athletes even though it would cost a small fortune. Teff-based products are now also being developed to create a premium market with Ethiopia accounting for over 90% of the world’s teff.
Teff is easily one of Ethiopia’s most important crops feeding and catering for a lot of people. The grains are a daily food staple for about 50 million people which translates to about 60% of the country’s total population. The onus is on Ethiopia to introduce improved teff varieties alongside government support policies that open up the industry to encourage technical improvement around it. This initiative will be geared towards meeting the local demand and stay in the competition as other countries enter the market.
Teff is considered a low-risk crop. It can be harvested two to five months after sowing. This is owing to its relative resistance to many biotic and abiotic stresses. As such, it can adapt to a range of growing conditions where other major crops, such as rice, may fail.
Unfortunately, it experiences a low yield compared to other major cereals mainly due to human-induced factors ranging from inefficient farming practices to fragmented farm plots. Manpower is a pivotal fixture in growing the crop and coupled with a lack of mechanized practices, planting and harvesting become all the more difficult to pull off.
Insufficient research coupled with a lack of proper investment in improved teff seeds constitutes a problem. Traditional agronomic practices are also continually being used. For instance, rather than manually planting, row planting may be better. Fewer seeds are needed and less is wasted because they’re carefully measured.
Traditional systems, at all stages, suffer the heaviest losses. Due to its nature of being a fine grain size, teff is easily lost which isn’t helped by the traditional practice of being manually harvested with sickles and have oxen stamp on them to separate the grain.
Ethiopia at the moment still doesn’t have efficient teff value chains for domestic use and export. A standardized teff grading system is better yet still a dream. Currently, most transactions happen through a spot deal, in cash, preventing an exchange of valuable market information.
Large-scale purchasing and processing capacities for economies of scale and value addition are also absent from the teff industry. Taking aside injera (the flat fermented bread), while a variety of products are being developed and marketed by other countries, little value is added to teff in Ethiopia
By investing in research and extension services to produce higher quality teff and improve productivity, the Ethiopian government can make great strides. There is also a need to create a legal environment for the teff industry with more supportive policies from the government geared towards sustainability. The teff industry should also be liberalized. By doing so, it creates incentives to collaborate between local and foreign food companies to satisfy both markets. And given the present domestic consumption patterns and global popularity, heavy investment by the Ethiopian government will yield dividends. Lastly, approval of a standardized teff grading system by the government would separate high-quality teff from low quality, and guarantee high prices for high-quality teff, whilst giving the consumers an assurance of what they buy.
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