Sharing lessons learned of enhancing the Ethiopian Sesame Sector

Published on
August 12, 2019

Ethiopia is among the main sesame producers in the world. Sesame provides a living for over 350,000 farmer households. After coffee, sesame is the second agricultural export earner for Ethiopia. The Benefit-SBN project funded by the Dutch Government, takes up the challenge of improving the performance of the Ethiopian sesame sector. Project partners now share experiences, lessons and recommendations through the dissemination of nine 'lessons learned papers'.

Anteneh Mekuria Tesfaye, assistant manager at Benefit-SBN: 'There are three main pillars in this project, and for each pillar we've developed lessons learned documents. We work on many different aspects of the sector; ranging from financial literacy of farmers to good agricultural practices, but also agri-finance, marketing of sesame and rotation crops and information management systems. When you look at financial literacy for instance, you can see many farmers have been trained and increasingly see their farm as a business. They're starting to do cost-benefit analysis and make informed decisions. We see real change here, and when you see this change you feel happy- we're going somewhere.'

Guarantee fund & marketing

One of the most remarkable results so far, has been the promotion of cooperative marketing. Tesfaye: 'With a risk sharing modality (Guarantee fund), Benefit-SBN brings commercial banks and cooperative unions together. The unions avail the credit to selected cooperatives, who in turn provide loans to members. Farmers will use the loan for the final stages of the production season, such as second and third weeding, harvesting and threshing. Hereafter, farmers pay back in kind (sesame). During the marketing season, cooperatives and unions use the loan for marketing purposes. The marketing credit thus improves both farmers production and cooperatives and unions marketing activities. So far, the repayment rate has been 100%. From a 50-50 risk sharing scheme in the first year, we moved to 30-70 and we're now moving to a 80-20 guarantee.' This activity greatly improves the relationship between farmer organizations and banks.

The challenge is that stakeholders at Kebele level work together: farmers and cooperatives; development agents and Kebele administration and finally, financial institutions and Kebele credit committees. We call this the 'triangle of collaboration'.
Anteneh Mekuria Tesfaye, assistant manager at Benefit-SBN

Bottom-up planning

One of the levels where Benefit-SBN still sees room for improvement, is bottom-up planning. Tesfaye: 'We are aiming for Agro Economic Planning starting at the lowest administrative structure, the Kebele (sub-district). For sesame production one of the major problems is farmers' access to input finance and other production inputs such as improved seed, fertilizer and machinery such as row planters. When agro-inputs and agri-finance is not well organized, production is jeopardized. The challenge is that stakeholders at Kebele level work together: farmers and cooperatives; development agents and Kebele administration and finally, financial institutions and Kebele credit committees. We call this the 'triangle of collaboration'. We've developed a tool for this activity, Kebele Agro-Economic Planning (KAEP), and provided orientation trainings. But currently, the involvement of stakeholders is still rather limited. The different parties seem to be waiting for top-down directions. Financial institutions are doing business as usual and do not give attention to the Kebele plan. For example, in most woredas (districts) financial institutions did not allocate input money. Due to this, those farmers who were identified by the committee to use good agricultural practices were not able to buy production inputs. That's why we're first documenting the experiences and planning to approach and involve people at a higher level now.'

Next steps: new proposal

The current Benefit-SBN-project will be operational until June 2020. Currently, a proposal for the next phase of the Benefit programme, aiming at resilient and sustainable food systems in different parts of Ethiopia, is being drafted. A concept note has been submitted to the Dutch Embassy. Tesfaye: 'We're well on our way of introducing innovations for sesame sector transformation– in agronomy, both for sesame, rotation crops and home gardens, weather forecasting, marketing, agri-finance, digital information management solutions, capacity building and planning. These and other activities are improving farmers' incomes and building a sustainable and inclusive sesame sector.  We hope we can continue supporting farmers and other stakeholders and bring about systems change to have impact at different levels.'

More lessons learned papers will be developed and shared in the coming year. These may be transformed in (more detailed) practice papers and (more succinct) policy briefs.