Sunday, September 4, 2011

Ethiopian strawberries in your supermarket?

I lately reported a lot from the Amhara region, near to Tana Lake. It is one of the high potential area for agriculture. Most of the crops are rainfed and productivity is low. Dry spells are the major reasons for crop failure. That's one of the reasons, why the Nile Basin Challenge Program is doing research there.
During my stay in Bahir Dar, I discovered that up until then I had missed out one of the major dynamics of the area. I met a rich Nigerian who came to the area for acquiring land in this area for commercial farming. It is just another "land grabber". As this is in still one of my favorite topics, I ended up having a discussion with him.
He acquired land in the dryer parts of the region, but next to a river. He will plant strawberries, and irrigate them with the water from the nearby river. I was pretty puzzled, as strawberries have a relatively short supply chain (need to reach the customer fast). Though Bahir Dar is well connected by road and air within Ethiopia, the infrastructure to reach international market are still lacking.
What i discovered is that the Bahir Dar airport, that is currently in reconstruction, is meant to become "Bahir Dar International Airport", and soon bigger planes will be able to land, including those containing the cooling system to export strawberries abroad. The Nigerian investor mentioned that he has contacts to Dubai and that this will be his first market, but ultimately he wants to reach the European market... It might be a matter of time until you will see the Ethiopian strawberries in supermarkets around the world.

Ethiopia feeding the world? In these famine time an unimaginable vision... but it could be possible. It crucially depends on how commercial farming develops and to what extend the "land grabbers" also think in terms of food security in Ethiopia.

Agricultural productivity is so low in the Ethiopian highlands, though it is located in a high potential areas. If foreign investors bring in the badly needed capital and the infrastructure to increase agricultural productivity, and if only the additional quantity of food produced is exported, then the vision of an well fed Ethiopia feeding the world is possible.

The only question that remains is : are the contracts offered by the Ethiopian government to the foreign investors smart or are they just short term maximizing profit? Do they insure that local population earns above the poverty line? Will local population have a viable livelihood? Do the foreign investor also invest in education and health? Is only the surplus of production exported? Do they insure the sustainability of agriculture (soil fertility and water resources)? Is national food security insured?

Bad or good, it is a matter of time until you will see Ethiopian fresh products in supermarket around the world, hopefully we will not forget to feed the Ethiopian population first.

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