TPLF sneaks into Ethiopia’s seeds market, jeopardizing food security goal merely to ensure its continuity in power & privilege

29 Sep

By Keffyalew Gebremedhin – The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)

The empty and or misleading propaganda of ruling party political cadres’ aside, Ethiopia has only come a short distance from their party congress of early 2013 in Bahir Dar to this moment to boast about the transformed Ethiopian agriculture.

For all we remember about that congress – the first after Meles Zenawi’s expiry – mostly noted was the several retirements of old guards. The interesting aspect of this is the fact that the individuals still happen to be in their old jobs (both in party position and state responsibilities); there is also the return to active life of wannabes such as former Deputy Prime Minister Addisu Legesse and former cabinet minister Arkebe Oqubay – retired by Meles and out of public sight for long.

Both are now back as advisers or the equivalent, as have done some others. In particular, these two are now striving to stop slippage of power out of TPLF’s hand, according to a July 2014 paper by Addisu, due to lack of competent leadership in the land. In reality, the regime has been reeling because of public rejection across breadth of the land.

Otherwise, the rest of the congress was devoted to littanies of sorts: former ‘first lady’ Azeb Mesfin and her late husband’s ‘life in poverty’, as she put it. The rest of the congress was filled with groaning about bad governance and recriminations especially between Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM) and regime’s chief priest Bereket Simon and Minister of Agriculture Tefera Derbew.

The reason for their bickering was nothing other than the country’s backward agriculture, whose lack of productivity growth has threatened their power, despite significant budgetary allocations, huge foreign aid flows, some investments and technical assistance.

The new tune is agricultural productivity growth

Of late, nonetheless, Ethiopians are being bombarded from every direction by claims about new varieties of improved seeds: from potatoes to tomatoes, various cereals, new fruit trees varieties to ecological management to livestock breeding and development. In brief, every messenger sounds upbeat about the new experience in Ethiopia’s universe of agricultural productivity growth.

To top it all, on September 25 in New York on the side of the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly, President Obama also added his voice to laud Ethiopia’s “enormous progress in a country that once had great difficulty feeding itself… now not only leading the pack in terms of agricultural production in the region …”

The loneliest dissonance of this chorus, which came two days after the president’s remark, i.e., on September 27, 2014, was from a brief remark by Minister of Agriculture Tefera Derbew. While hinting high increases over the years in foreign exchange earning agricultural commodities (coffee and spices), the minister expressed frustration over the country not being able to produce better quantities of agricultural products it requires (ከፍተኛ የውጪ ምንዛሬ የሚያስገኙ የግብርና ውጤቶች የኤክስፖርት መጠናቸው ከአመት አመት እያደገ ቢመጣም የሚፈለገውን ያህል ምርት እየተገኘ አይደለም አሉ የግብርና ሚኒስትሩ አቶ ተፈራ ደርበው።)

Credit: DT Maize

Credit: DT Maize

[click to magnify]
Wading through the maze

The focus in Ethiopian agriculture now is on an old lead actor: maize/corn – traditionally a widely consumed cereal in Ethiopia. In 2013, maize accounted for 22 percent of the total area covered by cereals and around 30 percent of the total cereal production, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). USDA’s report underlines maize’s importance to Ethiopia as the largest cereal crop, i.e., in terms of total production, the land it covers and number of farmers involved in it – eight million – in three regions: Oromia 61 percent, Amhara 20 percent and SNNPR 12 percent.

Part of the puzzle and hamming about this agricultural productivity growth loosened on 24 September 2014, when ENA reported about the latest find in maize research and other cereal seeds varieties. Quoting Dr. Mulugetta Mekuria, an Ethiopian international agricultural scientist with International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), ENA noted that Ethiopia could get up to 20 percent more corn and about 15 percent more of other cereals because of these new seeds varieties, whose distribution has already occurred in parts of the country.

A few days later, September 27, 2014, ENA again reported that Ethiopia could produce over 70 quintals of corn (BHQY-545) per hectare, which Bako maize research claims releasing in 2008. Unfortunately, there is no explanation why it was kept six long years without putting it to use.

If what they claim holds true, the new improved seed clearly represents huge success for a country that, according to USDA, has only produced about 21 quintals of maize per hectare in 2012/13.

We also understand that, as part of the G-8 New Alliance for Security and Nutrition, Ethiopia’s Ministry of Agriculture and the Bill Gates-initiated Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA) and DuPont, whose agriculture division makes and sells hybrid seeds and genetically modified seeds had in January 2013 signed agreement to provide Ethiopian farmers with “improved varieties of maize seed and technical assistance” – known as the Advanced Maize Seed Adoption Program (AMSAP).

For this, we also learned that DuPont Pioneer would invest more than $2.3 million, although the figure varies with DuPont Vice President James Borel making reference to $4 million over three years.

What Ethiopians do not exactly know is the genealogy of those improved seeds, an essential information, unless TPLF and its foreign counterparts in the seed business arrogantly think and say the poor must eat what they are offered to produce!

It is no surprise, therefore, that now they are talking about “The maize revolution in Ethiopia”, according to DT Maize (Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa – DTMA), a quarterly magazine financed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The paper indicates that a total of 11 drought tolerant maize varieties were released under the collaboration of EIAR and DTMA project between 2007 and 2013 – six hybrids and five open pollination variety (OPV).

In Ethiopia, the whole exercise aims at engaging “several national and international seed companies” to change into production these variety releases. In other words, there are local and international seed businesses. Interestingly, history once again is repeating itself with ruling party political entities masquerading as business enterprises. This anomaly happened in the 1990s in fertilizer distribution, when greed-inebriated ignoramus ruling party business operatives took control of the input import and distribution.

Who are those hooded guys in the seeds block?

Readers may wonder who and what the so-called local seed companies are. While the Ethiopian Seed Enterprise (ESE), under the Ministry of Agriculture is the main governmental agency, there are also – under the regional governments – according to DT Maize, several enterprises. At the regional level, most of these enterprises are part of the ruling party political and business interests. As wolves in lambskin, they are currently engaged in the production and distribution of seeds.

These are:

    * Amhara Seed Enterprise,

* Oromia Seed Enterprise (consisting seven separate private companies and 18 community-based organizations (CBO) ones)

* South Seed Enterprise

* Somali Seed Enterprise

*Tigray Seed Enterprise

The concern now is, instead of all the hitherto investments and agricultural productivity growth efforts leading Ethiopians to food security, those organizations/companies are political in purpose and the TPLF is likely to use them as its tentacles to control the country’s farming population as its power base.

What Ethiopia needs in its agriculture is secure land tenure system, robust improved seeds and other inputs distribution system from the retrograde politics of the regime or any other side. The peasant farmers as individuals, or organized in associations and cooperatives, they must be free from the politics of slavery and dependence this regime has introduced for control and power base purposes.

The direction we see now is exactly what the TPLF had done early on, seizing control of the fertilizers and other inputs market. One need to watch or listen to Gebreyes Benga of Amalgamated Ethiopia, who had to flee the country, after the TPLF threatened him and finally took control of his long-established and modern inputs distribution business. The well experienced businessman with acumen, Gebreyes became a refugee and has settled down in the United States.

For now, in addition to the above political party tentacles in the seeds business, there are also foreign seed companies such as DuPont’s Pioneer, Hi-breed Seed Advanta, CP Seeds and Seed Co. They are involved in the business of seed production and import to Ethiopia.

This intervention by foreign companies is facilitated by Bill Gates, after a deal he reached with Meles Zenawi return for his support to help transform Ethiopian agriculture, as explained in his presentation at Stanford University on April 4, 2012.

The worry on that end is also if they all become too dominating and the nation is compelled to depend on them for seeds in future.

The problem

The actors in Ethiopia’s agricultural productivity growth are too many as are the initiatives, chief of which are CIMMYT and DuPont Pioneer for corn, in coordination with donor embassies and agencies in Addis Abeba from USAID to Australia to Canada’s. Apart from the continuing research by existing national institutions in other crops, there are also The East Africa Agricultural Production Program (EAAPP) and Agricultural Growth Program (AGP) for wheat, financed by the World Bank, the research being carried out by the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR) and its branches and university research centers.

While this much attention on Ethiopia may be indication of the seriousness of its food insecurity problems and thus an explanation for the massive donor/private sector support, the motive is not entirely altruistic, although any good to Ethiopia today is an investment, whose return is many fold as it is a promising country for agriculture, huge in terms of resources and ecology. On top of that Ethiopia has large population, which is a potential market for everything.

Nevertheless, Ethiopia must be free to make this future arrangement, when its people are free to make and determine their choices. What is happening now is that the people are being dictated by unrepresentative rural political party, which is running on its lag elg.

Foreign business, such as the seed companies and the Gates Foundation, have clearly seen their interests. Unfortunately, they have become hands and glove with the regime, which makes their own future entirely uncertain. For them, what they see is that Ethiopia is a very poor and hungry country, which can be tamed to serve their interests in future in huge ways.

The regime and its foreign allies do not even want to acknowledge that the vast majority of the population is still wallowing within the under $1.25 a day income bracket. This is happening notwithstanding the improvements in the country’s economic performance. Nevertheless, the current politics must totally be revamped to ensure the economic gains this far and benefits to accrue in future are distributed to every citizen fairly. In turning their eyes from this reality, donors want to converse with the Ethiopian people humanitarian food aid as the medium.

That is why the Productive Safety Net Program (PSNP) is now extended from 2015-2020 to continue to provide international food aid to Ethiopia, although the prime minister lies to the nation about Ethiopia attaining food security.

The other problem at the moment is the fact that the agricultural improvement initiatives underway are too many, the undertaking of which entail no responsibility in a country where governance considers transparency and accountability a luxury.

In the circumstances, we ask in the tone of René Lefort whether Meles Zenawi, the person who rules from beyond the grave, whether he is still finding ways to get his early wish fulfilled, even when it comes to genetically modified foods.

Recall that in 2004 why Meles Zenawi, the person accused of being the GMO envoy to Africa, equivocally argued in its introduction and expansion in Ethiopia and Africa, without realizing how much Africa and Ethiopians were and are opposed to it. Only in realizing the strength of that opposition he changed position. Up until that point, he argued:

“Should we rule out GM crops or biotechnology as a weapon in our arsenal? No. Why should we rule out any technology? GM technology is like every [other] technology … It could be used well, or it could be misused. The issue is how to use it well. I think it can be used well if is used safely and if it does not increase the already big power of huge multinationals at the expense of the small-scale farmer.”

Let it be clear that we do realize that Ethiopia’s agriculture is extremely backward and scientific improvement and intervention is an imperative. However, poor people also deserve the right to transparency that allows them full access to information and knowledge of what they are made to produce and contents of what they feed themselves and their families. It is clear that the majority of our people can neither read nor write. This does not give the command economy regime or its foreign allies the right or authority to decide on their behalf, especially regarding what they put in their bodies.

After all, what is it that they laud as the agricultural revolution in Ethiopia? What has the gain be for the nation and its people in terms of yields and foods? It is only in 2014 that, one of the latest noble efforts toward rehabilitating Ethiopian soil from the depletion of nutrients was started, according to IFPRI scientist Dr. Samuel Gemeda.

At the time, it was reported that Ethiopian soil lacks nutrients such as boron, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, sulfur, and zinc. In March this year, we learned that of the 360 agricultural belt woredas whose soils have to be collected, work was done only in 162 districts. How could Ethiopian then Ethiopia be so boisterous now in speaking about agricultural productivity – without even curing its soil from these deficiencies?

Our agricultural problems as a nation get more complicated, . In other words, the danger to Ethiopia from this current obsession with improperly managed productivity growth measures is pretending about food security, without paying the necessary attention to what constitutes food sovereignty.

After all, how can one forget what Kenya experienced serious health problems in 2004, following the outbreak of jaundice. Kenya’s Ministry of Health (MOH) immediately invited several organizations and agencies to participate in investigating the outbreak. Their work established that the problem was fungal toxin known as aflatoxin, originating in contamination of maize either during harvest or storage or processing, or who knows what…


The point is even without GMOs, the danger is, without the addition of the population growth factors, imported seeds and seed business by ruling party businesses in every region etc., what Prof Reem Saad of Egypt warns about replacement of native seeds with imported seeds could eventually lead the nation to dependence on foreign companies. This could result in the loss of national sovereignty.

While I strongly believe in the importance of improved seeds and modern technology, it is equally important to remember how many times, in the name of improved seeds, Ethiopian farmers were made to forcedly pay exorbitantly to the ruling party for fertilizers and improved seeds. Many ended up with burnt fields and bankruptcy. Those who in the first place refused to buy the inputs were sent to prison, as also those that bought and went bankrupt.

In portraying this anomalous situation, recently Addis Fortune entitled one of its articles in a related situation Ethiopia: From endangered tomatoes to shrinking potatoes.

Not long ago, there was also the case of farmers around Addis Abeba refusing to buy inputs or till their farms bad experiences. They were terribly afraid of incurring debts, after the improved seeds they bought once or twice permanently fell asleep on their lands. A government they cannot talk to and reason out with could not be of help, its eyes on their plots of land.

How can one also forget, when not very long ago southern Kenya’s corn farms were smitten with disaster, their crops destroyed that literally brought them to parliament in Nairobi to demand the adoption of emergency law and state support?

The fact that seed distribution is now likely to fall in the hands of the political tentacles of the TPLF in Ethiopia is something that hardly gives rural farmers independence from the rigidity of political control the Marxist-Leninist root of the ruling party is dictated by. It is a political monster that in its capitalist emanation dislocates farmers either for economic or security reasons. Some writers describe it simply as land tenure problem or land grab, while it is more complicated than that.

The TPLF has been installing foreign commercial farmers, for instance, in Gambella. This is because it is interested in strictly installing TPLF members – ethnic Tigrayans – mostly today all of them retired TPLF military officers. The purpose of this cruel mission is to create security zone and settler economy in the far flung regions of the country, especially in the most fertile and rich Gambella.

The result is not agricultural development – forget productivity growth – but the emergence of Hendrik Verwoerd-type ethnic rule. HF Verwoerd was the man behind South Africa’s apartheid, whose criminal actions in South Africa has ended up in the demise of uncountable number of Africans.

The TPLF apartheid smells like Verwoerd’s, in loving ethnic conflicts. Right at this moment, it is responsible for the massacre of ethnic groups in Gambella – in their several hundreds in the last few months alone – the Mezhenger in particular – people at low level of development!

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