By Irene Ebrahimi Darsinouei
We sat down for an order of shiro on our way to Bombey, Ethiopia. Shiro is a staple Ethiopian stew. It is made from chickpeas, lentils, and peas that are dried and ground into a powder, blended with a ton of spices and herbs, including ginger, chili peppers, cardamom, basil and fenugreek. The stew is prepared by adding onions, garlic and water to the powder.
Judging by the cuisine, Ethiopia ought to be a spices powerhouse. A variety of spice plants are grown in Ethiopia, including chilies and peppers, ginger, black pepper, anise, badian, fennel, coriander, nutmeg, mace and black cardamom. Spices are a significant source of foreign income for Ethiopia, and Ethiopia’s spices exports reached US$ 33 million in 2014. However, in the past ten years, the growth in production has been marginal. The main issue is productivity: the majority of Ethiopia’s crop yields are well below world averages.
According to the Ethiopia Ginger and Turmeric Export Strategy 2016-2020, a document developed by the Ethiopian Ministry of Industry with the technical assistance of ITC, ginger is no exception: a yield of 2857.2 kg/ha on average was recorded in Ethiopia in 2013, compared to a yield of 6362 kg/ha at the international level. Ginger productivity has fallen dramatically in recent years, due to the outbreak of bacterial wilt disease. The disease is estimated to have destroyed 80% of the ginger crop in Ethiopia. In the absence of mitigation measures, the disease spread at a fast pace. Coupled with inadequate traditional agronomic practices, the total production of fresh ginger dropped from 756,893 tons in 2012 to 127,559.09 tons in 2014. Meanwhile, the international demand for ginger is booming, growing at an impressive 45% in value between 2013 and 2014. Global ginger production has grown remarkably, mainly through improved yields: between 1993 and 2013, yields were multiplied by 2.5.
There is potential for Ethiopian success when it comes to ginger production and exports, the main constraint being bacterial wilt disease. Maintaining a fairly good yield despite bacterial wilt is possible, given particular practices are followed. To instruct farmers in these practices, ITC organized a training in the district of Bombey, located in south-central Ethiopia. ITC spices experts took farmers through best agricultural practices for the selection, harvesting and treatment of ginger rhizomes prior to planting, soil treatment, the planting process itself and subsequent application of manures and fertilizers, mulching and weeding. A training manual detailing all the practices was developed and distributed to the farmers.
The farm where the training took place is one of two locations in Ethiopia where the practices will be followed this season. Training was also provided at a commercial farm in Tepi, Nathi Coffee and Spices Plc. “It was a nice training, supported by practical field demonstrations,” said Getachew Mamo, the General Manager of the farm. “We have tested the pH level of the soil, and have gone through the process of soil treatment. In general, the manual is a good guideline which we can further expand on. We are also planning to translate part of the training manual in the local language, so that we can provide it to our local staff.”
These activities will be up-scaled in the following years, to propagate and promote the adoption of these practices throughout the country in an effort to revitalize the ginger sector. Two demonstrator farms will also be developed in Rwanda as part of the SITA project. If successfully implemented, the project can benefit over 80,000 smallholder farmer livelihoods in Ethiopia and Rwanda.
In Ethiopia, the goal is to retrieve the production of ginger to 80% of the total ginger production of the country in the 2016-2019 period. To make these efforts a success, policy makers, scientists, extension personnel and farmers will need to work very closely together. Revitalizing the ginger sector will be challenging, but, “if it is properly done, the Ethiopian climate is good for ginger and the demand is high”, Dr. Peethambaran, ITC spices expert said. In December 2015, Dr. Peethambaran conducted a survey to determine the spread of ginger diseases in Ethiopia. No ginger farms free from bacterial infection were located during the survey. Based on the survey and discussions with farmers, staff from the Ethiopian Department of Agriculture, traders, researchers and other stakeholders in the ginger sector, an initial list of recommendations for the cultivation of ginger was compiled, for small scale farmers and for large scale commercial farmers.
Subsequently, a group of Ethiopian and Rwandan companies and institutions (including both companies that were trained this week), participated in a training tour in the South of India, to learn from the best practices employed there to maintain ginger yields despite diseases. The training manual that was used in this week’s trainings is based on the scientific practices for ginger cultivation used in India, tailored to the specific Ethiopian context.