New technology, better farming leads to tastier turmeric in Tepi, Ethiopia

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By Candice Ungerer

Knowing how to increase produce quality can improve the value of and international demand for a product, affecting the livelihoods of smallholder farmers. Since 2016, Supporting Indian Trade and Investment for Africa (SITA) has provided training for over 16,000 farmers across East Africa both directly and indirectly. SITA training imparts on participants both the knowledge of farming best practices and use of suitable technologies to maximise productivity and quality of output.

In Ethiopia, spices, specifically ginger and turmeric, are a major focus of SITA interventions in agriculture. Post-harvest handling is a critical factor in determining the quality of the spice and was raised by stakeholders as the major issue for the Ethiopian spices sector during SITA’s project consultation phase in 2014. At the time, farmers were producing low quality turmeric and ginger due to inefficient post-harvest handling at both the farmer and processor level.

To address this issue, SITA supported local government partners and sector associations to organise training-of-trainer (ToT) sessions for extension workers and agriculture experts.

From 8-11 March and 11-18 October last year, SITA conducted post-harvest handling training in ginger and turmeric in three regions of the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region (SNNP) state of Ethiopia–Mizane Teferi, Wolaita Sodo and Tepi.

Tepi is located just over 600km from the capital Addis Ababa and claims to be Ethiopia’s centre for turmeric. Ginger is also grown and exported from the district.

Sixteen Tepi trainees were the first to participate in SITA’s ToT sessions in post-harvest practices. The trainees were made up of researchers from Tepi National Spices Research Centre, members of a farmers’ cooperative union, district agricultural experts and development agents as well as one commercial farmer. The training has thus far trickled down to over 799 model farmers in 12 villages in the Tepi area alone. An additional 74 model farmers were trained in neighbouring Bajika Village of Bench Maji Zone.

Boiled turmeric drying in Bajika Village, Tepi

“Turmeric was a forgotten crop, but in the last two years it has regained its popularity due to its potential to bring higher earnings to farmers,” commented Mr Tesega Aniley, a model farmer in Hibret Fre village, and participant in the training.

 Mr. Aniley emphasised, “farmers rather than traders are the primary beneficiary if things are moving on the right track and primary victim if something goes wrong.  Hence, many farmers’ livelihoods are dependent on successful turmeric production. So, we ask that this support in post-harvest handling continues.”

In addition to the ToT sessions, SITA’s efforts to reach as many farmers as possible included the distribution of the Farmers Field School Manual on Turmeric and Ginger Post-Harvest Management or “how to” booklets and posters with step-by-step instructions on best practices. Around Ethiopia, 1,250 posters have been put up in various locations such as schools, government offices and farmers’ cooperatives, and 2,900 booklets have been distributed to farmers.

Last month, we visited Tepi to check on the farmers’ progress in incorporating their learnings into their post-harvest practices. SITA’s national coordinator for Ethiopia, Ms. Genzeb Akele, visited six different sites of turmeric production and saw first-hand how the spice post-harvest handling ToT had trickled down to farmers.

During the visit, she observed how farmers were splitting turmeric fingers and bulbs at farm level, properly cleaning and boiling as per the recommended process in the training. Cleaning the turmeric is an integral step in post-harvest management.  Cleanliness is a primary determinant of quality and consequently, major markets including the United States have cleanliness specification standards for imported spices. These standards are widely accepted by countries including India as a benchmark for quality.

At a visit to one farm, Ms. Akele observed a farmer using turmeric boiling technology which had been replicated from the pictures in SITA’s Farmers Field School Manual. New technologies for cooking and drying were also spotted with  two types of cooking technology under development at the Mizane Rural Technology Institute.

Washing technology replicated from SITA’s Farmers Field School Manual

The techniques used for cooking and drying greatly affect spice quality. Consequently, five local suppliers are in the process of setting up their processing plants to further improve the quality of the turmeric. With a higher quality product, farmers will be able to fetch a higher price and their produce will also be more attractive to international buyers.

As part of the visit, spice producing cooperatives, traders and exporters were advised by SITA on the Indian spices market and the new business opportunities open to them should they fulfil the market requirements and quality specifications of the buyer. In addition, the progress and preparation of delivering future training at farmer plot level was discussed in a meeting with the Tepi local agriculture office.

SITA is following up with other stakeholders including local traders, exporters, and the Ethiopian Coffee and Tea Development and Marketing Authority. This will ensure the transfer of the spice post-harvest handling practice training to more farmers. Further to the training, we are working closely with federal and district level Coffee, Tea and Spice Development and Marketing Authority to establish a quality standard for turmeric. We are also working with exporters and commercial growers to encourage farmers and local suppliers to introduce a quality-based payment system.

Agriculture is the mainstay of the Ethiopian economy with approximately 80 percent of the population involved in agricultural production. With a higher value on produce including turmeric and ginger, farmers will be inclined to increase production, creating further jobs and a higher standard of living for rural Ethiopians.

Checkout quality East African spices at the ITC SITA booth at the International Spices Conference 4-7 February in Jaipur!

Farmer with SITA’s Farmers Field School Manual in his lap shows off his turmeric fingers

Voices of SITA
Voices of SITA
This blog provides a window into the SITA project. Through stories from India, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania, this blog showcases the project’s progress and impact.