Potato Farmers Learn How to Negotiate

Farmers in Ethiopia face various challenges in order to improve and grow their business. ICCO Cooperation and Fair & Sustainable Ethiopia identified during a research the pain points on small-scale producer empowerment and market access in the potato value chains. Based on the research a training was developed to enhance the organizations’ dialogue and negotiating capacity for the support they need.

Potato Farmers Learn How to Negotiate


Where to find good quality seeds?

Potato growing is the main form of livelihood for farmers in West Shewa, Ethiopia. That also counts for Ms. Ararse Dabala and her husband, who have six children to support. They are members of Challanqo Farmers’ Association and talk about the challenges they face as potato farmers.

The biggest problem is getting hold of good quality seeds. They are using seed they obtained from Holota Agricultural Research 10 years ago, so now it is outdated and the yields are declining. Getting fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides in the right amounts and at the right time is also a problem. Ms. Ararse says: “Neither the local agricultural officer nor the farmers’ association can supply the right types of pesticides and herbicides. As a consequence, my husband and I have to purchase from private traders, which is costly, and quality is not assured”.

All kinds of supply and market obstacles

Ms. Emebet Bayissa shares her worries too. She lives with her six children near Gojje Town in Chilanqo Kebele sub-district, and also finds it difficult to support her family on the meager profits she makes from potato farming. “Last year I got all my supply from the farmer’s union in Kebele but this year the supply is unreliable. I also have to travel far to purchase fertilizer and the price is higher from the local trader,” she adds. Ms. Emebet received no instructions from the traders on how to use pesticides and herbicides, and on one occasion the chemicals damaged her crops and she lost much of the harvest.
The farmers’ union explained that there were logistical issues in the supply chain. When she asked the local farmers’ association, Ms. Emebet was simply told that they cannot do anything about it. Ms. Emebet says: “I am also reluctant to take a loan from the local credit associations to buy seed, fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides because of the high interest rates“.

Ms. Emebet also mentions her concern about the lack of market linkage. Farmers are unable to sell their produce themselves because their association they belong to requires that they deliver the potatoes to the association’s trader, at a low price. “I would like to see private, modern storage facilities for the potato farmers around Gojje Town, so that we can store our crops for longer without damage, and sell at better prices when we choose“.

In the face of all these challenges, Ms Emebet says she is no longer able to earn a living from potato farming. Sadly, she had to make the decision to move to town to find other work.

Research and fact-findings

The challenges facing farmers like Ms. Ararse and Ms. Emebet were identified during a research conducted by ICCO Cooperation and Fair & Sustainable Ethiopia on small-scale producer empowerment and market access in the potato and malt-barley value chains in Arsi, West Arsi and West Shewa. The aim of the study was to collect evidence on the challenges throughout the value chain and to identify actors who can support and regulate the chain. The researchers also identified possible entry points for engaging in dialogue to address and overcome the challenges the farmers face.

The research has also assessed the producers’ organizations interest, experience and capacity to participate in dialogue with their stakeholders to improve their smallholder members’ access to desired inputs and market for the future. There are 37 producer organizations that have over 11,000 members that have been engaged during the research that included self-help groups, model farmers groups, MFI-supported groups and cooperatives.

Improving dialogue capacity

Based on the findings from the research, training was developed to enhance the organizations’ dialoguing and negotiating capacity for support they need. As a result, 37 producers’ organizations and 50 cluster associations of local self-help groups received training on how to engage in dialogue to mobilize support.

ICCO expects the partner organizations to monitor the producers’ organizations that received training. The latter set their main dialogue objectives, which include better access to financial services, to seed potato and markets for their potatoes. Based on their plans, we can track which challenges can be solved at the local level and support their dialogues with the local government. Some cases that need to be addressed at regional or national level, ICCO and its partners will engage in dialogue with regional and national government to tackle structural challenges on behalf of potato farmers. For instance the local government extension workers are lacking agronomic skills and knowledge about potato farming, so they are unable to support the farmers. Civic Engagement Alliance members, such as ICCO and Edukans will bring relevant stakeholders together in an Agriskill platform to discuss how the knowledge of government extension worker could be improved structurally.

Partnership: Civic Engagement Alliance

The research and resulting training took place within a five-year program set up by the Civic Engagement Alliance (CEA) in a strategic partnership with the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The program focuses on strengthening civil society to engage in evidence-based dialogue with governments and private-sector stakeholders to ensure sustainable and inclusive food systems, and improve smallholder farmers’ production and access to markets. In Ethiopia, the Alliance is a collaboration of ICCO, Tear, Wilde Ganzen, Edukans and Light for the World.

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