The challenges of potato farmers in Ethiopia

Farmers and farmers’ organizations in Ethiopia face various challenges in order to improve and grow their business.

The challenges of potato farmers in Ethiopia

ICCO Cooperation and Fair & Sustainable Ethiopia identified during an action research the pain points on small-scale producer empowerment and market access in the potato and malt-barley value chains. Based on the research a training was developed to enhance the organizations’ dialoguing capacity and negotiating for the support they need.

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 talked 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 They are using seed they obtained from Holota Agricultural Research 10 years ago, so now it is outdated and the yields are declining.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 mentioned that neither the local agricultural officer nor the farmers’ association could supply the right types of pesticides and herbicides. As a consequence, she and her husband have to purchase from private traders, which is costly, and quality is not assured.

All kinds of supply and market obstacles

Ms. Emebet Bayissa shared her worries to. 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 added. 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,“We can’t do anything”. Ms. Emebet also said that she was reluctant to enter into debt by taking a loan from the local credit associations to buy seed, fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides because of the high interest rates.

Ms. Emebet also mentioned 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. Ms. Emebet would like to see private, modern storage facilities for the potato farmers around Gojje Town, so that they can store their crops for longer without damage, and sell at better prices when they choose.

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

Action research and fact- findings

The challenges facing farmers like Ms. Ararse and Ms. Emebet were identified during an action research study 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 partners and beneficiaries can use the result and recommendations from this action research as discussion points in their dialogues with stakeholders. The researchers also identified possible entry points for engaging in dialogue to address and overcome the challenges the farmers face.

The action 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 action research that included self-help groups, model farmers groups, MFI-supported groups and cooperatives.

Improving dialogue capacity

Based on the findings from the action research, training was then developed to enhance the organizations’ dialoguing capacity and negotiating for support they need. In October and November 2017, 37 producers’ organizations and 50 cluster associations of local self-help groups received training on how to engage in dialogue to mobilize support.

One of the activities in the ‘mobilizing support’ training: role-play of a visit to the decision maker.
Photo: One of the activities in the ‘mobilizing support’ training: role-play of a visit to the decision maker.

“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. CEA 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” said Jan Apperloo, ICCO’s Ethiopia Program Coordinator.


The action research and resulting training took place within a five-year program set up by the CEA alliance 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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