As the demand for hybrid fruit trees continues to grow in Ethiopia, a seedling group tries to keep up in Meki, a town south of Addis Ababa. The hybrids provide a combination of desired characteristics from two different ‘parent’ varieties, growing faster, producing more fruit and resisting disease better than the originals. With support from the Livestock and Irrigation Value chains for Ethiopian Smallholders (LIVES) project, the seedling group is enabling the district’s farmers to produce more nutritious food for their families and diversify their incomes.
The seedling group was established in September 2014 and consists of ten members, eight of whom are women. They create the hybrid fruit trees by ‘grafting’ – a technique in which a stem from one variety is inserted into the stem of another and bound to allow the tissues to fuse.
A hybrid avocado tree sells for a little less than USD $3. Once the tree is mature, a farmer can sell back 2,000 cuttings to the seedling group. Given that one cutting is USD $0.10, a farmer can make close to USD $200 each year. This is in addition to around USD $300 from selling the fruit (250-300 kg).
The seedling group records who buys the plants and where they are planted. The district’s extension agents are then able to use this information to follow-up with the farmers and provide technical support.
One of the members, Senidu Wolde-Michael, says, “I used to work for a government-run seedling group. I like this group better because we get to make decisions together and see the outcomes of those decisions. I hope other people in the community can start their own seedling group as well.”
The seedling group currently rents the land where they produce and sell the hybrids, but they would like to move to a larger site where they can have demonstration areas and their own mature trees for the cuttings. The LIVES Project provides the seedling group with technical and business trainings, grafting tools (clippers and knives) and mentoring twice a week. It also helps create linkages between producers and buyers.
One of these producers, Aregash Bacha, is growing several hybrid mango trees, which she purchased from the seedling group. Aregash and 11 other women in the village participate in a LIVES training program to improve fruit tree and livestock production. A mother of nine and head of the household, Aregash grows onions, raises cattle and produces butter and cheese. She has her own groundwater pump and solar panels to charge cell phones.
In two or three years, Aregash hopes the trees will start to bear fruit, providing her children with better nutrition and enabling her to sell the excess at a local market.