Participatory plant breeding and technology adoption in Ethiopia

Participatory plant breeding and technology adoption in Ethiopia

2 October 2015. The Ethiopian Association of Women in Business (AWiB) has announced the 2015 Women of Excellence nominees. One of the seven nominees this year is Fetien Abay, a pioneer in promoting local innovation and engaging in participatory innovation development in Ethiopia.

Professor Fetien has proven to be a pioneer in recognizing ‘farmer breeders’ and arguing that it is possible to engage in participatory and decentralized plant breeding even in drought prone environments. When she decided to conduct her research in Tigray and barley (this crop is sensitive to environmental variations), she knew it would be difficult to achieve immediate results as many renowned researchers, breeders, and other fellow countrymen felt that it is a waste of time to even try it. 

As time passed by and at times when things did not go her way, she still did not give up. After a painstaking effort and farmers’ involvement in the research, exploiting the GxE interaction, it turned out that it is rather possible. (Note from PAEPARD: The term “genotype x environment (GxE) interaction effect” refers both to the modification of genetic risk factors by environmental risk and protective factors and to the role of specific genetic risk factors in determining individual differences in vulnerability to environmental risk factors.) As a result of farmers’ participation in varietal selection and ranking, she has proven that decentralized plant breeding is indeed a panacea for diverse agro-ecological breeding given the diversity of farming system. She is proud that the approach is now adopted by the regional agricultural extension unit. 

She is also known to have released three climate resilient, highly nutritious (with their betaglucan, iron, and zinc contents), drought resistant, early maturing barley varieties which have reached over 30,000 farmers in three year time since 2011, covering over 500 ha. The variety release on barley is new for Tigray. Until the variety released by MU, no improved barley variety have been incorporated on the extension package of agriculture. The varieties submitted for release are transgressive segregants of a single cross made between two local varieties of Tigray region. The varieties are registered to Mekelle University the names of the varieties are felamit, hiriti, and fetina.’ Fetina is named after herself. This has resulted in increase in crop productivity from 2 to 5 ton/hectare. Moreover, the beneficiary farmers including women have increased their incomes by about 30-50%.

Professor Fetien has also been instrumental in securing funding for a number of large and small projects, which she coordinates alongside her regular work as University lecturer. To highlight a few:

  • Integrated Seed Sector Development (ISSD) – operating in four regions (Tigray, Amhara, Oromia and Southern) of Ethiopia. The project seeks to see a pluralistic and a vibrant seed system in Ethiopia. She is coordinating the Tigray project. Currently, she is overseeing over 50 farmer based seed producer cooperatives. The membership size of the seed producer cooperatives is over 2800 households and 14,000 direct beneficiaries.
  • Network Project: SOLIBAM (Strategies for Organic and Low-input Integrated Breeding and

    Management) EC-funded project with ICARDA and 22 organizations from 12 European, Mediterranean and 2 African countries (Mali & Ethiopia). EU FP7 funding

  • South–South–North Network Project on Women and Food Science (2009–12) with the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Sokoine University (Tanzania) and Hawassa University (Ethiopia); this includes establishing a nutrition laboratory; developing a new BSc curriculum (already approved); opening a Department of Food Science and Technology; supporting 30 BSc (all female), 6 MSc and 4 PhD students (including one woman from Tanzania); and establishing two women’s cooperatives for “kollo” marketing.
  • Supporting Women Entrepreneurship in Food Product Commercialization in Tigray Region, Northern Ethiopia (2012-2014) through IDRC grant. This project focuses on product promotion by women, commercialization and income generating activities. One PhD and three MSc postgraduate students involved in the project. 6 women cooperatives established, new product developed (from sorghum, millet and barley) with the private food company NAS.

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