In Eritrea, the agricultural sector has a crucial role for the economy because of its significant contribution to economic growth, and achieving food security. Agriculture has also strategic roles in national economic development, especially in reducing poverty, providing employment, improving farmers’ welfare and maintaining sustainable utilization of natural resources and environment.
Having spent five days visiting the various Agro-Industry projects in Gash-Barka, I will publish a series of articles over the coming weeks, in hopes of shedding a light on the current development programs underway in the region.
In the face of the national challenge to achieve food security and resilience in strategic commodities, addressing legitimate expectations of farmers and changing their perspective on the importance and promise of agricultural pursuits are major elements to address in the efforts to increase farm production and engender capital formation. Public goods like agriculture training, extension and education, rural institution and support services are crucial complements in revising the outlook for farming, particularly of the youths’ and in promoting the adoption and application of modern technologies. Agricultural extension or supervision can improve farming skills and provision of rural infrastructure and institutional support can enhance the availability of production inputs, equipment or services and flexibility of access with respect to credit sources in addition to the social capital and networking available to farmers and rural dwellers to support farm operations and capital formation.
Thus, the National Crops and Livestock Corporation (NCLC) have been playing a lead role in overseeing agro-industry activities in the nation since 2012 and is mainly responsible for the implementation of the policies of the Ministry of Agriculture. Initially the corporation, called the National Crops Corporation back then, was responsible for overseeing agricultural activities in Sawa’s Afhimbol agro-industry, which encompassed Molober and Afhimbol agricultural cites. Nonetheless after a major restructuring of the corporation, agricultural development projects in the East, such as Kerkebet, Gerset, Fanko-Tsimue, Fiesko, Adi Omer and Adi gidri were placed under the supervision of the corporation along with the regions public technical Services in 2012. Furthermore the Korbaria livestock and Elaberied agricultural projects were also added to the corporation, while Degoli and Gahtelay followed suit.
Subsequently, over the years the Nations Agro-Industry Governmental Projects were put under the management of the Corporation including all food-related Agro-Industries, the likes of Alebu Tomato and Banana Factory, Asmara Red-Sea Wheat Factory, Dekemhare DMK-Pasta Factory, Dekemhare Wheat Factory.
The Agro-Macro Development Policy of the nations is impressive. Irrigation based agriculture is in place that has increased output and created surplus in cereal corps, vegetables, fruits, and livestock. In Gash Barka region over 160 Dams, micro-dams and water catchments and diversion schemes have been constructed and over 100,000 hectares of land have been cultivated through irrigation, splash irrigation, and drip irrigation. Agro-industries such as Kerkebet, Aligider, Fiesko, Gereset, Fanco-Stimue, are examples of what is in place.
As such, the overall activities of the corporation consists of planning, financing, implementation and monitoring of all project activities undertaken by line ministries and partners such as Zoba and sub-zoba offices from the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA). The overall goal of the corporation is to reduce poverty among the targeted population through agriculture, livestock and improved social services. The specific objectives are: to increase the capacity to use the available services from government and other sources; to sustain increased food production; to reduce food insecurity and protect farm income. These are facilitated through four components: i) project facilitation; ii) livestock and agriculture; iii social services and iv) project coordination.
In this regard, the corporation operations contribute to: structuring sectors in order to facilitate the establishment of relations between producers and the agro-industry and secure their incomes, and the supply and marketing of products; improving the productivity and profitability of farms in order to ensure they are sustainable and local demand is better met with an outlook to international markets; developing processing activities in order to bring about the creation of local agro-industrial actors, that contribute to reducing food imports; creating and improving logistics infrastructure in order to facilitate the transportation of agricultural production to the consumer, limit post-harvest losses, and thereby reduce price volatility; disseminating high environmental and social standards in order to preserve natural resources and create decent employment for rural populations; diversifying the activity of agricultural producers (biofuels production, development of biomass cogeneration…) in order to reduce their vulnerability to market fluctuations and provide them with additional income.
The corporation’s project objectives are largely in line with the beneficiaries’ needs. Eritrean Government development strategies emphasize the integration of livestock with agriculture, the reduction of risks in poor household farming systems and supporting national and decentralized capacity building. The NCLC works to ascertain it objectives remain relevant in the day to day activities of the development plans in the east and it has proven that it is the route to increasing income and production in Eritrea in general and household level in particular.
Agricultural production activity is carried out under risky conditions. Farmers have to contend with price uncertainties and fluctuations on top of the uncertainty they face with regard to the quantity of production that will result from a given bundle of inputs and management decisions because of uncontrollable factors such as weather. Price and production uncertainties may reduce farmers’ opportunity to access credit and drive them into low risk farming techniques and technologies.
Major Kibreab Abraham, Managing Director of the corporation, stated that staple food price volatility has remained a major concern for the corporation despite considerable advances in communication, transportation and production technologies. Because staple food production is closely associated with national food security and welfare of the farming population, managing price instability has been a major challenge and government authorities and experts have been debating staple food price policies for years.
Given that the corporation is in its infant stages, most of the project objectives have been met to a greater extent. The project has reached its appraisal targets in terms of infrastructure, agricultural and institutional development. The corporation has increased the capacity of beneficiaries, and paved the way for experts to use the services available to support their initiatives and priorities for social and economic development.
Project beneficiaries have furthermore benefitted from rehabilitation of irrigation schemes and construction of new irrigation schemes. The diversion canals, to check dams, soil and stone bunds, the gates, boxes etc. are the assets of the project that did not exist before the project life. Several ponds were constructed in the region to help reduce the distance livestock have to cover in order to obtain water.
The NCLC impact on the environment is very positive. It mainly relates to the minimization of the destruction of trees and prevention of environmental degradation in the project area. The introduction of stone and soil terraces by the project has helped a lot in minimizing the destruction of trees. Besides, the introduction of biogas technology in the project area has considerably minimized the use of wood and charcoal as a source of fuel. The SWC structures have also helped to restore the environment and minimize the runoff, preventing soil erosion. In addition, the newly constructed and rehabilitated diversion structures allow better control of water, and they reduced the risk of large floods that could damage the land and flood channels.
The corporation enhances human assets by providing capacity building and training programs to farmers as well as to implementing staffs on topics related to livestock and agricultural development, irrigation development, and project management. This helps the corporation in identifying farmers’ needs and wants.
The project plays a great role in mobilizing and strengthening communities and their organizations as well as in organizing and training business groups, water users associations, range management associations, community horticulture groups, and herders associations. These associations are the main bridge between the government and the farming communities. These associations have been trained to improve their technical and management capabilities and they have developed a sense of ownership and management skills.
As a result of the intervention, the areas covered by irrigation schemes have been transformed into productive cultivated areas and the NCLC structures significantly contributed toward increasing crop yields for home consumption and sale. Significant increase in crop yield and livestock was achieved over the years, from 2012 to present.
Activities and initiatives under the project are likely to be sustained and even expanded as they have responded to the needs of the communities and producers who have been involved in the implementation. The capacities of beneficiary farmers and implementing partners have been improved and operations have been fully integrated into the Zoba administration. Various infrastructure organizations have undertaken operation and maintenance of investments in various spate and small scale irrigation schemes and other activities.
The development of resilient agricultural and agro-industrial sectors is essential for the construction of a sustainable future for developing countries and, more generally, for humanity.
Addressing this challenge requires huge investments to develop the entire value chain in the sector: from improving yields and collection operations on farms to the transportation of products and their distribution on local, regional or international markets, and including activities related to processing and storage such as factories, warehouses, cold chains…, etc. Currently The National Crop and Livestock Corporation is effectively achieving the Governments development projects. The corporation assists this development by supporting a wide range of agricultural sites, livestock and agro-industries found in the nation.