Eritrea has various agro-ecological zones that are suitable for growing crops, vegetables, fruits and rearing livestock.
Although it is semi-arid and the main rainy season lasts a short period, it can enhance its production by adopting modern technology and adding value to its produce. It has lowland and highland areas. Eritrea benefits from three rainy seasons: Summer (Kiremti), short (Azmera) and Winter (Bahri) rains. The Summer (Kiremti) rainy season extends from June to September. The short (Azmera) rains extend from March to May while the Winter (Bahri) rains normally start in October and end in February. The country is prone to cyclical droughts which may be aggravated in the future with climate change. Therefore, it needs to modernize its agriculture in a smart way to maximize productivity, use the produce to the maximum and enhance the resilience of farmers and herders.
In the Eritrean context, the Small and Medium Commercial Farmers Strategy (SMCFS) targets those who are already producing the bulk of vegetables, fruits, milk, eggs, honey and other agricultural products for the markets of urban and semi-urban centers throughout the country. Commercial farmers supply a large share of the national agricultural output and are engaged in various types of mixed crop and livestock production. They play a key role in meeting the current and the ever-increasing food and nutrition demands of the growing urban population.
The Vision of the SMCFS is to ensure the prevalence and development of sustainable and more prosperous SMCFs that in turn contribute to the achievement of the national objective of food and nutrition security, employment generation, poverty elimination, export promotion, rural transformation and economic growth. The overall goal of the SMCFS is to create Small and Medium Commercial Farmers that engage in highly productive and profitable agriculture value chains linked to domestic and international markets by 2023. Therefore, the SMCFs will supply domestic agro-industries with high value agricultural products, contribute to higher farmers’ incomes, utilize natural resources in a sustainable manner and generate a growing high quality employment.
The SMCFS is composed of interrelated components. Its main objective is to transform and modernize on-farm production from subsistence to commercial agriculture serving local and export market demand. Its specific objectives are to create farmer-market linkages and promote the development of all-inclusive agribusiness value chains and the rapid transformation of agro-food systems (all business activities performed from farm or primary product to the table of the consumer); to transform on-farm employment into modern productive agricultural jobs (agro-processing/agro-industries); to ensure food quality and safety and meet the growing and evolving food and nutrition demand of the population; to promote appropriate/relevant agricultural infrastructure development; to promote small holder-friendly financial support and initiate risk mitigation and insurance schemes; to create linkage and harmonize agricultural sector policy and strategy internally with agricultural stakeholders, private institutions, cooperatives/ associations, financing agencies and development and investment banks and externally with regional and international development partner institutions.
Furthermore, the strategy will also focus on promoting increased integration of agriculture with other sectors of both the domestic and international economies. Hence, the SMCFS is designed to address this category of farmers that also include women in agri-business. The strategy support of the SMCFS is based on two forms of intervention mechanisms: technological support and creating enabling environment.
Technology plays a crucial role in transforming farmers from subsistence to modernized commercial actors. Technology in agriculture is the application of tools, materials and research-based knowledge to solve problems and enhance agricultural production and productivity. Use of technologies in agriculture such as mechanization, motorized equipment and energy- efficient irrigation technologies, efficient and environment-friendly renewable energy, crop and livestock production technologies, drought and disease resistant seed varieties and biotechnology provide improvement in agriculture. Technology has a positive impact on the way farmers grow and supply food from the farm to the table.
All-inclusive agricultural growth and development, national and household levels food and nutrition security and transformation of small farms into modernized commercial ventures are at the top of the government agenda.
Therefore, in order to achieve these goals and strategic objectives, the SMCFS need to be anchored on the following Technological Support Strategic Pillars: transforming from surface or furrow irrigation to pressurized irrigation system; shifting from fossil fuel energy to renewable energy resources, mainly solar energy; moving from mono-culture to poly-culture (integrated agricultural system); partial Transformation from Outdoors to Protected cultivation System; enhancing agricultural value-chain development, food quality and safety; establishing adequate dry and cold stores as well as cold chain; and promoting agricultural mechanization.
An enabling environment that favors markets and trade, the provision of inputs and related physical infrastructure and social infrastructure would be created. Physical infrastructure includes roads, bridges, and dams for irrigation and power supply while social infrastructure mainly covers education and health. Transforming subsistent, small and medium scale farmers into modernized agri-businesses require supportive policies, institutions and financing that together create an enabling environment at local, national, regional and international levels.
At the political level, the Government of the State of Eritrea (GoE) needs to be more committed to transform small farmers into modernized commercial farmers. Since independence in May 1991, the GoE has been making concerted efforts in creating an enabling policy and legal environment for developing the country’s agriculture. However, the no-war no-peace situation was a huge challenge in the provision of the desired support to farmers in terms of inputs and others. The new peaceful environment undoubtedly has created a favorable environment to speed up the modernization process of agri-business. It also provides a platform for greater coherence, coordination and integration among the various sectors that directly or indirectly influence the growth and development of subsistent, small and medium commercial farms.
Mechanisms will be initiated to involve stakeholders from all sectors at all levels and make them participate to realize fully the enabling environment as shown below. Enabling Environment – Intervention Mechanisms included: improved access to land and tenure security; developed markets and trade infrastructure; access to agricultural inputs and output markets; access to agricultural market information system; enhanced linkages of Extension, Research and Regulatory Services; enhanced access to Finance and Insurance; establishment of and/or Strengthening of Farmers’ Cooperatives; establishment of Stakeholders Coordination & Support Platforms; and development of Gender and Youth Inclusive Agri-business.
Agriculture still remains a cornerstone of the Eritrean economy although the extractive industries, tourism, fisheries, manufacturing and services related to Eritrea’s geostrategic advantages constitute sectors with huge potential. An estimated 60% of the population depends on subsistence agriculture and produces about 60-70% of the country’s annual food requirements although in good years it can be much higher. The remaining 30-40% is covered by selling animals or through engagement in different types of off-farm employment.