“Using Ethiopian onion varieties and test the best possible circumstances to improve the onion crop will be the starting point of this project”, says Jan Slot of De Groot en Slot B.V., Dutch world market leader in onion seed. A couple of weeks ago the project officially kicked off as the seeds are going into the ground. The knowledge of most of the onion farmers in Ethiopia is mainly passed on from generation to generation. With this project, De Groot en Slot B.V. and Agriterra aim to use that local knowledge and add the expertise of Dutch agricultural research to make the farmers more self-sufficient.
The coming years, De Groot en Slot B.V. works together with Agriterra on improving the onion sector in Ethiopia. During this long-term project, which will take at least five years and probably longer, they do various trials with local varieties. “We want to know how the local farmers work and why they work with these specific methods. By understanding their considerations, we can add our knowledge to the process and hopefully improve the onion crop and the farmers’ income”, explains Jan Slot, overseeing this project at De Groot en Slot B.V.
In the beginning of 2020, right before the pandemic broke loose, Jan Slot (together with Mesay Adugna and Aucke Plantinga, both business advisors in Ethiopia) visited different regions to get insight in the Ethiopian onion production. He was pleasantly surprised by what he saw: green hills and many big lakes which made the country look fertile. Quite different than desert-like Niger, where De Groot en Slot B.V. did its previous (very successful) project with Agriterra. However, when looking closely to the onion fields, he saw great potential for improvement.
"It takes time to make sustainable change which benefits the local community"
The project group selected the fields of two unions with the highest potential impact: Semen Wegagen FCU and Dire FCU (FCU = Farmers Cooperative Union), in Raya valley and Dire Dawa. “We decided upon a long-term project with Agriterra because I believe it takes time to make sustainable change which benefits the local community”, says Jan Slot. You have to take all kinds of circumstances into account: from political unrest to climate influences, but also uncommon situations like the current pandemic.
During the first trials, different timing of transplanting and using various distances between the plants will be tested with local (open pollinated) varieties. Compared to other tropical countries, Ethiopian farmers tend to transplant the plants further apart. If tests show that it is possible to grow the onion plants closer to one another in Ethiopian soil as well, it is already an easy win. To make a solid comparison, varieties from De Groot en Slot B.V. are transplanted alongside the local varieties to find out what has the best results.
Due to Covid-19, it is not possible for Jan Slot to travel to Ethiopia to see the results of the first trials. However, by means of pictures, reports on the process and video calling, he keeps a close eye on the project. During start of the trials, the two unions are supported by local agronomists.
The aim of the project is to bridge the knowledge gap and training the stakeholders in the onion supply chain. For instance, many farmers and agronomists do not recognize soil borne diseases and crop diseases in their fields. Also, many farmers do not use proper spraying techniques or are spraying the wrong chemicals. During the course of the project, also depending on the test results, it will be decided which steps need to be taken. There are plans for demo farms and field visits.
De Groot en Slot B.V. has over 65 years of experience in developing and producing onion seed. Together with their partner Bejo Seeds they are world market leader and known as specialist in propagating material for onions, shallots and bunching onions. At the 65th anniversary of the company, the company decided to start a foundation to share the (international) knowledge they gained over the years, with farmers in less developed countries. “The project in Ethiopia has no financial motivation, we want to share our knowledge and help people become self-sufficient”.