Photograph — Aureus

Ethiopia has embraced the use of technology to advance her agricultural sector with the government’s Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA). The country aims for widespread commercial farming and food security in 20 years. This new model is patterned after initiatives in South Korea and Taiwan.

According to Khalid Bomba, Chief Executive officer of ATA, the reason Ethiopia’s agricultural sector has not developed is that the country has not “leveraged technology.” Thus, he is employing the use of drones and satellites to boost Ethiopia’s agricultural exports and improve food security in the country.

Appointed in 2015, Bomba has over a decade experience working with JPMorgan Chase & Co. on Wall Street and in London as an analyst. He has also worked at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, developing and managing grants in the agriculture sector.

Agriculture is very significant to the Ethiopian economy, accounting for 45 percent of the country’s GDP, 80 percent of employment and three-quarters of total export earnings. The country’s main agricultural exports include coffee, pulses (e.g., beans), oilseeds, cereals, potatoes, sugarcane, and vegetables.

However, there is still so much untapped potential and room for growth. Agricultural production in the country is overwhelmingly of a subsistence nature, and a large part of commodity exports are provided by the small agricultural cash-crop sector. Subsistence farming, small plots and limited access to fertiliser mean that most farmers struggle.

Small scale farmers that produce wheat, corn, sesame, barley, fruit, and horticultural crops have been clustered to enable them to grow the same crop using the same methods. In a report by Bloomberg, Bomba said that it was “easier to find a market for 200 hectares of (the) crop rather than half a hectare.”

The federal agency makes use of satellite soil mapping, toll-free numbers, drones, and an in-house consultancy to help farmers. Potential buyers can now carry out an online inspection of the farm located in any part of Ethiopia, watch a drone video of the produce to assess its condition and call the farmers directly to purchase the crops.

The ATA is established by federal regulation to promote agriculture sector transformation in Ethiopia by identifying solutions to systemic bottlenecks in key program areas. Modelled after similar and successful organisations in Asia, the agency has a unique operating structure and reports to a Transformation Council chaired by the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed.

Written by Ishioma Emi.

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