Evidence informs seed system development and scaling in Ethiopia


Photo credit: ICARDA

Outcome Overview

What is the best way to supply quality seeds and traits to farmers on time and at competitive prices? This question has lingered in the policy debates in Ethiopia for several years. In August 2018, the Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency held a press conference to showcase the successes of the Direct Seed Marketing (DSM) system, one of several elements in its strategy to expand the country’s seed system.

In contrast to the conventional public seed distribution system, DSM makes it possible for seed producers to sell seed directly to farmers through their own marketing channels. The approach aims to reduce bureaucratic bottlenecks, provide seed companies with more flexibility, and increase the choices available to farmers. DSM was piloted with hybrid maize in 2013 in 33 districts of three Ethiopian regions as part of efforts to implement the government’s ambitious seed sector strategy. The Agricultural Transformation Agency called upon the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), its long-time partner, to undertake an evaluation of the pilot in recognition of IFPRI’s prior analysis of policy options to strengthen the country’s seed system.

Many in the government had strong reservations about the private sector’s entry into the seed market, suggesting that a less centralized, more commercial approach might reduce seed quality, compromise geographic coverage, and threaten national food security. IFPRI sought answers to these concerns with an initial study to assess the effectiveness of the DSM approach. The findings demonstrated significant positive results on several dimensions and reinforced the need for private sector engagement in the provision of seeds and traits to farmers as part of Ethiopia’s agricultural sector transformation. Partly based on the strength of these recommendations, the government and its development partners agreed to expand the program in 2015-2016. IFPRI followed up with a second study showing that DSM performed as well as conventional seed marketing while significantly reducing public expenditures, and that farmers were satisfied with the new system.

According to Dr. Yitbarek Semeane, Input Director at the Agricultural Transformation Agency, as of 2018 the program operated in 228 districts, involving 1,163 marketing agents and 47 seed producers. Seed carryover from one year to the next was reduced to 2%, from 30-40% with the conventional supply system. In 2018, more than 47 million kilograms of seed of maize, wheat, and other crops were sold to an estimated 1.4 million farmers. The system reduced the Government of Ethiopia’s expenditures on seed delivery and reduced seed carryover costs by a total of over ETB 1.4 billion.

During a press conference in August 2018, Dr. Eyasu Abraha, Minister of Agriculture, stated that a system would be established to further scale up DSM. This evolution, along with other fundamental changes in the architecture of Ethiopia’s seed system and the policies that govern it, are helping more farmers gain access to new seeds and traits than in any previous era in Ethiopia’s history.

This work was undertaken as part of the CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions, and Markets (PIM) under Flagship 1 “Technological Innovation and Sustainable Intensification“, Flagship 2 “Economywide Factors Affecting Agricultural Growth and Rural Transformation“, and Flagship 3 “Inclusive and Efficient Value Chains.”

This story is part of the PIM 2018 Outcomes collection. For more information about our work in 2018, see PIM Achievements in 2018: Highlights and Annual report 2018: CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions, and Markets (PIM).

Key Partners

Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA); International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)



Research Areas

Technological Innovation and Sustainable Intensification; Economywide Factors Affecting Agricultural Growth and Rural Transformation; Inclusive and Efficient Value Chains

Geographic Focus


Corresponding Researchers

Gashaw Tadesse Abate, David Spielman, James Warner (IFPRI)


Note: The Direct Seed Marketing program is implemented by the Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA), which partners with the Ministry of Agriculture, regional bureaus of agriculture and seed companies for scaling. The program draws from: lessons learned from a pilot phase led by the ATA in 2013-15 and supported by AGRA and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF); an operational evaluation of that pilot phase conducted by IFPRI in 2013-14 with support from BMGF and PIM; and initial work on direct seed marketing introduced by the Integrated Seed Sector Development (ISSD Ethiopia) in 2011-13 and supported by the Embassy of the Netherlands.