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[ADDIS ABABA] A crop-breeding initiative to develop and promote more resilient versions of ten of Ethiopia's staple food crops has been launched, with the aim of improving food security.

The three-year initiative launched last month (29 July) is a partnership between the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR) and will be implemented in five research hubs of the EIAR later this year.

The project will focus on, among others, varieties of faba beans, maize, sorghum, soybean and teff — crops that are staple to the majority of Ethiopians, improvements to which could significantly contribute to household food security and income.

The improved seeds will be promoted among farmers, and the project will also focus on building the capacity of agricultural field extension officers that link farmers with scientists, public-private seed companies and researchers, as well as enhancing the links between people in the seed industry in Ethiopia.

Ethiopian farmers face a number of constraints such as disease, drought and pests, whose combined impact is lower yields. "The initiative will [develop and] introduce crop varieties that can better withstand these constraints, thereby contributing to improved food security in the country," says Adefris Teklewold, director of research at EIAR.

The new varieties are expected to increase the current yield per hectare by at least ten per cent, says Adefris.

AGRA will invest US$1 million in the initiative, which is overseen by the Programme for Africa's Seed Systems that aims to provide high-yielding seeds to farmers in Africa.

Ethiopia is one of four countries where the initiative will be implemented; it will also be expanded to Ghana, Mozambique and Tanzania.

According to Joe DeVries, director for AGRA's Programme for Africa's Seed Systems, 20 tons of seeds will be available to seed enterprises annually, and some 200,000 farmers will directly and indirectly get access to the improved seed varieties.

Gadisa Gobena, an Ethiopian crop breeder for nearly two decades, says the project will make a difference because Ethiopia lags behind other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa in terms of availing high-yielding seed varieties to its farmers.

This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan Africa desk.