Theforage seed business may not attract commercial seed companies at this momentdue to their natural lower seed producing capacities. It is obvious that cropswith lower seed multiplication capacities are not preferred by commercial seedcompanies because they require high amount of seed and land for multiplicationwhile their production output is lower. Another problem is related with thelack of experiences and knowledge in the area of seed technology.
Many forage legumecrop seeds need special treatment like scarification and some forage legumescannot be successfully grown without specific inoculums which again are notreadily available and difficult to handle (Mohamed 2007). Some of them are alsobiennials or perennials which cannot compete with annual food crop seedproduction for profitability. Hence, it is extremely difficult to multiplyseeds of many of the forage crops under contract with farmers (Yonas 2012).Furthermore, in areas where food crops are important, contact forage seedmultiplication is even more difficult due to the lower productivity of forageswhen seed is produced.
On the other hand, farmers may demand a premium pricefor the seed produced under contract. This in turn increases the productioncost which would be reflected on the final commercial forage seed prices. Besideslow inflorescence density, delayed flowering and seed shattering, low seedsettings, susceptibility to disease and pest attack, lodging and indeterminategrowth habits are limiting factors for forage seed production in Ethiopia. The development of specialized forage seedproduction enterprises in Ethiopia has been hindered by low seed yield, lack ofadequate technology needed for growing and processing forage seed crops,non-existent or inefficient seed marketing and distribution networks.Moreover,nationally or regionally mandated public seed enterprises have had limitedinvolvement in forage seed production. Forage seed enterprises typicallyproduce a small number of improved seeds for use mainly by modern dairy farms.Most of the seed enterprises fail to produce forage seeds mainly due to landscarcity and lack of awareness of the benefits of forage use (Mohamed 2007).
Besides, few public sectors produce limited varieties and amounts of forageseeds that does not meet Ethiopia’s growing demand. As a result, the currentforage seed demand outpaces supply and creating high prices for end consumers. Moreover,seed cleaning and processing centers across the country are very weak due tolack of expertise, low quality equipment and facilities as well as a lack ofaccess to finance. To date, controlling and assuring seed quality has beengiven little attention. In most cases, it is very difficult to trace thebreeder or maintainer of the initial seed source as there is no record(sometimes known as a “passport”) moving along with the seeds. As the seeds areexchanged between various actors within the value chain, the traceability ofthe seeds to their sources vanishes.
As the seeds move within the value chain,the quality deteriorates due to the limited efforts of quality checks by thepublic forage seed enterprise. Themajor actors within the existing forage seed system are producers, wholesalers,retailers and buyers. However, there are no widely known private enterprisesengaged in professional commercial forage seed processing (cleaning andpackaging). Individual traders move along the value chain and collect seeds ofall varieties and bulk them up for resale without proper cleaning andprocessing. The bulk of the seeds are sold to NGOs and government offices forfurther distribution to livestock holders and forage seed multipliers. Moreover,there is no regulatory tracking of the quality of the seeds circulating in thecountry.
Evaluation mechanisms are minimal and when implemented they consist ofsimple control mechanisms for physiological purity, germination and moisturecontent. In general, there is lack of information about the seed source andquality as it transits along the value chain to end users.OPPORTUNITIES OF FORAGE SEEDSYSTEMS IN ETHIOPIAForageseed production and distribution is insignificant in Ethiopia and the formalseed system has remained weak throughout its history, although the firstactivity in production and distribution dates back to the beginning of theseventies. Ethiopia has a high livestock population and has favorableenvironments to produce most of the forage species and forage varieties thathave been developed by the national agricultural research systems and importedby different NGOs.
Moreover, past poor performance of the forage seed sectorcoupled with the existing huge potential of forage and livestock production isputting attention back to the possibility to strengthen the forage seed sector.Sofar, both the formal and the informal seed sectors did not consider thatforages should be improved for better livestock performance. In addition,maintenance breeding and breeder seed supply have proved to be ineffective andshould be further emphasized coupled with the other activities andinstitutional arrangements required to promote forage seed production andsupply systems in the country.
This is mainly due to current demand outweighsthe limited forage seeds supply produced in the country. Therefore, utilizingimproved forage seeds is a crucial engine to improve livestock productivity.Forage seed production can also have significant impact on relieving theeffects of climate change, desertification and grazing land shortages.Intercropping is a viable option where arable land is limited and can also havepositive impacts on soil health. Many forage crops are adaptable and can besuitably sown/planted on soil conservation structures; such as terraces, checkdams, river banks, area enclosures and as alley crops.
Unless addressed, livestockfeed shortage both in quantity and quality will continue to remain a mainconstraint to livestock animal productivity in Ethiopia.