Farming In Ethiopia, Agriculture Crops, Livestock

Introduction to Agriculture and Farming in Ethiopia: Agriculture is the backbone of the Ethiopian economy and it is the largest sector. Some principal crops in Ethiopia include Coffee, Pulses example Beans, Oilseeds, Fruits, Cereals, Potatoes, Sugarcane, and vegetables. Coffee is referred to as the largest foreign exchange earner in Ethiopia. Also, Ethiopia is Africa’s 2nd biggest maize producer. Smallholders account for about 96% of the total area cultivated and generate the key share of total production for the crops.

In this article we also covered the below topics about Ethiopia farming;

  • What are the major crops cultivated in Ethiopia
  • What do people grow in Ethiopia
  • Can agriculture be Ethiopia’s growth engine
  • What are the major crops and exports of Ethiopia
  • What fruits grow in Ethiopia
  • Major problems of Ethiopian agriculture
  • Is agriculture is the backbone of the Ethiopian economy

In Ethiopia, agriculture is accounting for over 50% of gross domestic product and employing over 85% of the labor force. Therefore, raising production levels and reducing their variability are essential aspects of improving food security in Ethiopia, both to help ensure adequate food availability and to increase rural household incomes.

Agriculture is the country’s most promising resource management. In Ethiopia, agricultural export development is done in livestock, grains, vegetables, fruits, and fruits. As many as 4.6 million people need food assistance annually and agriculture in Ethiopia is the foundation of the country’s economy, accounting for half of the gross domestic product (GDP).

A guide to Farming in Ethiopia, Agriculture Crops, Vegetable Farming, Fruit Farming and Livestock Farming

Ethiopia is a net exporter of agricultural commodities. Though, the low level of industrialized is the country exports very little higher value processed food. Agricultural technology development in Ethiopia is an essential strategy for

  • Increasing   agricultural productivity,
  • Achieving food self-sufficiency and
  • Improving poverty and food insecurity among smallholder farmers.

Ethiopia is an Agricultural country mainly relying on draught animal power. The below are the three main constraints that the government needs to address to enhance investment into the domestic food industry;

  • Firstly, unleash the potential of the private sector.
  • Encourage access to finance and mobile money solutions.
  • Promote market integration, commercialization, and scale.

Ethiopia has many benefits for the development of its export sector apart from the conducive and continually improving free-market-oriented policy environment.  The crop production system can be mainly classified based on its organizational structure, size, and ownership into smallholders’ mixed farming, producers’ cooperative farms, state farms, and private commercial farms. The main objectives of smallholder farmers’ production are to secure food for home consumption and also to generate cash to meet household needs such as clothing, farm inputs, taxes, and others. The main producers of horticultural crops are small-scale farmers, production being mainly rain-fed and few under irrigation. Mainly, Shallot, Garlic, Potatoes, and Chillies are produced under rainfed conditions.

Tomatoes, Carrots, Lettuce, Beetroot, Cabbage, Spinach, and Swiss chard are generally restricted to areas where irrigation water is available. Some of the important factors that contribute to an overall investment are;

  • Proximity to lucrative markets,
  • Rich water resources and agro-climatic suitability for the diversified irrigated agriculture sector,
  • Growth or rise of demand for horticultural crops, particularly in urban areas,
  • Diversified agro-climatic conditions that facilitate crops diversification,
  • The high productivity of horticultural crops as compared to cereal crops,
  • Export possibilities of these crops are encouraging and
  • These crops are highly remunerative and it helps to improve the small-scale resources.

Agricultural Area and Climate Requirement for Ethiopia Farming

Agriculture is particularly vulnerable to climate-related effects such as erratic rainfall in the semi-arid regions of northern Ethiopia. The major factors are increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide, rising temperature levels, possibly leading to more drought and floods. These changes in turn alter the availability of water resources, the productivity of grazing lands and farming of livestock, and the distribution of pests and diseases in agriculture. Environmental changes like changes in rainfall variability, drought, warmer or cooler temperature (lead to a change in growing seasons) and land cover change have increased concerns about achieving food security.

Ethiopian farms are divided into 2 major groups based on the Central Statistical Agency (CSA). They are smallholder farms (<25.2ha) and large commercial farms (>25.2ha). The majority of Ethiopian farmers are smallholder farms, producing mostly for their consumption. Only 40% of the smallholders cultivate more than 0.9 0 hectares and these ‘medium-sized farms’ that account for three-quarters of the total cultivated area. Large farms approximately 323 hectares per farm are not widely spread in Ethiopia.

For the below reasons Ethiopia is highly affected by climate change;

  • About 80% of the population in Ethiopia is largely dependent on rain-fed agriculture
  • Low-income country
  • Different geographical locations with different magnitude of climate changes impacts.

Climate conditions change and its variability is emerging as major challenges to agricultural development with the increasingly irregular and erratic nature of weather conditions placing an additional burden on food security and rural livelihoods. Climate variability has a direct and, in most cases, adverse influence on quality and agricultural crop production quantity. The climate of an area is highly correlated to the crops cultivated and thus predictability of climate conditions is imperative for the planning of farm operations. Agriculture is mainly dependent on natural resources such as soil, water, and climatic conditions, extreme weather events and climatic conditions have major impacts. Climate change affects crop production through direct impacts on biophysical crops growth.

Climate change mainly affects the agriculture sector and food security directly through changing agro-ecological conditions and indirectly by affecting crops growth. Environmental changes like changes in water availability, and land cover, altered nitrogen availability, and nutrient cycling, have increased concerns about achieving food security. Therefore, these problems are further intensified by climate change. It is one more challenge to reducing poverty, hunger, disease, and environmental degradation.

In Ethiopia, climate conditions change and associated extreme events are causing main damage to life, property, natural resources, and the economy by affecting climate-sensitive sectors such as agriculture.

Agricultural growth mainly depends on the ability of Ethiopia’s farmers to maintain productive crops using subsistence farming. Farming processes and smallholder farmers are highly sensitive to climate conditions. Across Ethiopia, agricultural production patterns change markedly based on agro-climatic conditions widely varying rainfall, and elevation.

Agricultural researchers distinguish five agro-ecological regions in Ethiopia;

  • Moisture reliable cereal-based highlands,
  • Moisture reliable enset-based highlands,
  • Humid lowlands,
  • Drought prone highlands, and
  • Pastoralist area.

Farm area in the drought-prone highlands accounts for 26 % of the total area cultivated. With farmers using virtually no irrigation, reliable rainfall is a very important condition to achieve good agricultural productivity.

Major Cash Crops in Ethiopia

Teff is the staple food and its biggest cash crop in Ethiopia. Given high levels of food insecurity in Ethiopia, coupled with the large dependency on the agriculture sector. In Ethiopia, coffee is an important cash crop. About 98% of the coffee was produced by peasants on smallholdings of less than a hectare, and the remaining 2% was produced by state farms. Some estimates indicated that crop yields on peasant farms were higher than those on state farms.

In Ethiopia, Coffee grows best at altitudes between l, 000 and 2,000 meters. Coffee grows majorly in many parts of the country, while mostly it is produced in the southern and western regions of Kefa, Ilubabor, Gamo Gofa, Sidamo, Welega, and Harerge. Cotton is mainly grown throughout Ethiopia. Ethiopia’s largest cotton plantation is the Tendaho Cotton Plantation in the lower Awash Valley.

Cotton Production in Ethiopia

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Cotton Farmingin Ethiopia
Cotton (Image source: pixabay)

Ethiopia is one of the African countries that mostly produce and export cotton. Omo, Awash, Baro-Akobo, Ghibe, Wabi-Shebelle, Blue Nile and Tekeze river basins are the main potential cotton-growing areas. For below elevations of about 1,400 meters Cotton is grown throughout Ethiopia. Because most of the lowlands lack adequate rainfall conditions, cotton farming largely depends on irrigation.

Major Staple Crops in Ethiopia

Corn Production in Ethiopia
Maize or Corn (pic credit: pixabay)

The major staple crops in Ethiopia are cereals, pulses, oilseeds, and coffee.

Grains – Grains are the most important field crops and the main element in the diet of most Ethiopians. The principal grains in Ethiopia are Teff, Wheat, Barley, Corn, Sorghum, and Millet. Barley is cultivated mostly between 2,000 and 3,500 meters in Ethiopia. It is a major subsistence crop and it is used as food.

Sorghum, Millet, and Corn

Usually, Sorghum, millet, and corn are cultivated mostly in warmer regions. Sorghum and millet are drought-resistant crops. Corn is cultivated between elevations of about 1,500 and 2,200 meters. These three grains constitute the staple foods of a good part of the population and are the main items in the diet of the nomads.

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Sorghum Farming in Ethiopia
Sorghum crop (pic credit: pixabay)

Sorghum is a major staple food crop in Ethiopia, ranking 2nd after maize in total production. It ranks 3rd after wheat and maize in productivity per hectare, and after teff and maize in area cultivated. It is grown in almost all regions, covering a total land area of 1.8 million hectares. Sorghum crop is grown in Ethiopia in 12 of the 18 major agro-ecological zones. It is one of the important indigenous food crops and is only second to teff as injera making cereal. Sorghum is the major cereal crop grown and covers 66% of the total area.

Major Cereals Grown In Ethiopia

Maize, Wheat, Barley, Teff, Millet, and Sorghum are the major cereals grown in Ethiopia. Cereals (except sorghum) are cultivated in highland and mid-highland areas in Ethiopia.

In Ethiopia, Cereals production accounts for the 2nd largest share in the agricultural sector economically. For the production of cereals, more than 80% of agricultural land is used, which makes use of 60.0% of the rural workforce. Despite the huge availability of fertile land, the country fails to produce high yields of cereals due to low infrastructure, and lack of machinery and irrigation facilities.

Pulses and Oilseeds in Ethiopia

Pulses and oilseeds played an important role in agriculture in Ethiopia. There are mainly three factors that contributed to the decline in the importance of pulses and oilseeds. Firstly, the recurring droughts had devastated the country’s main areas. Secondly, peasants faced food shortages; and they gave priority to cereal staples to sustain themselves. Finally, the government’s price control policy to the official procurement price of these all crops because the cost of pulses and oilseeds production continued to rise.

Pulses are the 2nd most important element in the national diet. For example, the Ethiopian white sesame seed is used as a reference for grading in international markets.

Major oilseeds and pulses exports;

  • Sesame seed
  • Nigger seeds
  • Linseeds
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Groundnuts
  • Rape seeds
  • Castor oil seeds
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Haricot beans
  • Pea-beans
  • Horse beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Beans
  • Lentils

The Gulf States like Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Israel, European Union, some Asian and neighboring African countries constitute the main markets for Ethiopia’s oilseeds and pulses exports.

Fruits, Vegetables and Flowers Farming in Ethiopia

Relatively, the consumption of vegetables and fruits is limited, largely because of their high cost. Common vegetables in Ethiopia are Onions, Peppers, Squash, and Cabbage.

The main vegetables produced for domestic consumption and recently emerged for export purposes are Cabbages, Tomatoes, and Garlic, While Green Beans, and Peas. With favorable climate conditions, abundant labor, land, and water resources, most regions of the Country are suitable for the production of a wide range of tropical and subtropical fruits, vegetables, and flower crops.

The main vegetable export products are Potatoes, White and Red Onion, Green beans, Okra, Melon, Shallots, Cabbage, Leeks, Beetroot, Carrots, Green Chile, Tomatoes, and Lettuce.

In Ethiopia, the main exportable fruits are Orange, Mandarin Grapefruit, Mango, Guava, Lemon, and Lime. In Ethiopia, some cut flower exports are Statice, Allium, Roses, and Carnations.

The national flower of Ethiopia is the Calla Lily and is also called the Arum Lily. Ethiopian flower farms produce more than about 2.1 billion stems of flowers every year. The important flowers cultivated in Ethiopia are roses, gypsophila, carnations, and chrysanthemums.

Livestock Production in Ethiopia

Ethiopia is the largest livestock animal in the world. While the livestock sector contributes to the rapid economic development recorded in the last decade has been insignificant. Ethiopia has great potential for increased livestock farming. The expansion was constrained by inadequate nutrition levels, disease, a lack of support services, insufficient data with which to plan improved services, and inadequate information on how to improve animal breeding, marketing, and processing. Though, the high concentration of animals in the highlands reduces the economic potential of Ethiopian livestock.

With leather and leather products making up about 7.5% and live animals 3.1% the livestock sector accounts for about 10% of Ethiopia’s export income. It is approximately available about 49 million heads of cattle, 22 million heads of goats, 17 million heads of sheep, and 38 million chickens. Also, the country has demonstrated potential for fishery development in its freshwater lakes, reservoirs, and rivers. Other livestock sector animals in Ethiopia include sheep, goats, cattle, and camels for processing milk and meat.

Cattle farming in Ethiopia – Cattle farming in Ethiopia is almost entirely of the zebu type and is poor milk and meat source. Ethiopia has about 56.7 million cattle, including 12.65 million milking cows, and set in the national plan for the livestock sector to bring about a radical change in sedentary agriculture.

Poultry farming in Ethiopia – Poultry farming is widely practiced in Ethiopia. Shewa is the highest concentration of poultry. Indigenous chickens consist of about 97% of the Ethiopian poultry population, and the remaining 3% are crossed and exotic chicken breeds. Commercial or Exotic Breeds are developed based on the demand of consumers.

Goat and Sheep Production in Ethiopia: Ethiopia ranks high both in Africa and in the world with approximately 16.7 million goats. About 12 breeds of goats have been identified in Ethiopia based on differences in physical characteristics. A family is a group of breeds that are genetically more related and more similar than breeds outside the group. Breeds can be present in different countries for example the Barka goat in Eritrea is also known as Begayit in Ethiopia and the Nuer sheep breed in Sudan. Ethiopia has a diverse sheep population of about 23.6 million. In Africa, Ethiopia is one of the largest livestock populations. There are 50 million cattle, 50 million goats, and sheep in Ethiopia according to government statistics.

Livestock Investment Potential in Ethiopia

  • Ethiopia has diverse agroecology and climate, which create good conditions for commercial production of all types of livestock species with rich breed diversity.
  • The livestock sector contribution to the GDP is up to 20%, without taking into consideration its contribution in terms of farm power and transport. Also, with these economic benefits, rural communities use livestock for cropping in drought situations. They increase their livestock sell in drought situation than in normal circumstances to buy food grains and also other consumable that is basic for survival.
  • Despite all the socio-economic advantages, what the livestock sector provides is so far below the potential.
  • The pastoral regions have been the major traditional suppliers of livestock for export and to some extent; they have been supplying oxen to the mixed agriculture regions for farm power.
  • There is a high market potential for livestock products in the domestic and international markets.
  • The geographic location of the country is located close to the Middle East, Europe as well as Central and West Africa, in which there is reliable demand for livestock products.
  • Usually concomitant to the above is the government investment policy, which is conducive to providing various incentives.

Fish Farming in Ethiopia

In Ethiopia, fresh fish are mostly consumed along the Red Sea coast. However, outside these areas the domestic fish market is small. There are mainly two factors that account for this low level of local fish consumption. Firstly, fish has not been integrated into the diet of most of the population. Secondly, because of religious influences on consumption patterns, the demand for fish is only seasonal. The main species farmed is tilapia fish.

Sericulture in Ethiopia

Sericulture is another investment process in Ethiopia. Sericulture is the process of the rearing of silkworms. Silkworm is the main productive insect species for the sericulture industry. Silk has a strong attraction to the people starting from the ancient period of the country’s civilization.  Eri silkworm and Mulberry silkworm (Bombyx mori) is commonly practiced in Ethiopia. Silkworms are mainly classified as mulberry and non-mulberry silkworms. It has several advantages; e.g. socio-economic and ecological values, creating job opportunities, alternative income sources, environmental conservation, and others. The main zones and districts in Ethiopia under silk production are Jimma, Awassa, Hawzen, Awash Melkassa, Bishoftu, Bahir Dar, Adigrati, Wolliso, Dodota district, and other areas.

Major Export Products of Ethiopia

Coffee, live animals and meat, oilseeds and pulses, livestock products, fruits, vegetables and flowers, spices, and mineral products are the major export products of Ethiopia. Knowing that large capital investments are needed to exploit these resources, various incentives are currently provided to encourage foreign investments including joint ventures and marketing arrangements so that the sector provides a meaningful contribution to the Country’s growth.

Major Constraints Faced By the Ethiopian Agriculture Sector

The agricultural sector in Ethiopia has been suffering from various external and internal problems. It has been stagnant due to poor performance as a result of some factors;

  • Low resource utilization for example the proportion of cultivated land compared to the total amount of land suitable for agriculture and thus compels the sector to be rain-fed;
  • Low-tech farming techniques like wooden plough by oxen and sickles;
  • Over-reliance on fertilizers for soil and water conservation;
  • Inappropriate agrarian policy;
  • Inappropriate land tenure policy;
  • Ecological degradation of potentially arable lands;
  • Increases in the unemployment rate due to population increase;
  • Degradation of land and natural resources due to intense cultivation;
  • Some effective policies governing such issues as land ownership, land titles, land fragmentation, credit systems, and land and crop insurance mechanisms are not available or are very limited; and
  • Neglect and lack of agricultural investment.

Some Agriculture Issues in Ethiopia

Ethiopia is endowed with abundant agricultural resources. Agriculture is the mainstay of the economy. The Government of Ethiopia has renewed emphasis to develop the agriculture sector and ensure food security under the new administration. Among the top priorities identified by the Government of Ethiopia include;

  • Small and large-scale irrigation development,
  • Financing agricultural inputs,
  • Increasing productivity of crops and livestock,
  • Improving agricultural production methods using mechanization,
  • Post-harvest loss reduction,
  • Rising a research-based food security system, and
  • Natural resource management.

Ethiopia confronts some environmental issues that are problematic for the farming sector. Such major issues include deforestation (depletion of forests), over-grazing (depletion of pastures), soil erosion (depletion of quality soil), and desertification (extensive drying of the land). Only 12% of all Ethiopian land is arable, 1% is used for permanent crops, and 40% is comprised of permanent pastures, Ethiopia must address these environmental problems. Also, it is precisely these environmental problems rather than just the shifting weather patterns which contribute primarily to the chronic famines that so frequently plague the country. Limited arable land as a result of soil erosion and other environmental difficulties means that in times of drought, there are few available methods to prevent widespread famine.

Institutional and policy constraints are also institutional and policy-related problems such as lack of institutional stability that can promote the sub-sector, lack of appropriate policies to promote and increase the production and productivity of the sub-sector. Also, inadequate capital and recurrent budget allocations to the livestock sub-sector have contributed to its low productivity. The agricultural sector continues to face main challenges. Despite improvements, productivity levels are still low and the marketing infrastructure is also weak, leading to high transaction costs.

The limited use of improved farming practices by the majority of smallholders is a very important factor contributing to low productivity. According to the Rural Development Policy and Strategy document, the basic ingredient and resource in Ethiopia have for agricultural development is abundant land and labor. So, there is a strong commitment from the government to make these fertile lands for investment that has the capital and technology to develop.

Policy Objectives, Principles and Government Policies for Ethiopia Farming

The key component of Ethiopia’s Agriculture Policy is expanding the main and processed agricultural products. The government has initiated the Second Growth and Transformation Plan to make the agro-processing sector a single entity by encouraging private sector investments within the country. The government of Ethiopia has established the ATA – Agricultural Transformation Agency to address the problems of the agriculture sector in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia’s current overall economic development has four elements;

  • Rapid economic growth;
  • Maximum benefits to the Ethiopian people;
  • And, elimination of Ethiopia’s dependence on foreign food aid; and
  • Finally, Ethiopia is an active partaker in global integration.

An independent, free-market economy and a democratic system of governance are understood to be the underpinnings of these efforts to realize the elements of the aforementioned policy objective. The Government’s strategy is to achieve these development objectives through an agriculture-centered rural development program. Though, the rationale for selecting such a strategy is based on the rural nature of most livelihoods and the dominance of agriculture in the Ethiopian economy.

This strategy acknowledges that the country’s main resources are land and labor, while there is a critical shortage of capital. Then, this factor takes on further significance when one factors that 85% of the population lives in rural areas. So, by fostering agricultural development, it will be possible to create strong rural-urban linkages, increase the capital available for re-investment, and sustain foreign exchange earnings. Agriculture will be able to contribute to the other sector’s development. Therefore, it is more realistic to assume that the role of the agricultural sector has a comparative advantage as opposed to the other sectors when considering it as the engine for economic growth in the country. The prime source of agriculture growth is output created via the employment of labor and land resources worked by the people themselves. Thus, the government’s policy plans for agriculture to combine pro-agricultural policies with effective health policies and laborer education and training.


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