“Using Ethiopian onion varieties and testing the best possible circumstances to improve the onion crop will be the starting point of this project”, says Jan Slot of De Groot en Slot B.V., Dutch world market leader in onion seeds. A couple of weeks ago the project officially kicked off as the seeds are going into the ground. The knowledge of most of the onion farmers in Ethiopia is mainly passed on from generation to generation. With this project, De Groot en Slot B.V. and Agriterra aim to use that local knowledge and add the expertise of Dutch agricultural research to make the farmers more self-sufficient.
The coming years, De Groot en Slot B.V. will work together with Agriterra on improving the onion sector in Ethiopia. During this long-term project, which will take at least five years and probably longer, they do various trials with local varieties. “We want to know how the local farmers work and why they work with these specific methods. By understanding their considerations, we can add our knowledge to the process and hopefully improve the onion crop and the farmers’ income,” explains Jan Slot, who is overseeing this project at De Groot en Slot B.V.
Using local knowledge is very valuable
In the beginning of 2020, right before the pandemic broke loose, Jan Slot (together with Mesay Adugna and Aucke Plantinga, both business advisors in Ethiopia) visited different regions to get insight in the Ethiopian onion production. He was pleasantly surprised by what he saw: green hills and many big lakes which made the country look fertile. Quite different than desert-like Niger, where De Groot en Slot B.V. did its previous (very successful) project with Agriterra. However, when looking closely to the onion fields, he saw great potential for improvement.
The project group selected the fields of two unions with the highest potential impact: Semen Wegagen FCU and Dire FCU (FCU = Farmers Cooperative Union), in Raya valley and Dire Dawa. “We decided upon a long-term project with Agriterra because I believe it takes time to make sustainable change which benefits the local community”, says Jan Slot. You have to take all kinds of circumstances into account: from political unrest to climate influences, but also uncommon situations like the current pandemic.
First trials with local onion varieties
During the first trials, different timings of transplanting and using various distances between the plants will be tested with local (open pollinated) varieties. Compared to other tropical countries, Ethiopian farmers tend to transplant the plants further apart. If tests show that it is possible to grow the onion plants closer to one another in Ethiopian soil as well, it is already an easy win. To make a solid comparison, varieties from De Groot en Slot B.V. are transplanted alongside the local varieties to find out what has the best results.