Walking the talk in the seedling business

Leaves close-up

Asmamaw Ambaye was a development agent (DA) for nine years. DAs are responsible to transfer technology to target farmers, mobilise local community for group action to solve community wide problems, supply inputs and give training to farmers.

There was shortage of mango and avocado seedling in Dera woreda, where he lives and works. He, therefore, keeps encouraging farmers to engage in seedling business. After marriage, increasing income as well as creating employment for his wife became inevitable. In the middle of the night of one good day, Asmamaw was visited by a brilliant idea. Why not I do what I tell the farmers to do? He wanted to spare no second before he shares the idea with his wife. He woke her up, shared the idea, agreed to start a nursery and divided jobs among themselves. On the next morning, he bought important inputs necessary to launch the seedling business, provided to his wife basic information on how to fill the plastic bags with soil etc. and gave the management responsibility for her. He limited his role on providing technical support.

Since 2013, Asmamaw Ambaye Seedling and Agricultural Input Supplier Plc. used to propagate and produce 4000 mango and 3000 hops seedlings annually with one employed staff. After a year, they have started reaping the fruits of their effort. Selling 7000 hops and mango seedlings, earned ETB 15,000. They have been overwhelmed by the excitement of having this much amount of money. When their emotions have settled, the couple have to make serious discussion on how to use the money i.e. furnish their house or reinvest the money. They have agreed to do both. The experience was a very good energiser to stay in the business for three years. Gradually the business became large and more complex. Two years ago, he resigned from his DA responsibilities and became a full time nursery manager. His wife has been transferred to financial controller position.

Asmamaw Ambaye in one of his nursery sites

Asmamaw Ambaye in one of his nursery sites

Despite all this, finance remained a bottleneck to expand the business until SNV awarded him a SCIF[i] grant. In 2017 he applied for the grant based on the call by Horticultural Livelihoods, Innovation and Food safety in Ethiopia (Horti-LIFE) project. Asmamaw was one of the 42 applicants who have submitted competent project proposals. The proposal focused on increasing productivity of fruits and vegetables through supplying improved inputs and grafted fruit seedlings to smallholder farmers. He has received a € 25,000 grant from the Horti-LIFE.

The grant, the regular follow up and technical support from SNV Ethiopia helped him to create employment and increase access to improved fruits seedlings, and contribute his share in skills transfer. He has created temporary as well as permanent job opportunities for 16 (5 women) permanent employees and 20 daily labourers. In addition, he has increased the number of seedlings that he is propagating from 15,000 to 130,000 mango seedlings per year, nursery sites to three and set up five inputs shops. He is also encouraging his friends to engage in similar businesses. Farmers from the surrounding woredas as well as from different regions buy the seedlings from his nursery. He is also providing practical training on grafting and nursery management in collaboration with the woreda agriculture office.

He has opened market for the soil, compost and sand producers, daily labourers and loading-unloading service providers. Widowed women, particularly, are benefitting from the nursery. He sold the seedlings to bureaus of agriculture, development organisations and individuals. He has expanded his market network to various bureaus of agriculture.

He has a capital of ETB four million and earned ETB 2.6 million from sales of seedlings in two years. In the future, he plans to raise hybrid tomato and pepper seedlings, propagate additional fruit tree seedlings such as avocado and orange and increase the company’s mango seedling propagation capacity to 200,000 per annum.

“Value whatever you have in your hands; work hard and blessing will follow” said Asmamaw.

[i] The Smallholder Chain Integration Fund (SCIF) aims to co-finance innovative and commercially viable projects which benefit and include smallholder farmers in a business model. It intends to create better access to inputs, services and markets for smallholders. Agro input dealers who have established innovative, sustainable and scalable business have awarded with the grant on competitive basis.