It is noon in Hawassa and swarms of blue and white three-wheeled motorcycles or bajaj dominate the street scene. The capital of the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Region (SNNPR) has grown into a bustling town. Sellers push their food carts along the pavements; students enjoy their break and tourists head for a resort near Lake Hawassa. Unimpressed by the buzz and the noise is Mohammed Hassena. His casual outfit of jeans, chequered shirt and sneakers does not reflect his level of responsibility. As National Coordinator of the Partnership Programme of ISSD, he identifies strategic issues and works closely on the solutions with the partners of the Integrated Seed Sector Development project.

Based in Addis Ababa, Mohammed is visiting the project facilitators in SNNPR, one of four of the regions that adopted Direct Seed Marketing or DSM in short. “Back in 2011, we started with two districts (woredas) in Amhara region. They were the icebreaker,” he says. The partners realised the benefits of availing better quality seeds directly by companies. The changes were remarkable, word spread and soon more woredas wanted to get quicker access to better seeds. “There is still some resistance,” he says and smirks, “especially from middle-management as our approach differs to the usual methods.” However, DSM sparked the curiosity of high officials who were ready to give it a try and initially had experts, employed by the government on woreda level, taking on the role of the sales agents.

Right pace

From the car, Mohammed watches three police officers controlling the traffic. Similarly, his job is about keeping the right pace. “Every region has a specific nature so you have to let them come to a solution that is right for them,” he says and adds: “the mind-set has to adjust”. In SNNPR, he has to slow down the team as the first results have fuelled ambition. In 2013 alone, the region added just over 20 new woredas, 12 more than the pilot districts of Amhara region. For DSM to be successful however, the content and structure of the activities have to be developed hand in hand. Having found solutions that work, what else is there to come? “The government has to own it. Then we have solved it,” he states clearly.

In 2010, the Government of Ethiopia formulated the Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP) with the aim to enhance food production and make the country food secure. ISSD has become a key driver in this equation. According to Mohammed, Ethiopia is already reaching food security. “Partners tell us that ISSD has brought something good. But we try to utilise the knowledge that is already there to improve the quality and access of seeds,” he says modestly. Coming from a family of farmers, he has “agriculture in his blood” and the necessary patience to take one hurdle at a time. At the regional ISSD office, he lists the achievements made so far and discusses the next steps with the team before the driver takes him back to the capital.