Being
bold
sometimes

The first students roam the campus of Hawassa University. Some make use of the wooden benches underneath the acacia trees; some read the latest announcements on the board of the College of Agriculture. Established in 1976 as a Junior College of Agriculture under Addis Ababa University, it is one of the oldest and most prestigious colleges in Ethiopia. Nine courses are on offer including Animal and Plant Sciences as well as Agribusiness and Rural Development. The lecture hall is located in a one-storey building near the car park. It slowly fills with students who take their seats on the wooden chairs standing in wild disarray. Shortly before 8am, a figure in a white coat leaves the housing facilities just opposite the hall. Dr Hussein Mohammed enters through the side door and welcomes the class with an energetic ‘good morning’.

The majority of Dr Hussein’s life takes place on the campus of Hawassa University. His home and his two offices are based there. Three-quarter of his time, he spends on lecturing and researching. The remaining time he coordinates the project activities of the Integrated Seed Sector Development (ISSD) programme. “There are four components to it in the SNNPR ISSD team: Partnership and Innovation, Local Seed Businesses, Knowledge Sharing and Private Seed Producers. I am responsible for the reporting, the presentation of results and I make sure that all team members are doing their job”, he says and adds with a smile “the facilitators are really doing the work by implementing the components”.

Mediated approach

While lecturing, he walks up and down, using the full length of the podium. His knee-long coat could also place him in a laboratory. As a graduate in plant breeding, he knows about the importance of seeds. “We identified poor seed quality, especially with the early-generation seeds including breeder, pre-basic and basic seeds,” he says. These are however vital in order to produce the certified seeds for the farmers, which takes a minimum of three years. To make sure that the researchers produce in-demand varieties by the farmers, Dr Hussein’s team of 11 came up with Contractual Based Early-Generation Seed Production. Seed companies are now directly demanding the varieties from the research institutes.

When the programme started in 2009, he was well aware of the problems in the Ethiopian seed sector but admits: “I was not sure if this innovation could really work. Will the politicians accept it? But then, being bold is sometimes very good,” he says and chuckles. The necessary leeway is owned to the fact that the initiator of the ISSD Programme is the university itself, not the government. However, both are united in the common goal of achieving food security in the country. “I strongly believe that we can double the production we have now and achieve food security,” he says perfectly serious. Dr Hussein ends the lecture, answers the questions of the students before he slips out through the front door and into his coordinator role.