Melaku, 84, said that the preservation of indigenous seed varieties which he said are not only cost-effective for farmers but was the most sustainable way to develop agriculture should be an utmost priority. “Attempts to improve agricultural outputs should be done in collaboration with farmers, not by imposing it upon them. Let us explore the genes that we have on the ground first and make good use of it. Knowledge system and the material go hand in hand, he said.
“It is too risky to rely on seeds that have no local adaptation and built-in genetic diversity. Farmers should rather be helped to improve the genetic performance of crops than to be dictated to buy costly GM seeds. In the context it is being developed and used, GMOs has a danger. It is a double-edged sword. “Let us be careful not to be a basket case,” he told the interviewer. “From the farmer’s point view, the yield was not the only criterion, farmers place also importance to diversity in seasons, topography, taste, specific harvest that could be used for specific cultural activities, and a number of things. For farmers, sustainability is an important criterion. They have developed the strategy to spread the risk between factors of season, location, and diversity. So their varieties will have enough plasticity to allow them to grow in diverse conditions.” he said.
Though many are voicing their concern about the risk of smallholder’s loss of sovereign control of their seeds as western companies push to enhance their access to Ethiopian markets, the Ethiopian government is showing a willingness to accept the uptake of GM seeds. In a recent meeting, the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR) Director, Tadesse Daba said that Bt-cotton was permitted for a confined field trial in 2016 and licensed in 2018, the first for the country. GM maize is also currently under confined field trial to check whether it really prevents diseases or not, he said.