By Mahlet Mesfin
Berehane Gebreyohannes who is elected as a chairman of the association for the second time in a row at the second general assembly was insisting Wondiyirad (centre) to enlighten the growers attending the meeting about the new agency that the growers are expecting will administer the issue of cotton. Tadesse Haile (left) was advising the association to be strong in order to address the issues of the sector.
The Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) is working on a draft bill for the formation of an autonomous federal agency, which would administer land available for agricultural investment in the country.
The bill could be tabled to the Council of Ministers in as little as three months, but officials are waiting for the Ethiopian Agricultural Investment Land Administration Agency (EAIAA) to join the, soon to be formed, agency. The task of agricultural land administration is getting wider and cannot be handled by a directorate at the Ministry, experts say.
Currently the task is undertaken by the Investment Supporting Directorate, headed by Issayas Kebede. The Directorate has 3.6ha of land, obtained from delegations, in Oromia, Benishangul Gumuz, Gambella and the Southern regions.
The new agency will also regulate the Agricultural Economic Zone (AEZ) that the government is preparing to introduce, according to the draft bill. The agency will identify and clear lands suitable for agriculture, whilst also selecting suitable crops. In addition, it will provide the necessary infrastructure to the area; namely electricity and roads.
The AEZ was formed after the MoA learned that businesses took land for investment, without actually utilising it. The Ministry thus suspended land provision, as of March 2012.
Experts from the MoA, as well as others from theUnited States, have identified around 250,000ha of land, intended for the establishment of an agricultural zone, in Gambella and Benishangul Gumuz. The lands identified are suitable for priority commercial crops, including; cotton, rubber and palm plantations.
The MoA is also undertaking agricultural land valuation, in order to come up with a new lease price, according to sources.
The Agency will be accountable to the MoA and it will have a director general appointed by the government, upon its recommendation.
Along with land administration, the Agency is also tasked with supporting agricultural sectors that produce raw materials for the manufacturing sector, such as cotton.
The draft bill, however, dismayed cotton growers, who were told by senior officials from the MoA that an independent agency, solely dedicated to cotton industry development and promotion, would be established last week.
"It is funny that the sector will remain in a directorate level whilst it still has very complicated problems," a cotton grower said.
The growers forcefully argued that the industry's constraints should no longer be left in an investment directorate, within the Ministry, as has happened for the past three years, and asked for an independent authority.
They claim that the absence of an independent entity has contributed to problems that growers face, in; accessing seeds, pesticide control, skilled labour and a rather rough market. There is no national organ that distributes selected cotton seeds, and, hence, many growers depend on Amibara Agricultural Development Plc, a cotton grower itself. It has been a producer and supplier of cotton seeds and lint since 1989.
The state owned enterprise, the Ethiopian Seed Enterprise (ESE), does not supply cotton seeds, for it concentrates on major food crops, such as maize and wheat.
Growers appeared determined last week to push hard for answers from senior officials, at the MoA.
They were repeatedly warning officials that the governments' ambitious plan of generating one billion dollars from the textile industry, in 2014/15, will not materialise unless it grants the necessary attention to the cotton sector.
For the time being, however, an independent agency that solely addresses the concerns of the cotton industry has not been formed. They will, instead, continue to be administered under the new federal agency.