Ethiopia 2009 oilseed, pulse exports to jump-trade

ADDIS ABABA, Feb 26 (Reuters) - Ethiopia aims to export more than 720,000 tonnes of oilseeds, pulses and spices in 2009 to earn some $715 million, a 94 percent increase on revenue the previous year, a trade association said on Thursday.

Mussie Yacoub, president of the Ethiopian Oil Seeds, Pulses and Spices Exporters Association, told Reuters a bumper harvest combined with lower production in India -- the world’s biggest exporter -- gave them the chance to boost their market share.

“Our products are not luxury items which would be relegated when an economic crisis occurs. It is food that we are producing. Crisis or no crisis, people have to eat,” he said.

A drought last year in large parts of the giant Horn of Africa nation meant it exported 399,078 tonnes of oil seeds, pulses and spices worth $368.3 million.

Ethiopian officials say this season has seen far better rainfall in key growing areas, swelling the harvest.

Mussie’s organisation groups 70 exporters in the sector. He said export figures for January 2009 -- 30,648 tonnes worth $37 million -- were particularly encouraging.

“(It) is indicative that a positive trend existed to a market which had been depressed the previous year,” Mussie said.

Major buyers are Asian nations such as India and China, Middle Eastern countries, Turkey and Greece as well as Sudan, South Africa and the North African states, he said.

Ethiopia’s oil seed belt is Humera in Tigray, the Amhara region in the north and the Rift Valley area. The crops are produced in commercial farms and by small holders, he said.

The nation of 77 million people is still vulnerable to frequent bouts of searing drought and periodic floods that makes them dependent on food aid.

The government is appealing for funds to buy staple foods such as maize and rice. Oilseeds, mainly used as a feedstock to make oils used in cooking and food additives with byproducts used to feed animals, are grown mostly for export.

Ethiopia is seeking 450,611 tonnes of food aid valued at $454.4 million to feed 4.9 million people this year. It has banned grain exports such as wheat, barley, maize and sorghum because of the food shortages.

The government imported 150,000 tonnes of wheat twice in 2008 and distributed it to poor people at subsidised prices. (Editing by Daniel Wallis and Keiron Henderson)