"Wherever there is food insecurity, there is also seed insecurity," Kedir Mummedie, head of the agriculture and rural development department in East Hararghe, Oromia regional state, said.
"Due to recurrent droughts, the area became food insecure, which led the farmers to give priority to consumption instead of reserving some for seed," he added.
With a Norwegian government donation of US$3.8 million, the project aims to establish sustainable seed security systems to benefit an estimated 30,500 people in East and West Hararghe, and in East Shoa zones of Oromia.
East Hararghe zone, one of the food insecure areas of Oromia, has a population of 2.2 million living in 18 districts. Kedir said farmers in the area had been organised through four cooperatives in Gursum, Kurfachele and Kersa to be given improved cereal and vegetable seeds in the first phase of the project.
"After they harvest the improved seed, they sell to local farmers to fill the existing gap in seed supply," he said.
The benefiting areas fall within the Seed Security Project executed by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) with the region's agriculture and development offices.
"The immediate goal of this project is not to satisfy the existing huge seed demand but to build a sustainable capacity to do so," FAO said in a statement.
Phase one of the project, which began in 2002, was completed this month. It covered three drought-prone districts in East and West Hararghe zones. The second phase will benefit six districts in three zones over a five-year span.
According to Oromia regional officials, the second phase targets Doba and Tula in West Harreghe and 149,000 farmers in Lome and Gimbichu districts of East Shoa zone.
"By the end of the project, a number of seed banks are supposed to have being created, developed and proven as sustainable and relevant for the food security strategy both of the Oromia regional government and of the federal government," Jens-Petter Kjemprud, Norwegian Ambassador to Ethiopia, said at the signing ceremony in Adama town, 150km from Addis Ababa, the capital.
"A large number of farmers will have been trained in the operation of the seed bank model so that they can replicate the model in local communities throughout the region," he added.