Sesame in Ethiopia

Sesame (ሰሊጥ) is an ancient oil crop that has been referred to as the “Queen of Oil seeds” by virtue of the high quality of its oil. Ethiopia is the center of origin for cultivated sesame, which has earned and maintained its place as a leading cash crop for the country. Known by farmers in the north as “white gold”, sesame cultivation has always been primarily for export, helping to link the country with its neighbors across the Red Sea and build ties with Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cultures.

Though it is grown extensively in the western and northwestern parts of the country, domestic consumption remains quite low, and nearly all of the sesame that is produced is sold internationally. The lowlands of Ethiopia adjoining Sudan are the traditional sesame growing areas, although cultivation has been moving south, where producers are demonstrating an ability to grow sesame that meets international standards.

Why buy Ethiopian sesame?

  • The majority of Ethiopian sesame is currently bought by foreign wholesalers who blend it with sesame produced elsewhere. Buying Ethiopian sesame straight from Ethiopia means you are purchasing a traceable product directly from the source.
  • Sesame is a priority crop for the country, meaning all sesame trade deals will receive the highest government priority and attention.
  • For those interested in value addition and agro-processing investments, the government of Ethiopia is developing an incentive scheme that offers favorable conditions for interested parties.
  • Sesame is known to have health benefits such as lowering cholesterol, reducing blood pressure, and preventing against liver damage.


Humera sesame, named for the variety grown in the Humera district of northern Ethiopia, has been growing in global popularity, with demand  increasing for its whitish color, sweet taste, and attractive aroma. Used more for baking than for oil production, Humera sesame accounts for nearly three-quarters of all sesame produced in Ethiopia. 

The second variety, Wollega sesame (also named for the region where it originated in Ethiopia) is highly sought for its 52% oil content, and accounts for 23% of Ethiopian sesame production.

largest producer globally

largest sesame exporter in the world

Sesame production and export

Ethiopia is the leading oilseed producing country in Africa; it grows nine oilseeds, of which sesame the most important. The country’s unique agro-ecologies and rich biodiversity make it one of the world’s centers of distinct sesame production. With average annual production of nearly 275,000 metric tons and a total production potential of more than 400,000 metric tons, Ethiopia stands fourth in sesame production and second in sesame export in the world market.

Production has been increasing as the Ethiopian agriculture sector mechanizes and commercializes. Sesame was in fact one of the first crops to be commercially grown in Ethiopia, beginning in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In Ethiopia, unlike other African sesame producing countries, the production of sesame is more or less equally shared both by smallholder and medium- and large-scale commercial farmers. The last few years have shown considerable international market demand for Ethiopian sesame seed, which is expected to increase. This increase in demand for sesame is not only evident in the rise of export volume but also in new buyers and sellers coming to the market.

thousand metric tons annual production

thousand metric tons production potential

The Agricultural Transformation Agency is an initiative of the Federal Government of Ethiopia Off Meskal Flower Road, across from Commercial Graduates Association