For many years, Teklu Erkossa, a Humidtropics Researcher from IWMI, has been doing research on land and water resources in Ethiopia, a country where agricultural productivity is suffering from water scarcity and land degradation.
“In addition, the soils often have quite particular water-related characteristics that are unsuitable for many traditional crops. As a result, we have been exploring alternative cropping options to restore and preserve highly degraded areas in the country. Our platform-driven research project has demonstrated that using Innovation Platform approaches is an effective way to sustainably increase crop and livestock productivity of small-scale farms while leading to improved income for rural farm households.“
Members of the Research for Development (R4D) and Innovation Platforms (IPs) of the Humidtropics Western Ethiopia Action Site – IWMI, ILRI, ICRAF and CIP, and national partners such as Oromia Agricultural Research Institute (OARI) – are working on integrated systems research interventions (natural resource management and crop rotation patterns) that are changing lives and landscapes. Since 2014, they have made considerable progress towards addressing the critical bottlenecks of Natural Resource Management (NRM) and crosscutting issues that hinder agricultural growth and sustainability.
A preliminary study conducted in 2014 on maize production in the Diga Field Site (measuring crop yield, farm income and nutrition gains) shows that the adoption of soil and water conservation structures has reduced erosion and increased productivity by 3.5 quintals per hectare on average. Higher productivity gains are expected in 2015.
Forage production on soil bunds and degraded lands has enabled farmers to secure livestock feeds and generate income. Farmers in the Jeldu district are now organized into 20 cooperatives that have sold over USD $71,000 worth of Desho grass seedlings, and in the Diga Field Site, one farmer – out of 38 participating farmers – was able to produce more than 200 kg of Rhodes seeds. In addition, farmers are now engaging in other income-generating activities, such as oxen fattening and milk production.
Farmers are sharing experiences with other farmers to scale up positive gains.
Humidtropics has benefited from and created synergies with other projects such as LegumeCHOICE, led by IITA, and supported by ICRAF and ILRI. To alleviate the shortage of improved seeds of legume crops, LegumeCHOICE has introduced clustered production of improved seeds of faba beans and field peas for the highland agro-ecologies of Diga and Jeldu, and haricot beans and soybeans for the lowland agro-ecology of Diga. This year, 140 farmers (60 from Jeldu and 80 from Diga) have started producing faba beans, field peas, haricot beans and soybeans in rotation with major cereals. The project has also introduced multi-purpose trees to 47 farmers working on soil and water conservation to reduce run off, protect from the wind, increase soil fertility and crop productivity, while making the land more resilient to stress, helping to rehabilitate degraded land, and providing feed for livestock.
Humidtropics researchers took advantage of a series of planned platform meetings to organize a visit of the Ethiopian Action Site, and its two Field Sites (Diga and Jeldu). To provide national and local stakeholders with the opportunity to review the implementation status, identify challenges and design scaling up strategies, the following field days and national and district level platform meetings took place:
- R4D Platform members field visit in Jeldu on October 12, and second R4D Platform meeting in Ambo on October 13 – read the report;
- Farmers field day in Jeldu on October 14, and 4th IP meeting on October 15;
- Farmers field day in Diga on October 17, and 4th IP meeting on October 18.
The R4D Platform was established in early 2015 to play a key role in scaling up the results of integrated systems research to improve natural resource management, agricultural productivity and livestock feeds. During the field visit in Jeldu, R4D Platform members identified top priorities moving forward, such as defining a scaling up strategy, engaging with policy makers, and creating market opportunities for smallholder farmers. In addition, they established a task force to promote the achievements, to mobilize resources and develop initiatives in line with these priority areas.
Results show that profit margins and productivity are increasing, and degraded lands are being rehabilitated and transformed into productive lands. Therefore, designing a scaling up strategy is the most urgent and crucial challenge to maintain and build on Humidtropics’ successes. To this end, the R4D Platform created a special task force to develop and implement a scaling up strategy, to facilitate district level IP meetings, and to support the Technical Committee tasked to deal with the issues.
Access to markets
In order for farmers to be able to capitalize on the increase in crop and livestock productivity, better access to markets is critical. Toleshi Feyisa, a female farmer in Jeldu, who demonstrated multiple uses of potato, mentioned that access to markets and problems of space for production are the main constraints for her and other women to add value to their product and generate income. The field day gave her the opportunity to ask for help to facilitate her access to markets and provide space for processing. In Diga, farmers producing Rhodes grass indicated that they have excess seeds in their stocks waiting for market.
Post-harvest handling and utilization of forage crops
So far, research interventions have enabled farmers to increase crop production, improve soil fertility and cultivate forage. According to Melkamu Dereseh from ILRI, in addition to improving soil fertility and providing erosion control, the integrated feed production – Desho, Elephant, Chemo, Rhodes grasses, and Alfalfa – and use of utilization options are significantly improving livestock productivity. It is important to optimize the handling and utilization of all these forage crops by using appropriate feeding troughs and developing effective storage mechanisms.
In Ethiopia, Humidtropics is tackling the global challenges of hunger and poverty, malnutrition and disease, environment degradation and climate change. Research interventions go beyond the conservation of natural resources to address the multiple issues and barriers hindering the transformation of the agricultural sector. In the districts of Diga and Jeldu, Humidtropics’ integrated systems research is changing lives and landscapes using inclusive processes and multi-stakeholder platforms.
Blog and photos by Desalegne Tadesse, Communication Officer, IWMI. Blog edited by Valérie Poiré, Communication Officer, Humidtropics.