Sue Edwards

Organic Agriculture for Restoring Degraded
Landscapes and Livelihoods:
The Tigray Experience
1.12 mill sq km
>14 mill smallholder farmers
>Cultivated area
average 0.94 ha
per family
Ethiopia is the ‘water tower’ of eastern Africa providing over 80% of
the waters of the Nile plus water to N Kenya, Somalia and Djibouti.
Land degradation, particularly soil erosion
is Ethiopia’s most serious problem
Any and all agricultural improvements need to be
based on ecological intensification
Ethiopia’s agrobiodiversity wealth
• Over 5,000 years of farmers’ knowledge and skills
• Agro-biodiversity wealth
– Vavilov Centre with over 190 crop species still cultivated
– Great varietal diversity within crops
– Very low use of external inputs, e.g. chemical fertilizer
– Farmers’ dislike / distrust of debt
• Governance in the hands of local communities,
including farmers’ rights to save, use and sell their
own seed
A glimpse of Ethiopia’s
Enset (false banana) above and teff below
A few of the huge range of
sorghum varieties
Local Agroiodiversity for Food & Nutrition Security
and Income Generation
Enset: 250 sq m supplies all carbohydrate
needed for a family of 5 for a year
• Harvested product can be stored for 15 years
• Highly drought resistant
Teff: highest value cereal on market (85 USD/t),
compared to maize, (25 USD/t)
• High nutritional value,
• Harvested grain can be stored for 10 years
without loosing viability
Sorghum: very drought resistant
• Many different food and beverages uses
Origin of the Tigray Project
In mid-1990s, ISD asked by the Ethiopian Government
for an alternative to the Sasakawa Global approach
promoting increased use of chemical fertilizer, but
suitable for only about 10% of the country--classified
as high production potential areas
• ISD established in 1996 to implement the Project
“Sustainable Development and Ecological Land
Management with Farming Communities in Tigray”
= The Tigray Project
Livelihood and landscape components
Bylaws - communities restore local control
Biological and physical water & soil conservation, through using
multipurpose local trees, i.e. Sesbania and local grasses
Managing grazing, stopping access to vulnerable land (watersheds),
so grass, herbs and trees can grow
Restoring soil fertility through compost, and helping farmers avoid
debt paid for chemical fertilizer
Mature compost
Sesbania in flower
Landscape rehabilitation started in 1996,
pictured in 2003 (similar examples now seen in many place)
trees and long
biodiverse hillside
for bee keeping
Faba bean
Composted fields
growing tef, wheat
and barley
The 4 Principles of Organic Agriculture
• Ecology – restores and maintains ecosystem services
(good soil, water availability, pollinators)
• Health – healthy soil produces disease and pest
resilient crops
• Fairness – Involves all social groups in the local
communities, women, men, disadvantaged groups
such as elderly couples, landless youth, families
challenged by HIV/AIDS, etc.
• Care – the communities take responsibility for caring
for their environment through bylaws
Impact of compost on crop health &
disease resistance, example from 2010
Wheat infested with stripe rust and
sprayed – gave yield of 1.6 t/ha
Wheat grown on composted soil
resisting the rust – gave yield over
6.5 t/ha
Landscape Benefits of Compost
 Carbon brought back to the soil as humus
 Nitrogen in the protein of organic wastes,
including urine, returned to the soil
 Other nutrients in compost recycled for healthy
growth of crops, animals and people
 Water retention for improved local hydrology,
with raised water tables, longer water flows in
streams enabling 2 crops per year
 Increased resilience to extreme weather events
Livelihood benefits of compost
Yields of cereals and pulses doubled
Soil and crops with increased resistance to wind
and water erosion
Water availability improved
 Springs reappear, persist and streams run for longer through
the year
 Water tables raised (farmers dig shallow hand dug wells)
 Crops survive dry gaps and stay green for 2 weeks longer
than others at the end of rains
Yield of Faba Bean with
compost 2,500 kg/ha
Yield of Faba Bean without
compost 250kg/ha
Grain yield of 5 staple crops from farmers (2000 to 2006)
Based on samples from 900 plots
Chemical fertilizer
Barley (n=444) Durum wheat Maize (n=273) Teff (n=741)
Faba bean
Crop (n=number of observations/fields sampled)
Additional Livelihood Benefits of Compost
Farmers avoid debt from getting chemical fertilizer on
credit – now costing USD 130 per 100 kg
– Farmers making bioslurry compost can sell one
sack (approx. 100 kg for ETB 100 or USD 5.8
– Competent farmers make 35 to 100 sacks a year
Farmers, particularly women, diversify their
production base
Women say the food tastes better and their families’
hunger is satisfied more easily
Economic benefits of compost
• Inputs (all of which are locally available):
– weeds from crop fields
– Left over crop residues used as animal feed and
– Animal manure (plentiful)
– Vegetable crop residues
– Household organic wastes
– Labour
– Water
– Microbial rich soil as an innoculator
Cost benefit analysis for the farmer using
chemical fertilizer
• Cost for chemical fertilizer in 2012 was
USD 130 per 100 kg
• Average yield of durum wheat grown with
chemical fertilizer 1700 kg/ha,
• Sold at USD 50 per 100 kg , farmers income
would be USD 850
• Net profit after repaying credit, USD 720
Cost benefit analysis for the farmer
from using compost
• Average rate of compost application, 6.5 t/ha
• Opportunity cost for making compost
estimated at USD 60 for 6.5 t/ha
• Average yield of durum wheat grown with
compost 2500 kg/ha,
• Sold at USD 50 per 100 kg , farmers income
would be USD 1,250
• As there is no financial outlay, ALL of this
profit stays with the farmer
Mixed perennial and annual crops
Hillside protected
from grazing
Water pond
for irrigation
Fields of
mature teff
Fruit tree garden in
rehabilitated gully
teff field
Planting with Space
to maximize use of seed and compost
An adaptation of SRI, by growing in rows either from
transplanting seedlings or direct sowing, gives
Increased yields with easier and timely management
of weeds, pests and easier harvesting
e.g. Finger millet and tef, seed rate reduced by 90% compared to
broadcasting, hence more efficient use of seed resources, and
Grain and straw yields doubled, i.e. for finger millet from 1.4 t/ha to
3 t/ha grain, and for tef from 1.2 t/ha to 2.5 t/ha or more of grain
Because, root growth greatly increased giving many more
productive tillers (greater root mass = greater shoot mass)
Participatory Planting with Space
Productive Tiller Potential of Teff
planted with space and compost
Tiller production increased
At harvest impact of ecological
intensification on biomass
Productive Ear/Grain Potential of Durum wheat
planted with space and compost
Ear with 39 grains without space or
Ear with 56 grains with space and
The Ecological way ahead is:
knowledge & people intensive
• Improve and
services (ICT)
• Introduce
building (ICT)
• Agriculture is
very localized
Sue Edwards, with Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egzibher
Dereje Gebremichael, Hailu Araya,
and Arefayne Asmelash
Institute for Sustainable Development,
[email protected] /
[email protected]

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