Improving Vegetable Cultivation in Ethiopia

by Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

In the spring of 2013, BGR entered into a partnership with Oxfam America to pilot a system of crop intensification (SCI) in the Central Rift Valley of Ethiopia. The aim  is to increase income from vegetables and enhance the household nutritional security of the participating families. 

Ethiopia-OxfamAmericaLast spring BGR entered into a partnership with Oxfam America to pilot a system of crop intensification (SCI) in the Central Rift Valley of Ethiopia.  SCI applies to other crops the principles and methods already being employed in other countries by the System of Rice Intensification (SRI). Like SRI, SCI raises the productivity of land, labor, water and nutrients. It results in growing bigger, healthier root systems, and enhances soil fertility by promotion of soil biota (the life in the soil). The method is described as an “economically feasible, environmentally friendly, and climate smart irrigated vegetable production system.”

The objective of this pilot project is to increase vegetable production among small-scale farmers while reducing water and input use.  Producing more while reducing costs will increase income from vegetables and enhance the household nutritional security of the participating families.  Furthermore, the focus will be on building new strategic partnerships by engaging all relevant stakeholders and research and development actors to refine SCI intervention strategies and the design of pilot activities.

The following are two case studies, provided to BGR by Oxfam America in its interim report on the project.

 Case Story 1 – Sofia Nassir

Sofia 1-2Sofia Nassir is a 20-year-old woman from Ethiopia’s East Shoa Zone in Dugda District. Her community of Abono Gabirel is one of the many areas that have benefited from the Water for Productive Use Program, which has been implemented by Oxfam and our local partner, the Rift Valley Children and Women Development Organization (RCWDO), since 2009. Sofia is a member of Melka Suge Dembel water users association, which is supported by the program. She had lost both of her parents to disease and bears the responsibility of supporting her entire family of seven (5 females).

Describing the importance of irrigation, she said: “This irrigation on my farm means everything for me. I support my entire family by producing various vegetables, utilizing the shallow well irrigation. The skills and technology I received enabled me to produce different crops throughout the year [instead of just during limited growing seasons].”

Sofia also described her practices regarding water, fertilizer, and chemical applications: “Currently I am producing onions and peppers for market. I apply 2 quintals of chemical fertilizer and about 1 kilogram of various pesticides for 0.25 hectares of land. I usually apply both chemicals based on past experience, but this sometimes [negatively] affects my productivity. For example I lost my entire tomato crop due to tje over application of chemicals.”

Currently, Sofia prefers to over-apply water to her farm and explains: “If I apply water in excess amounts, the soil remains wet and protects the crop from any damaging evaporation from the soil.” Oxfam hopes to explain the benefits of limiting water applications through SCI trainings.

She further explained that she has no experience using organic compost, but recognizes that the ever increasing price of chemical fertilizers compromises the income she generates from her crops and looks forward to an alternative: “I hope the new [SCI] project will enable us to overcome such problems.”

 Case Story 2 – Beyene Genene

“The amount and price of chemical fertilizers I use producing vegetables are increasing. This has been affecting the income I would get from the production of these crops” said Beyene Genene. Beyene is a 32-year-old member of Melka Harara Water Users Association (WUA), which supported by RCWDO in partnership with Oxfam America as part of the ongoing Water for Productive Use Program.

Beyen has six children (3 females) and owns 0.25 hectares of land. He has been producing horticultural crops including onion, cabbage, tomato, and maize utilizing shallow well irrigation constructed with support from RCWDO and Oxfam.

It currently costs Beyen about 12,000 Ethiopia Birr (US$630) per season to purchase the necessary chemical fertilizers, pesticides/insecticides, and fuel for the well pump to cultivate onion on his land. “Most of our farmers [in his water users association] cannot afford the costs of these various inputs, and as a result they are losing their livelihoods.” Asked about the why he and his fellow farmers did not shift to organic compost Beyene replied: “Farmers have no confidence in organic compost, its collection and preparation takes time and above all we are accustomed to use the chemical fertilizer.” He personally has observed the gradual loss of fertility of his farm, which could easily be related to the over-application of chemical fertilizer. He used to apply 1 quintal of fertilizer, but currently uses up to 2 quintals of fertilizer during a single onion production session on same plot of land. “The soil is losing fertility, thus I have to apply more fertilizer to achieve the same production” he argued. Further, there have been a number of recent cases in which Beyen or other members of his WUA have lost their tomato crop due to diseases, quite possibly due to pesticide resistance resulting from over-application.

Beyen is excited to try new methods: “I have heard during the launching of the new project [SCI] that it will introduce mechanisms that enable us to save costs and soil fertility. I am willing to practice such mechanisms that ensure adequate income by reducing costs associated with the application of water, chemicals, and fertilizers.” 

(Report courtesy of Oxfam America)

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