In Hawassa region, southern Ethiopia, maize yields have been steadily declining. The deep-rooted agricultural practices of low farm input application and removal of crop residues to feed livestock have damaged the land: soil is eroded, nutrients and organic matter are depleted.
But change is afoot. In Ethiopia, the Sustainable intensification of maize-legume cropping systems for food security in eastern and southern Africa (SIMLESA) initiative is being implemented by the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR) and the Southern Agricultural Research Institute (SARI), with technical support from CIMMYT and financial assistance from the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR). Last year, SIMLESA conducted on-farm trials using conservation agriculture (CA) techniques: minimum tillage, crop residue management, intercropping/crop rotation (with maize and haricot beans) and participatory variety selection trials.
One of the farmers taking part in the trials was Yohanes Gudeta. He planted four CA trial plots: sole maize (BH-543), sole haricot bean (rotation), sole maize (rotation) and maize intercropped with haricot bean. In comparing these with the trial plot he farmed using traditional techniques, Gudeta observed that “the maize under CA is very robust and green, an indication of far better yields than we usually harvest.” Next planting season, Gudeta plans to increase his area under CA from trial plots to 0.5 ha.
According to Dagne Wagery, SIMLESA National Coordinator for Ethiopia, the trials aim to demonstrate that practicing CA allows for enhanced productivity and profitability of maize and legumes, whilst decreasing production risks such as abiotic and biotic constraints. Gudeta agrees: “soil erosion is a big problem in this area considering that we have sandy soils. The plots under CA are not affected by soil erosion,” he said. Farmers participating in the trials have also found that CA is less labour intensive, largely due to the Roundup herbicide used in CA, which controls grasses as well as weeds.
The success of the trials encouraged EIAR and CIMMYT to organize a farmers’ field day to demonstrate the performance of CA technologies, which was held in the Hawassa Zuria district on 16 August. Farmers from the other SIMLESA districts of Meskan and Misrak Badawacho attended, alongside agriculture officers, developments agents, seed dealers, and researchers.
The visitors were impressed with the visible results of CA, especially in the aspect of intercropping maize and beans, as this provides additional crop yield from the same piece of land. “Obtaining additional yield, be it maize or beans from the same piece of land is a boost to food security and land use efficiency,” said Solomon Admassu , SIMLESA Hawassa Site Coordinator and organizer of the field day. Following the success of these trials, the stakeholders have pledged to increase the dissemination and adoption of CA for enhanced food security in Ethiopia.