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Sustainable Agriculture Increases Crop Yields in Tigray, Ethiopia

We are pleased to announce that the Third World Network has started a new information service on sustainable agriculture issues. The aim of this information service is to make available news and analysis (provided by TWN staff and advisors as well as many other sources including NGOs and experts) on these issues.

In this first issue we would like to bring your attention to a recent TWN publication, “The Tigray Experience: A Success Story in Sustainable Agriculture”, which documents the results of a 10-year experiment in sustainable development and ecological land management in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. The project was started in 1996 by the Institute for Sustainable Development based in Addis Ababa (http://www.twnside.org.sg/title/end/ed04.htm).

The Tigray Project, as it is popularly known, provides evidence that organic and sustainable agricultural practices have brought significant benefits to poor farmers and communities, particularly to women-headed families. Among the benefits demonstrated are increased yields and productivity of crops, improved hydrology with raised water tables and permanent springs, improved soil fertility, less weeds, pests and diseases, rehabilitation of degraded lands and increased incomes.

In particular, the impacts of compost on crop yields were quickly apparent. By 1998, data showed that using compost gave similar yield increases as chemical fertilisers. Data collected in 2002, 2003 and 2004 showed that on average, composted fields gave higher yields, sometimes double, than those treated with chemical fertilisers.

The results of this project were presented at the recent International Conference on Organic Agriculture and Food Security, held at the FAO headquarters in Rome from 3-5 May 2007. More information on the conference and the papers presented there are available at http://www.fao.org/organicag/ofs/index_en.htm. The presentation on the Tigray Project is available online at ftp://ftp.fao.org/paia/organicag/ofs/02-Edwards.pdf

With best wishes,

Lim Li Ching
Third World Network
131 Jalan Macalister,
10400 Penang,
Malaysia
Email: twnet@po.jaring.my
Websites: www.twnside.org.sg, www.biosafety-info.net

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The Tigray Experience: A Success Story in Sustainable Agriculture

http://www.twnside.org.sg/title/end/ed04.htm

Summary by TWN

A 10-year experiment in sustainable development and ecological land management in the Tigray region of Ethiopia has provided evidence that organic and sustainable agricultural practices have brought significant benefits to poor farmers and communities, particularly to women-headed families.

The Tigray region is highly degraded, contributing to low agricultural production, in turn threatening food security and exacerbating rural poverty. A farmer-led project, facilitated by the Institute for Sustainable Development (ISD) since 1996, began in four poor farming communities, in cooperation with the Ethiopian Bureau of Agriculture and Rural Development.

The main activities have been to implement organic and sustainable agricultural practices such as composting, water and soil conservation activities, and crop diversification. The project also supports poor women-headed families, provides skill training for unemployed girls, supplies seeds and seedlings for nurseries and farmers, facilitates experience sharing through exchange visits, and supports the use of simple and accessible technologies such as treadle pumps.

As a result, there have been significant benefits to poor farmers and communities, particularly to women-headed families. Among the benefits demonstrated are increased yields and productivity of crops, improved hydrology with raised water tables and permanent springs, improved soil fertility, less weeds, pests and diseases, rehabilitation of degraded lands and increased incomes.

In particular, the farmers quickly saw the impact of compost on crop yields and the improved water regime of their fields. By 1998, data showed that using compost gave similar yield increases as chemical fertilisers. Data collected in 2002, 2003 and 2004 showed that on average, composted fields gave higher yields, sometimes double, than those treated with chemical fertilisers.

The farmers also found that the positive effects of compost can remain for up to four years. In contrast to chemical fertilisers, compost does not need to be applied every year. Compost also helps increase the moisture retention capacity of the soil. This is crucial in times of drought, which remains a problem in many parts of Ethiopia.

The impacts on farm incomes have been positive. The farmers have been able to get out of debt from buying chemical fertilisers, and they are obtaining even higher yields, and thus economic returns, with using compost.

Local communities have also been empowered, through the development of legally recognised bylaws to govern their land and other natural resource management activities. Local committees have been established to oversee the implementation of the project, and to make decisions for local management.

By 2005, the ISD and the Bureau of Agriculture and Rural Development were working together to implement the project in 42 communities, while the Bureau was promoting the ‘sustainable agriculture package’ of compost-making, together with trench-bunding (to harvest soil and water) and planting multipurpose trees throughout the region.

The successes of the project have also led to its expansion to include many more communities in other parts of the country. The Ethiopian government has now adopted the approach used by the project as its main strategy for combating land degradation and poverty.

It is now recognised that there is a need to enhance the productivity of smallholder agriculture. As most poor farmers, particularly in marginal areas, are not able to afford external inputs, the principles and approach of the Ethiopian project, based on an organic production management system, have offered the farmers a real and affordable means to break out of poverty and obtain food security. This is one means by which progress towards eradicating hunger can be made.

 


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