Scaling Climate-Smart Agriculture in Ethiopia, from the Ground Up

Using data from EthioSIS, Fikadu Garomessa learned which crops and fertilizers are best suited to the soil in his area. His yields and profits are up, and with the increase in income, he can now send his children to school.

Fikadu Garomessa’s verdant maize and teff farm—which stretches across the slopes of Liben Gaammo Village, Chelia woreda– makes for a postcard worthy view.  But the long-time farmer isn’t interested in soaking in the vista. Instead, he kneels low to the ground and digs his hands into the earth. Fikadu is interested in soil—both in knowing more about it, and in sharing what he’s learned so far.

He’s not alone.

Since 2012, soil researchers have fanned out across Ethiopia’s countryside to collect data on soil types, soil fertility and agro-ecological conditions. Their findings are being added to the Ethiopian Soil Information System or EthioSIS, a comprehensive catalogue of national soil data. EthioSIS which is funded by the World Bank-supported Agriculture Growth Program, uses satellite technology and extensive soil sampling to produce high resolution soil maps for each region. To date, 438 districts or woredas—approximately 63% of the country’s agricultural woredas—have been mapped, including in the Amhara and Oromia regions.

Actionable data for climate-smart agriculture

For decades, Ethiopia’s farmers have relied on general recommendations regarding fertilizers and farming practices that had little regard for local conditions. Harvest shortfalls, excessive and inappropriate use of chemical fertilizers limited to urea and DAP, and fertilizer runoff occurred as a result.

EthioSIS aims to change that, by providing farmers with localized, actionable data for making climate-smart farming decisions that boost productivity, improve resilience and also leave a lower environmental footprint. To support farmers in applying more customized fertilizer mixes, five fertilizer blending plants with the capacity to produce over 30,000 metric tons have also been established in Ethiopia’s biggest agriculture growing areas, including Amhara, Oromia and Tigray. In addition, more than five thousand extension workers have been trained in compost preparation and soil fertility improvement techniques so that they can pass on their knowledge to farmers across the country.

Access to soil information could be transformative for millions of people—and even the country as a whole. “Over 80 percent of Ethiopia’s labor force is engaged in the agriculture sector,” says Andrew Goodland, Program Leader for the World Bank’s Agriculture Global Practice in Ethiopia. “By providing millions of farmers with the opportunity to make more climate-smart farming decisions, the project’s contribution to the Ethiopian government’s goal of becoming a green economy by 2025 could be significant.”

Reaping the benefits of sound soil advice

Fikadu and thousands of farmers nationwide are already benefiting from sound soil advice. Using information from EthioSIS, local agriculture extension workers have provided Fikadu and his peers with recommendations on what crops are most suitable for local growing conditions, how best to nourish area soil, and techniques to avoid stripping soil of its nutrients. This has enabled them to farm better, especially as climate change renders traditional farming techniques less effective.

Fikadu learned how to vermicompost—or produce organic, micronutrient-rich fertilizer using waste and worms. This has resulted in positive changes for his farm. “Since I started to vermicompost, I use half the chemical fertilizers like DAP and Urea that I used to, which has significantly reduced my fertilizer costs. I am also earning extra income by selling sacks of vermicompost to local universities and farmers in my area,” he explains. “I am also harvesting more because the vermicompost has increased my production” The more efficient use of fertilizers hasn’t just been good for productivity. It has also lowered the environmental footprint of Fikadu’s farm. Because he’s using the appropriate amount of fertilizer, there is less run off. In addition, reduced fertilizer use means less greenhouse gas emissions.

Most importantly for Fikadu, his family has benefited. “Before starting this work, my income and standard of living was very poor.  I couldn’t support myself or my family properly. Now it is visible that I am benefiting from it. I can send my children to school and buy their education material. My life has changed for the better.”

Source: World Bank

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