Small-scale farming around Debre Zeyit

In Debre Zeyit, also known as Bishoftu, collaboration between research and using this knowledge in practice through governmental extension services is well organised. Technical and social techniques to improve farming in high and medium high altitudes are shared. The research institute ILRI implements in this area their program Improving Productivity and Market Succes of Ethiopian Farmers (IPMS) by analyzing best practices, describing them, collecting information and improved breeds and sharing of this knowledge and materials with the governmental extension workers through trainings. These extension workers provide the information and materials to the farmers directly and give feedback to ILRI/IPMS about what improvements are seen in practice. Farmers and extension workers can share the problems with the researchers and can find information in the library and office with computers and internet of ILRI/IPMS directly if they want. I was lucky to get a tour to see some of the farmers in Debre Zeyit with whom ILRI/IPMS are working (though the extension workers cover nearly 100% of all the farmers around Debre Zeyit with their services).
The biogas of the cows is sufficient for cooking meals for the whole family

The biogas of the cows is sufficient for cooking meals for the whole family

The first farm I visited is run by a smart couple. The farm exists mainly of a dozen of cows and a field of about half a hectare. This space is used very efficiently: cows are housed in a shed and milked twice a day. The cow dung is used for two purposes: a part of it is dried in the sun and is sold as fuel for cooking and another part gets into the biogas tank directly which delivers biogas for cooking and light for the whole family. The digestive of the biogas tank is used as fertilizer for the land. Feed for the cows and the calves is provided from their own land and bought at the market. Besides the dung that is sold on the market, also milk is sold to the cooperative and young cows and calves are sold as the cows produce milk up to 12 years of age and therefore don’t need replacement every year. The land is used efficiently as well. Fruit trees have been planted after growing wheat and in between these trees other crops can be grown. This was a new way for the couple to generate other means of income and increase farm efficiency with the means that are available on the farm already. However, the cows are the main income generation at this moment.

On the route to the second farm, we passed some tomato fields. I was told that the hybrid tomato’s from the Western countries cannot be grown here, as they need a lot of water, which is not available all season long and irrigation is not always possible. However, the researchers found some other breeds from tropical countries which only needed water during the start of growth. So these seeds have been used in test plots and worked very well. 

Local varieties of tomatoes

Local varieties of tomatoes

Now, many farmers started to use these tomato’s, which add to the nutritional value of the local food. Tomato’s can be grown in the medium high region as a cash crop, as the revenues are very high. They are grown in the end of the rainy season and in rotation with wheat/teff or chickpeas. In one field different breeds of tomato’s can be found. They can be sold to different markets and have different qualities (shelf-life, taste, ripening). At this moment, research was done in the fields to test other breeds of tomato’s as well.

The second farm is more specialised in crops and fruit trees. Cows are available, but their milk production is low and not the main purpose. Their dung is used for composting in combination with the leftovers of the crops and trees. This compost is used for fertilization of the fields. With a very inventive system, water from the nearby dam was flown through the fields from the higher places to the lower. 

Seed beds with union seedlings

Seed beds with union seedlings

Seed beds are made in which crop seedlings are sown and these will be sold to other farmers. In between the seedbeds, fruit trees are grown. Papaya, mango, oranges, lemons; many different ones, which give the farmers all year round income. Some of the trees grow fast and produce quickly, others grow slow but will produce a lot in the future. A test is done with growing some apple trees to see if they can produce under these circumstances. If so, the farmer will have a high income as there is a demand and very limited availability of apples. Clearly this family was more focused on the crops for income generation.

Future juicy oranges for some extra income
Future juicy oranges for some extra income
Interestingly, the researchers promote integration of crops and livestock and not specialisation of one of these aspects. The two families I visited both have a farm with cows and crops, however, they have a focus for one of these aspects and can further develop the other aspect if they want. In this way, the farms are very self-sustaining and still produce for the market. There are many ways to improve productivity in a country and this can be a very sustainable one.

One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Eelke Goodijk on December 2, 2010 at 9:39 pm

    Handy boys, those Ethiopians. What a fantastic experience. Hey girl, take care.
    Uncle Eelke


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