<>A remarkable project reversng the ecologcal and socal damages of the past 100 years that have locked the country n poverty.
The world's largest sngle study of ts knd now shows that compostng ncreases yelds two to three-fold and outperforms chemcal fertlzers by more than 30 percent >
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Ethopa s a land-locked country n the ‘Horn of Afrca' to the northeast of the contnent. ts topography s very dverse, encompassng mountans over 4 000 m above sea level, hgh plateaus, deep gorges cut by rvers and ard lowlands ncludng the Dallol Depresson, whch s 110 m below sea level n the Afar .
The South Westerly Monsoon s one of the country's three mosture-bearng wnd systems. Orgnatng from the South Atlantc, t brngs the greatest amount of mosture durng the man rany season (May/June–September/October). The small rans (February-Aprl/May) orgnate from the ndan Ocean and feed the southern and eastern hghland areas. The thrd ranfall system also orgnates from the ndan Ocean, and feeds the southern half of the country any tme between October and January, and March to May . The mean annual ranfall s hghest (above 2 700 mm) n the southwestern hghlands, gradually decreasng to below 100 mm n the eastern lowlands of the Afar. The mean annual temperature ranges from a hgh of 35 °C n the Afar to 10 °C or lower n the hghlands above 2 500 m . From November to January n the hghlands above 1 500 m, durnal temperatures can range between below freezng at nght, wth frost, to over 25 °C durng the day .
The country faces a number of envronmental challenges resultng drectly or ndrectly from human actvtes, exacerbated by rapd populaton growth (populaton n 2007 estmated at over 77 mllon) and the consequent ncrease n the explotaton of natural resources. Most serous of all s land degradaton due to the removal of self-governance from local communtes of smallholder farmers, startng around the second half of the nneteenth century. Ths undermned the tradtonal systems of land management, as farmers were only able to exercse some control over ther land when t was growng a crop. The most vsble physcal mpacts are the formaton of gulles eatng away the sol, the recovery of vegetaton prevented by free-range grazng , a nd the unregulated fellng of trees for frewood and other purposes.
The central control of local farmng communtes contnued under the mltary government (1974-1991) and dd nothng to restore the farmers' confdence n controllng ther own affars and nvestng n ther land.
These negatve trends are now beng reversed through the present government's emphass on the decentralzaton of power down to the wereda (dstrct), the lowest level of offcal government nterventon, and ther consttuent tabas n Tgray (kebeles n the rest of the country). Each wereda s also the seat for a member of parlament n the Federal House of Representatves – the Parlament. Elected offcals of the taba run the day-to-day affars of the local communtes.
Despte Ethopa's status as one of the least developed countres n the world , tradtonal agrcultural producton s hghly dverse and s the man source of food for the populaton. Two of the man staple crops, the cereal teff ( <>Eragrosts tef >) and the root crop enset ( <>Ensete ventrcosa >), are endemc, and many of the crops known to have ther centres of orgn n the fertle crescent of south-west Asa, for example durum wheat ( <>Trtcum durum >), now have ther hghest genetc dversty n Ethopa. Ethopa s one of the eght major centres for crop dversty n the world .
Other mportant crops wth hgh genetc dversty n Ethopa nclude the cereals—barley ( <>Hordeum vulgare >), fnger mllet ( <>Eleusne coracana >) and sorghum ( <>Sorghum bcolour >); pulses—faba bean ( <>Vca faba >), feld pea ( <>Psum satvum > ncludng the endemc var. <>abyssncum >), chck pea ( <>Ccer aretnum >) and grass pea ( <>Lathyrus satvus >); ol crops—lnseed ( <>Lnum satvum >), nger seed ( <>Guzota abyssnca >), safflower ( <>Carthamus tnctorus >) and sesame ( <>Sesamum ndcum >); and root crops—anchote ( <>Coccna abyssnca >), ‘Oromo or Wollata dnch' ( <>Plectranthus eduls >), and yams ( <>Doscorea > spp.). Over 100 plant speces used as crops have been dentfed n Ehtopa. 
Agrculture accounts for more than 75 percent of total exports, over 85 percent of employment; and about 45 percent of the GDP (gross domestc product). Coffee alone makes up more than 87 percent of the total agrcultural exports. Hdes and skns are the next most mportant export tems as raw, processed or manufactured goods. 
The Government has stated that Ethopa's development has to be based on ts capacty to produce agrcultural products to ensure food securty for ts populaton, provde the raw materals for agro-ndustral development and earn foregn exchange. Ths s set out n “Ethopa: Buldng on Progress — A Plan for Accelerated and Sustaned Development to End Poverty (PASDEP) (2005/06-2009/10) .
n 1995, a verson of the Green Revoluton, called the Sasakawa Global 2000 (SG-2000) programme  was ntroduced by the Mnstry of Agrculture to boost food producton through a campagn to get smallholder farmers to use chemcal fertlzer along wth, when possble, hgh yeldng varetes (HYVs) and pestcdes. Pror to 1995, Ethopa had one of the lowest per capta uses of fertlzer n the world . Under SG-2000, farmers were allowed to select the crops they wanted to grow wth fertlzer and use the best of ther own local varetes rather than buy seed of HYVs; and t s only snce 2003 that more wdely adapted ‘mproved seeds' have been promoted and taken up by smallholder farmers. But there are also efforts to promote the conservaton and enhancement of farmers' varetes (often called landraces) usng organc prncples .
From 1998, the subsdy on chemcal fertlzer was wthdrawn and the prce had more than doubled by 2007. Access to credt for purchasng fertlzer has contnued to be made avalable to farmers up to the present. By 2001, around 5 percent of the smallholder farmers, partcularly those growng maze, had become accustomed to usng fertlzer. But that year, the prce dropped out of the bottom of the maze market and the farm gate prce n some areas fell to the equvalent of US$ 1.50 per 100 kg .
n 2002, many farmers were heavly n debt and wthdrew from the fertlzer schemes. Many parts of the country were also ht by a much shorter rany season wth the rans stoppng early, or by drought. Consequently, yelds declned, or crops faled completely and the government requested food ad for more than 14 mllon people, nearly a quarter of the total populaton .
The Envronmental Polcy of Ethopa, ssued n 1997, ncorporated a basc prncple smlar to one adopted n organc agrculture : “Ensure that essental ecologcal processes and lfe support systems are sustaned, bologcal dversty s preserved and renewable natural resources are used n such a way that ther regeneratve and productve capabltes are mantaned, and, where possble, enhanced...; where ths capacty s already mpared to seek through approprate nterventons a restoraton of that capablt y.”
Ths enablng polcy context dovetals wth a unque experment n sustanable development and ecologcal land management conducted wth farmers n Tgray and the brth of an organc agrculture movement n the country as a whole.
n 1995, Dr Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egzabher, founder of the nsttute for Sustanable Development (SD), was asked by some government offcals to desgn a project that could help farmers tryng to eke out an exstence on the hghly degraded land of the hghlands. The am was to help the farmers use an ecologcal approach wth a mnmum of external nputs to mprove the productvty of ther land and rehabltate ther envronments. The project started n 1996 as a partnershp wth the Bureau of Agrculture and Rural Development (BoARD) of Tgray, and s stll contnung to be run by the BoARD. The other partners n the project are Mekele Unversty, the local communtes and ther local admnstraton.
The project focuses on helpng local communtes restore local control and effectve management of ther natural resources through the development and enforcement of ther own by-laws . Measures used am at:
The most successful measure has been the plantng of the small multpurpose ndgenous tree, <>Sesbana sesban >, for anmal forage and compost bomass on the bunds between felds, and n the rehabltated gulles, along wth grasses, partcularly elephant grass. There has also been a rapd re-establshment of ndgenous plants, partcularly shrubs and trees, n the gulles and on hllsdes protected from grazng anmals.
Project actvtes n four communtes were establshed n 1996/97 and 1997/98. Snce 2000, there has been a rapd scalng up of the project so that by 2006, SD was followng up project actvtes n 57 local communtes n 12 of the 53 weredas n Tgray. Much effort has been made to nclude households headed by women n the project because these are generally among the poorest of the poor n ther vllages .
Snce 2000, the BoARD has been promotng the land rehabltaton ‘package'—compost, trench bundng for sol and water conservaton wth plantng multpurpose trees and grasses—n over 90 communtes wthn 25 weredas n the drer more degraded areas of the Regon. By 2007, an estmated 25 percent of the farmng populaton n Tgray were usng ths package, partcularly makng and usng compost.
Results of the ntal successes were publshed by the nsttute of Scence n Socety n 2004 [13-15] ( Greenng Ethopa , The Tgray Project , and Organc Producton for Ethopa , <>SS > 23) . The Thrd Wo rld Network (TW N) publshed a fuller account n 2006 ; TWN had funded the project rght from the begnnng.
Snce 2005, the Swedsh Socety for Nature Conservaton (SSNC) has also provded fundng to SD for promotng sustanable agrculture n Tgray, Amhara and Oromya Regons. Ths ncluded publshng a poster on makng compost to support the compost manual n Tgrnya (the local language of Tgray) n 2002 , and dstrbutng these to all 53 weredas of Tgray. n 2007, an Amharc verson of the compost manual and poster were prepared for publcaton as part of the UNDP-funded Land Rehabltaton Project n the Federal Envronmental Protecton Authorty (EPA).
n 2006, the FAO Natural Resources Department provded fundng to help collect addtonal yeld data from plots n farmers' felds durng the 2006 harvestng season, and pay for the entry and statstcal analyss of the data. The fnal database ncluded plot yelds from 974 farmers' felds and 13 crops taken over the years 2000 to 2006 nclusve [1 7 ]. The results were presented at the FAO nternatonal Conference on “ <>Organc Agrculture and Food Securty >” held 2-5 May 2007 n FAO, Rome 
Ths s now the sngle largest study of ts knd n the world comparng yelds from the applcaton of compost and chemcal fertlzer n farmers' felds. The results show wthout any doubt that compost can replace chemcal fertlzers and ncrease yelds by more than 30 percent on average.
An mportant feature of the Tgray Project s that t s largely the farme rs, supported by local wereda-based experts from the BoARD, who have led the project. They choose whch crops to treat wth compost and whch wth chemcal fertlzer.
The method used to collect the yeld data was based on the crop samplng system developed by FAO to estmate a country's potental harvest and dentfy threats to local food securty. Three one-metre square plots were harvested from each feld to reflect the range of condtons of the crop. The harvested crop was then threshed and the gran and straw were weghed separately. For comparson, all yelds have been converted nto kg/ha n the followng table.
The felds for takng the yeld samples are selected wth the farmers to represent the most wdely grown crops. There are three treatments. ‘Check' means a feld that has receved nether compost nor chemcal fertlzer, although t may have receved compost n one or more prevous years. ‘Compost' s for felds treated wth mature compost; the rates of applcaton range from around 5 t/ha n poorly endowed areas, such as the dry Eastern Zone of Tgray, to around 15 t/ha n the moster Southern Zone. ‘Fertlzer' s for felds treated wth the chemcals DAP (dammonum phosphate) and urea. The recommended rates are 100 kg/ha of DAP and 50 kg/ha of urea.
The orgnal data were collected by communty and ncluded 13 crops, but here they have been compled for the four most wdely grown cereals and the most mportant pulse: barley, wheat, maze, teff, and faba bean. The results of a one-way analyss of varance (ANOVA) are gven n Table 11.1, whch also shows the 95 percent confdence ntervals for the mean.
As can be seen, there are large dfferences between the means of every crop wth respect to treatments. Compost gves the hghest yelds for all crops; typcally double those of the ‘check', and better than those from chemcal fertlzer by an average of 30.1 percent (from 17.8 percent for faba bean to 47.4 percent for wheat).
Parwse comparsons (not shown) of treatments for all crops are hghly sgnfcant (at the 0.1 percent level or better), except for compost versus fertlzer n faba beans, where there are too few observatons for treatment wth fertlzer.
Farmers who have learnt how to make and use compost based on the method recommended by SD are not nterested n contnung to use chemcal fertlzer, .e. they have wllngly wthdrawn from the use of chemcal fertlze r.
n 1998, the gran yelds of all cereals wthout any nputs (checks), except for maze, were below 1 t/ha: 395-920 kg/ha for barley, 465-750 kg/ha for durum wheat, and 480-790 kg/ha for teff . n the 7-year data set for the four wdely grown cereal crops the average check yelds ranged from 1116 kg/ha for barley to 1642 kg/ha for maze.
Soon, farmers began to observe and apprecate the resdual effect of compost n mantanng sol fertlty for two or more years. They are thus able to rotate the applcaton of compost on ther felds and do not have to make enough to apply to all ther cultvated land each year.
There were many other postve mpacts of compostng.
Dffcult weeds, such as Ethopan wld oats <>Avena vavlovana >, have been reduced, and crops show mproved resstance to pests such as teff shoot fly.
Farmers who make and use compost are able to avod the fnancal rsk of takng chemcal fertlzer on credt, and the compost s avalable when t s needed ; chemcal fertlzer s sometmes delvered too late for the farmers to use. The most vsble mpact of farmers not havng to take fertlzer on credt s that they often nvest n mprovng ther homes and compounds, for example, replacng thatchng wth more water-proof corrugated ron sheets, and/or dversfyng ther producton base by keepng beehves.
Composted felds are able to retan more mosture than untreated felds or those treated wth chemcal fertlzer, so that when there are dry perods, composted crops contnue to grow. Ths was seen dramatcally n 2002 when the man rans were very poor and stopped early. Crops n composted felds were stll green when those n check and especally chemcally fertlzed felds had wthered and ded.
The women say that food made from gran harvested from composted felds have better flavour and provde a more satsfyng and sustanng meal for ther famles than gran from felds treated wth chemcal fertlzers.
Once farmers apprecate the mproved productvty of compostng, they usually start to re-establsh the dversty of crops, partcularly cereals and pulses famlar to them before ther land became hghly degraded. One farmer successfully searched far and wde for ‘Demeha', a varety of easly de-hulled barley used to make a snack of roasted gran, to rentroduce nto hs farm once he had become food secure through the use of compost.
Farmers also become nnovatve n tryng out new crops and crop combnatons. For example, one farmer n Ad Nfas now regularly plants vegetables, partcularly tomato and chll pepper n hs teff feld. These do not nterfere wth the tef, maturng after the gran s harvested and brngng the farmer addtonal ncome. Many other farmers have now adopted ths and other nnovatve forms of nter-croppng.
Many farmers have also started to plant frut trees, both around ther homesteads and n rehabltated gulles. Women farmers are partcularly adept at takng care of these frut trees, such as ctron ( <>Ctrus medca >) and papaya, and they are now also startng to grow mulberry and castor ( <>Rcnus communs >) to rase slkworms because there s an emergng market for the slk. SD, wth fnancal support from SSNC, asssted the local agrcultural experts of Tahta Machew Wereda near Axum to e stablsh a frut tree nursery to meet the escalatng demand for frut tree seedlngs from the farmers.
n Ad Nfas, where the man gulles and hllsde were treated wth check dams at the start of the project, the streams from the hllsde used to dry up quckly n the dry season. Now these streams hold water all year round and the resultng small rver has made t possble for several farmers downstream to develop rrgated vegetable producton, partcularly of onons, after they have harvested ther gran crops. These farmers are able to regularly get two crops a year from ther land and ther land, whch used to be consdered as beng among the worst n that area, s seen as totally rehabltated and productve.
The use of compost to restore sol fertlty can go a long way towards combatng poverty and ensurng food securty for smallholder farmers who typcally cultvate less than one hectare of land. Through ndrect dscussons, t appears that most of these farmng famles have at least suffcent food grans stored n ther houses to feed ther famles for the whole year, and some have larger stores. One farmer who generally looked poorly dressed had hs house threatened by a flood. He had to call hs neghbours to help hm and hs famly move ther stored gran to a safe place because he had been able to accumulate enough to mantan hs famly for about three years!
n 2003, the admnstraton of Tahta Machew Wereda, about 25 km west of Axum n northern Tgray, asked SD, the federal Envronmental Protecton Authorty and the BoARD of Tgray to help t expand the ‘Sustanable Agrculture/Development Project' to all tabas n the Wereda, .e. to over 20,000 households. The project was launched n July 2004 at a workshop nvolvng around 200 women and men farmers, the local admnstraton, all 50 local experts and key representatves from the Regonal offces n Mekelle, the Regonal captal.
An emergng challenge s the nvolvement of the local justce system, the ‘socal courts', to help uphold and enrch local by-laws to back up mprovements to land and ts management by the local communtes.
The experence wth the farmers n Tgray n producng and usng compost shows that the am for Ethopa to have a substantal number of farmers producng organcally can be realzed. t also shows that the ntroducton of ecologcally sound organc prncples can have very rapd postve mpacts on the productvty and well-beng of smallholder farmers because they do not have to go through a converson perod of reduced yelds as they go nto usng compost. Most farmers, partcularly those n margnal areas, are not able to afford external nputs, so for them an organc producton management system offers a real and affordable means to break out of poverty and delverng food securty.
The organc movement s gatherng momentum n Ethopa and t s unstoppable. An <>Ethopan Organc Agrculture System >was approved by Parlament on 8 March 2006 [2 0 ]. The nternatonal trade n organc products s an expandng market that Ethopa s geographcally well stuated to explot, not just n the developed economes of Europe, North Amerca and Japan, but also n the Araban Pennsula and Near East.
Coffee was the frst certfed organc product exported from Ethopa. n 1995, the world market prce for coffee started to decrease dramatcally and t was quckly realsed that producers could mprove ther returns through organc producton supported by far trade. Organc far trade coffee s ncreasng ts market share by about threefold each year wth most of t beng exported to the USA. Through these qualty certfcates, a mnmum of 20 per cent s added on top of the local prce for farmers. Ths has changed the lvelhood of the farmers and ther communtes: addtonal schools have been bult as well as health centres and several clean-water delvery ponts. By 2007, the Oroma Coffee Unon, the frst and now the largest n the country, was buyng coffee from 115 cooperatves. When t started, these were the frst organc certfed cooperatves n Afrca. Ths Unon now sells more than 4 000 tonnes of organc coffee a year obtaned from 80 000 ha of organc certfed land. 
By 2007, there were four nternatonal organc nspecton and certfcaton bodes n Ethopa, all wth local Ethopan experts. The certfed organc products beng exported are all hgh value products: coffee, honey, sesame, pulses, teff, pneapple, bananas, lnseed, spces and herbs from farmers' felds, and ncense and myrrh collected from the wld [2 1 ].
There s also an expandng awareness of the mportance of producng healthy fruts and vegetables for the educated mddle-class and expatrate market n Adds Ababa. For example, Geness Farm, started n 2001, now produces hgh qualty organcally grown vegetables on an area of 40 ha. The vegetable farm has 302 permanent workers and 52 daly labourers. The farm also has a dary herd of 110 cows and 50 000 chckens, not totally organc by European standards, but much healther than most other anmal producton enterprses of a smlar sze n Ethopa. There s a hgh demand for the products of the farm , whch supples hotels and supermarkets n Adds Ababa, as well as havng ts own shop on the farm. What s very nterestng to note s that the prces of the products n the shop on the farm are generally the same or even somewhat cheaper than ther equvalents from non-organc producton unts around Adds Ababa.
The future looks brght for organc Ethopa. The rest of the world should take heart and take heed.
<>Sue Edwards s drector of the nsttute of Sustanable Development n Adds Ababa, and has been nvolved n the Tgray Project from ts ncepton>