ISIS Report 24/06/04
The Tigray Project
Sue Edwards reports on a project that could launch Ethiopia on her
way to self-sufficiency.
A complete version of this article with diagrams and
table is available in the ISIS members site.
Full details here
"Is there sufficient biomass in Ethiopia to make adequate quantities of
compost?" This is the question most often raised whenever there is any
suggestion that Ethiopia could use organic principles to increase crop yields.
In 1995, Dr Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher, on behalf of the Institute
for Sustainable Development (ISD), was asked by some government officials to
design a project that could be promoted with farmers of poor and marginal areas
in order to improve the productivity of their land and rehabilitate their
environments. The project started in 1996 under the supervision of the Bureau
of Agriculture and Natural Resources (BoANR) of Tigray. The other partners in
the project are Mekele University, the local communities and their local
Project activities in four communities were established in 1996/97 and
1997/98. After 2000, the project was extended to 11 other communities, with
more than 634 people now participating. Much effort has been made to include
households headed by women in the project because these are generally among the
poorest of the poor in their villages.
Since 2002, the BoANR has been promoting the compost-making
package- trench bunding and planting multipurpose trees,
particularly Sesbania - in over 90 communities within 25 Woredas
(administrative districts) in the more marginal areas of the Region.
In November 2001, ISD had some preliminary yield data showing the
positive effects of using compost (first reported in
More data on yields were collected in 2002, and these were equally
impressive. Compost generally gave the highest yields, often out-performing
chemical fertilizers, in a variety of crops and over the entire range of
ecosystems from the moister areas in Southern Tigray with fertile alluvial
soil, to the deforested Central Zone with moderate rainfall, and the arid
Eastern Zone with poor, thin sandy soil (see below).
As each community grows a different mix of crops types and varieties,
only the data that could be compared are presented. It should be noted that
2002 was a drought year, and many crops failed altogether. For example, only
Adi Guaedad and Adibo Mossa had successful harvests of faba bean; field
pea only in Adibo Mossa; and finger millet only in Guroro and Adi Nifas. In
years with better rainfall, most communities would grow at least one pulse
An important feature of the Tigray Project is that it is to a large
extent led by the farmers. They choose which crops to treat with compost and
which with chemical fertilizer. Sampling was done with the farmers. Fields were
designated/chosen with the farmers and 3 one-meter square plots were cut and
threshed, and the straw and grain weighed separately with the farmers.
Each figure presented in the table is the average from several fields of
the same crop variety in the same area given the same treatment.
Check means the field received no treatment in 2002, although it
may have received compost in one or more previous years. Compost is
for fields treated with mature compost. The rates of application range from
around 50 q/ha (1 quintal = 100 kg, hence 50 q can be represented as 5000 kg)
in poorly endowed areas, such as the dry Eastern Zone of the Region (Zeban Sas
and Guemse), to around 150 q/ha in the moister Southern Zone (Adibo
Mossa). Chemical fertilizer is for fields treated with DAP
(diammonium phosphate) and urea. The recommended rates are 100 kg/ha of DAP,
and 50 kg/ha of urea.
The original data were collected site by site, but here they have been
compiled by crop: figures 1-4 for maize, tef, wheat and barley, respectively.
Table 1 gives the yields for faba bean, field pea and finger millet for 2002
with yields for 1998/99 for the Southern Zone included for comparison.
Figure 1. Maize yields in 5 sites
Figure 2. Tef yields in 8 sites.
Figure 3. Wheat yields in 6 sites.
Figure 4. Barley yields in 6 sites.
Table 1: Yields (q/ha) for faba bean, field pea and
finger millet in 4 sites;
1998 compared with 2002.
The farmers experience
As the data show, yield increases whenever compost is applied. The
yields from compost are comparable, and higher than those from chemical
fertilizer. Farmers who have learnt how to make and use compost effectively are
not interested in continuing to use chemical fertilizer, i.e. they have
willingly withdrawn the use of chemical fertilizer without any loss in
production. Some farmers are even making their own observations on comparing
compost with animal dung and/or chemical fertilizer.
It is interesting that the yields of the check and composted crops
(maize, wheat, barley, field pea and faba bean) in Adibo Mossa in the Southern
Zone show little difference. The farmers here apply about 150 q/ha of compost
to their fields, the highest rate of any of the sites. It is possible that the
soil is sufficiently rehabilitated (since 1998) to give good yields without
compost being applied every year.
Farmers, development agents, and ISD staff have identified the following
as the positive effects of using compost:
- Yields as good and often better than those from using chemical
- Maintaining or increasing agro-biodiversity
- Reduced weed loads in composted fields
- Increased moisture retention capacity of soil
- Plants grown with compost more resistant to pest and disease than
crops treated with chemical fertilizer.
- Compost has a residual effect on soils; farmers do not need to apply
compost each year
- Farmers have been able to get out of debt from buying chemical
- Foods made from composted grain have a better flavour than foods made
from crops treated with chemical fertilizer
Some farmers diversified their production once the quality of their land
improved. For example, one farmer in Adi Nifas now regularly plants vegetables,
particularly tomato and chilli pepper in his tef field. These do not interfere
with the tef, maturing after the grain is harvested and bringing the farmer
In Adi Nifas, where the main gullies and hillside were treated with
check dams at the start of the project, the stream from the hillside now holds
water all year round, and several farmers downstream have developed irrigated
vegetable production after they harvested their grain crops. They are able to
regularly get two crops a year.
Many farmers have also started to plant fruit trees, both around their
homesteads and in rehabilitated gullies.
Note: The data from the Tigray project were collected by Arefaine
Asmelash and Hailu Araya, and analysed and compiled by Hailu Araya, Sustainable
Community Development Team Leader in ISD.