Ethiopia Ethiopia

Description of cropping systems, climate, and soils in Ethiopia                           (by Dr. K. Tesfaye Fantaye)

Ethiopia, situated in the Horn of Africa, has a population of nearly 90 million and a surface area of 1.2 million square kilometers, of which 65% is suitable for arable farming. Agriculture is the country's largest economic sector, contributing about 43% of the country's GDP and employing more than 85% of the working population. Production systems are dominated by smallholder farming under rainfed conditions with little mechanization. Subsistence mixed farming with crop cultivation and livestock husbandry is practiced on most farms. Agriculture is highly dependent on rainfall, and hence the onset, duration, amount and distribution of the rainfall determines the performance of the agriculture sector and the economy of the country in general. More than 95% of the country's agricultural output is generated by subsistence farmers who, on average, own less than 1 ha of cultivated land with poor soil fertility as a result of continuous cropping and little input of nutrients to replace removal with harvest.

Ethiopia is known for its ecological diversity that ranges from tropical to temperate conditions. Altitude ranges from -126 meters below sea level in the Danakil Depression in the northeast to 4620 meters above sea level in the Ras Dashen Mountains in the northwest. In central highland plateaus, where major cereal crops are grown, elevation ranges from 1800 to 3000 meters above sea level with mean annual rainfall ranging from 950-1500 mm and mean annual temperature from 11-21°C. Ecological and socio-cultural diversity creates favorable conditions to support tremendous diversity of fauna and flora such that the country is a center of origin and biodiversity for many cultivated crops and their wild relatives. According to global agroecological zone classification based on length of growing period (IIASA/FAO, 2010), the major crop growing areas of the country are found in the sub-humid, humid and moist-semiarid climatic zones (Fig. 1). On the other hand, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MoARD, 2005) classified the country into 32 major agro-ecological zones and categorized about 51% of the total land area of the country under arid, semi-arid and sub-moist zones and the other half in moist to humid zones. From among 18 major soil types, Nitosols (23%), Cambisols (19%), and Vertisols (18%) comprise more than half the arable land area in the different agroecologies of the country (Paulos, 2001).

About 15% of the county's area is currently used for the production of major food crops. Major staple crops include cereals, pulses, oilseeds, roots and tubers, vegetables and coffee. According to the recent Ethiopian Central Statistical Agency report (CSA, 2013), grain crops (cereals, pulses and oil crops) are cultivated on 13.9 Mha with annual production of 25.1 million metric tonnes (MMt). According to the same report, cereals, pulses and oil crops constituted 78, 15, 7% of the cultivated area and 85, 12 and 3% the total grain production of the country, respectively in the main rainy season of 2012/2013. Cereals are the most important field crops and the chief element in the diet of most Ethiopians. Principal cereals are tef (an indigenous principal staple crop), wheat, barley, maize, sorghum and millet. Wheat is grown mostly between 1,500 and 2,700 meters above sea level whereas maize, sorghum and millet are cultivated at lower elevations in the warmer areas of the country. Sorghum and millet, which are drought resistant, are grown in regions with low and uncertain rainfall. Maize is mainly grown between 1,500 and 2,200 meters above sea level and requires relatively higher seasonal rainfall to ensure good harvests. These major food crops are produced in almost all regions of the country but with large variations in terms of volume of production.

The area coverage of maize, wheat, sorghum and finger millet account for 47% of cultivated grain crop area of the country in the 2012/13 cropping season (Table 1 & 2). However, the productivity of these crops is very low despite their large production area. National average yields for maize, wheat and sorghum, and finger millet are 3.0, 2.0 and 1.7 t ha-1, respectively in 2012/2013 (Table 2). Available evidence suggests that yields of major crops under farmers' management are still far lower than what can be obtained under on-station and on-farm research managed plots (Table 2). This is a clear indication of large yield gaps. There are several factors believed to contribute to the low productivity including, among others, moistures stress, shortage of seeds for improved varieties, soil fertility degradation, insect pests, diseases, weeds and birds.

The most important cereal farming system zones are located in the north, northwestern, central, eastern and southwestern highlands (USAID, 2010). Cereal mixed farming dominates the northern, northwestern and central highlands while maize-sorghum based cropping dominates the eastern highlands. Whilst Barley-wheat cropping dominates the Arsi and Bale highlands, coffee, maize and horticultural crops farming characterize the major farming system of the southern and southwestern highlands. The lowlands (areas below 1500 m above sea level) areas also grow short maturing maize, sorghum, wheat, and tef varieties along with some oil crops and lowland pulses.

Table 1. Area coverage of cereal crops in Ethiopia over a course of 5 decades

 

Tef

Wheat

Maize

Sorghum

Barley

Finger Millet#

Other cereals

Total

 

Cereal cultivated area (M ha)

1961/62-1969/70

2.11

0.97

0.8

1.09

0.96

-

0.3

6.23

1970/71-1979/80

1.67

0.78

0.83

0.87

0.84

-

0.27

5.25

1980/81-1989/90

1.23

0.52

0.84

0.71

0.86

-

0.15

4.3

1990/91-1999/00

1.76

0.75

1.12

0.95

0.73

-

0.29

5.6

2000/01-2008/09

2.17

1.27

1.59

1.35

0.96

-

0.38

7.72

2012/2013

2.73

1.71

2.01

1.62

1.02

0.43

0.08

9.6

 

Area share from total cereal cultivated area (%)

1961/62-1969/70

33.9

15.6

12.8

17.4

15.4

-

4.9

100

1970/71-1979/80

31.8

14.8

15.7

16.6

15.9

-

5.1

100

1980/81-1989/90

28.7

12.0

19.5

16.4

19.9

-

3.4

100

1990/91-1999/00

31.3

13.4

20.0

17.0

13.1

-

5.2

100

2000/01-2008/09

28.1

16.5

20.6

17.5

12.5

-

4.9

100

2012/2013

28.4

17.8

20.9

16.9

10.6

4.5

0.8

100

Source: Alemayehu et al, 2011 (1961/62-1979/80 data are from FAO. 1980/81 – 2008/09, 2012/13 data are from CSA Agricultural Sample Surveys), #Finger millet data from 1961/62-2008/09 were included in the column of other cereals.

Table 2. Nationally reported average yields compared to yields reported from on-station and on-farm experiments

Crop

Area

(M ha)*

Total Production (MMT)*

National Average Yield (t/ha)*

On-station yield (t/ha) #

On-farm yield (t/ha) #

Varieties considered for on-station and on-farm reports

Maize

2.01

6.16

3.01

9.0-12.0

6.0-8.0

BH-660

Wheat

1.63

3.43

2.11

3.5-5.5

2.5-5.0

Dendea

Sorghum

1.71

3.60

2.11

4.2

3.3

Chare

Finger millet

0.43

0.74

1.72

3.1

2.8-2.9

Tadesse

Source: * MMT = million metric tonnes, from CSA (2013) report; # from MoARD (1995-2011) crop variety register books.

Figure 1. Major agroclimatic zones of Ethiopia.

References

Alemayehu Seyoum Taffesse, Paul Dorosh and Sinafikeh Asrat. 2011. Crop Production in Ethiopia: Regional Patterns and Trends. Development Strategy and Governance Division, International Food Policy Research Institute, Ethiopia Strategy Support Program II, Ethiopia. ESSP II Working Paper No. 016.

CSA (Central Statistics Agency). 2013. Agricultural Sample Survey 2012/2013 (2005 E.C.). Volume I. Report on Area and Production of Major Crops (Private Peasant Holdings, Meher Season). Statistical Bulletin 532, Addis Ababa

CSA (Central Statistics Agency). 2012. Agricultural Sample Survey 2011/2012 (2004 E.C.). Volume IV. Report on Land Utilization (Private Peasant Holdings, Meher Season). Statistical Bulletin 532, Addis Ababa

FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations).

IIASA/FAO, 2010. Global Agro-ecological Zones (GAEZ v3.0). IIASA, Laxenburg, Austria and FAO, Rome, Italy.

MoARD (Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development). 2005. Major Agro-ecological Zones of Ethiopia. Forestry, Land Use and Soil Conservation Department. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

MoARD (Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development).1998-2011. Crop Variety Registers. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Paulos Dubale. 2001. Soil and Water Resources and Degradation Factors Affecting their Productivity in the Ethiopian Highland Agro-ecosystems. International Conference on the Contemporary Development Issues in Ethiopia, CADPR, and Western Michigan University. 

USAID (United States Agency for International Development). 2010. Staple Foods Value Chain Analysis. Country Report, Ethiopia. Addis Ababa.