Lightening the load for cereal farmers in Ethiopia
In Were Jarso district, Ethiopia, rain patterns affect harvests in different ways. Too little, irregular or too much rain, often causes the same result, lower crop yields and less food. Too much rain creates a water logging problem unique to Were Jarso and is associated with excessive irrigation on poorly drained soils. It is one of the biggest constraints to crop production in the area.
In the past, farmers have used a broad-bed and furrow system to better regulate the amount of water that penetrates and remains stored in the soil. The grassy furrows created by the dual oxen plough used in this system, carry water runoff away from water-logged areas because of a downward slope created by a slight gradient. This allows for better root growth and more efficient nutrient uptake by the plants. Unfortunately, the construction and maintenance of these furrows is expensive and using them is hard work, especially on the heavy, hard clay-like soil found in this region.
One of the Farmer Field Schools (FFS), Dire-Qufa, in Were Jarso district, Ethiopia met to discuss the problem of water logging and to brainstorm potential solutions. Recognizing the traditional broad-bed and furrow system as too labour intensive and hard on oxen, an alternative technology, known as the broad-bed maker was proposed. Broad-bed maker technology is a modified version of the traditional dual oxen drawn plough. It is a simple and locally manufactured farm implement that is attached to the usual ploughs used by farmers. The implement is pulled by a pair of oxen through the soil and the attached plough makes furrows while its two wings scoop the soil towards the middle to make a raised bed.
Ato Genanaw Abera, aged 28 and a father of four, was at the meeting where broad-bed maker technology was introduced. He is one of Dire-Qufa's 30 FFS members who has seen a decrease in cereal harvest yields because of the problems caused by excess water on his land. After learning of this technology, Ato Genanaw decided to plant half of his wheat field using the broad-bed maker and half with the traditional method as a check plot for comparison. When the July rainy season brought a significant amount of excess water, Ato found the crops in the check plot were completely damaged but the crops planted in the land tilled with the broad-bed maker had survived.
When asked about the use of this new technology, Ato Genenaw explained that “The villagers and I are so excited about the improved crop performance due to the broad-bed maker. I planted wheat with the non-broad-bed maker and it was destroyed by excess water. I have much hope that there will be good harvest from the field furrowed with the broad-bed maker. Everybody is asking for the technology. The new plough is easy to operate and attach to the farm implement”.
The modified plough is making a significant difference in crop growth performance. The practice has proved to reduce excess water from the field, which in turn contributes towards increased crop yield. The technology really works.