Africa’s farmers get their food and income from farming small plots of land. They grow a variety of crops, which are often threatened by diseases, pests and drought.
One of the biggest challenges farmers face is unproductive soil. For Ethiopia, the Africa Soil Information Service is generating a digital soil map to diagnose local conditions and make targeted recommendations for improved crop production.
Soil samples are collected and analyzed using near-infrared spectroscopy, which is both portable and less expensive than traditional wet chemistry analysis. Samples are analyzed against a library of 500,000 entries.
The Ethiopian Institute of Agriculture Research has 13 stations that support technology development for sorghum, maize, common beans, and horticulture crops (onion, tomato, fruits). Bill visited the Melkassa Research Station in Nazaret, Ethiopia.
One of Ethiopia’s main crops is sorghum. It grows well in harsh conditions and is self-pollinating. There are many varieties, used for food and brewing.
Sorghum breeder Alemu Tirfessa shows Bill the diverse breeds, and describes hybrid seed production. The new hybrid seeds are more resistant to disease and drought.
The many varieties of beans grown in Ethiopia are grouped by market classes. Beans are a very important crop because they provide protein, which helps create a balanced diet when paired with grain.
Bill spoke with representatives from the Lume Adama Farmers’ Cooperative, which helps farmers set pricing, get credit, and gain access to improved seed. One farmer said that thanks to increased chickpea production, she’s doubled the number of oxen she owns and has earned enough money to send her four children to school.