Ethiopia: Crop rotation, intercropping, and mulching help farmers improve soil fertility and productivity
Kwame Anane smiles as he walks onto a vast farm filled with various types of crops. He joins a group of farmers who are busy filling bags with harvested beans. The farmers come here to the Centre for No-Till Agriculture in Amanchia, Ghana, to learn no-till farming and other conservation agriculture practices.
Mr. Anane grows cocoa, maize, cassava, plantain, and other crops. After learning conservation agriculture techniques on the demonstration plots at the No-Till Centre, he started practicing on his own farm. One thing he learned is that it’s not a good idea to burn crop residues, because it can cause soil erosion and decrease soil fertility over time.
He says, “Before I met Dr. Kofi Boa, who taught me [conservation agriculture], I used to do this practice [of burning residues] so that the farmland can be easily cleared for planting.”
Dr. Kofi Boa is the founder of the No-Till Centre. He says the centre has helped many farmers learn conservation agriculture practices such as no-till farming, keeping the soil covered at all times, intercropping, and crop rotation, as well as related practices such as pest control in seedlings, and reducing the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers. He adds that most of the farmers have stopped using chemicals and practices that reduce soil fertility such as burning residues.
Dr. Boa explains how burning crop residues can cost farmers: “The topsoil gets washed away by the rains, and the soil loses a lot of nutrients, which results in reduced crop yields. Farmers end up losing a lot of money and resources when they have to manage the problems that come with burning residues.”
He adds: “No-till farming is planting crops on your farmland year after year without tilling the soil. In conservation agriculture, not burning residues means that after harvest, farmers leave all the residues on the field to decompose and serve as nutrients for the soil.”
Alex Mensah is another farmer who is learning conservation agriculture at the No-Till Centre. He grows plantain, cocoa, cassava, maize, tomato, and garden eggs, which are a type of eggplant. He says: “[Conservation agriculture] is slow, but it benefits me now more than burning residues. Things move fast when you burn the residues, but the consequences come later and it brings you down. Now I don’t need to weed too much because I cover my land with a cover crop called mucuna.”
Ama Fosua grows cocoa and pepper in Seidi village, near Amanchia where the No-Till Centre is located. She also learned to use crop residues as mulch at the centre. She says conservation agriculture is challenging but rewarding. She explains: “It takes a lot of painful effort to uproot or remove trees and branches, break them down into pieces, and leave these residues on the soil. But it is beneficial because it stops weeds from growing when it rains and it keeps the land moist.”
Dr. Boa says that no-till farmers have also learned another technique from the No-Till Centre—planting through mulch. He explains: “This means planting your seeds through the organic mulch spread on the field. Spreading organic mulch saves labour on weeding and benefits plants by preventing most weed seeds from growing. Mulch also keeps the soil cool and moist, reducing the need for water.”
According to Kwame Anane, the farmers have benefited a lot from the No-Till Centre. For him, the benefits of conservation agriculture outweigh the challenges. He adds, “The practice has increased my yield, which has doubled every year.”
Mr. Anane hopes that with patience, his farm will produce more and he will be able to continue increasing his income.
Photo provided by the Centre for No-Till Agriculture.
This work was created with the support of Canadian Foodgrains Bank as part of the project,“Conservation Agriculture for building resilience, a climate smart agriculture approach.” This work is funded by the Government of Canada, through Global Affairs Canada, www.international.gc.ca.