Ethiopia: Crop rotation, intercropping, and mulching help farmers improve soil fertility and productivity
On one side of Felekech Fantu’s mud hut, 100-kilogram bundles of cabbage are tied with ropes and stacked, waiting to be transported by tricycle to the market.
Mrs. Fantu says that, because many women in rural areas are always busy doing household chores, it’s not easy for them to grow cabbage. It’s also not easy to harvest the kinds of bumper crops she is about to transport to the market—because the crop requires a lot of water, which makes irrigation labour-intensive.
To reduce her irrigation workload, Mrs. Fantu applies mulching to the cabbages in order to retain moisture in the soil. She explains that, once you cover the soil surface surrounding the plants with crop residues—a practice called mulching—you don’t need to spend as much time and labour irrigating your crop.
Mulching is one of the principle practices of conservation agriculture, along with reduced tillage, crop rotation, and intercropping. Mulching improves soil structure, helps retain moisture in the soil by stopping it from evaporating into the air, and suppresses weeds, all of which result in better yields.
Mrs. Fantu lives in Buke Dengolo village in the Wolayta zone of southern Ethiopia and sells her cabbages at Abala Garage market, about five kilometres away. She grows cabbage on a half-hectare piece of land. Her land has beds filled with different types of crop residues that are used as mulch.
She says that more than 20 women in her area have asked her to share her experiences in using mulch to save time and labour when growing cabbage. Many of the women thought that only men could grow the crop commercially because of the amount of labour the crop requires.
But now, some women have started growing cabbage with mulch and are getting good yields.
Mrs. Fantu says it’s difficult for women to practice farming techniques that are labour-intensive and time-consuming because they conflict with household chores. Many women end up simply abandoning such techniques.
She explains, “You know, many women are always busy with household chores. The conservation agriculture techniques that you teach them must be very easy and not tiresome.”
Admasu Hayessa is the supervisor at Table Development Association in Ethiopia. He says that many women are now adopting conservation agriculture practices such as mulching because they’ve seen the benefits.
Mr. Hayessa explains: “When we taught women about mulching and other conservation farming practices, most of them accepted, even though some faced resistance from their husbands and neighbours. Many women have been influenced by [the] good yields of crops grown under conservation farming.”
Beznesh Dana is a farmer in the Korshobo district of Wolayta Zone. She says that, at first, she did not take an active role in farming and relied on her husband for food and income. But women-friendly conservation farming practices such as mulching have made Mrs. Dana take up farming. She is now producing cabbage as well as crops such as maize and pigeon peas.
Mrs. Dana says, “Two years ago, I received training about mulching from Table Development Association and I tried to practice mulching. The result I found was so amazing.”
Before Mrs. Fantu started mulching, she couldn’t produce enough cabbages to feed her family. But by using mulch, she can support her family with food and pay expenses like school fees for her two children who are pursuing a college education.
She says: “For many years, I tired myself [irrigating], digging the soil, and ploughing. But now mulching makes my cabbage production easy and better, and it has helped my family to achieve better economic status.”
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