Gebreyussus Tesfaye stands in his field of recently planted tef. The bright green shoots, about five centimetres tall, make a stark contrast with the dark brown, stony soil. But this field of tef is different from many in the village of Debre Brehan, near Axum in northern Ethiopia. The difference is that you can see the ground between the seedlings. Unlike many other farmers, Mr. Tesfaye plants his tiny tef seeds in rows.
This is partly because of two series of radio shows broadcast by the regional radio station, Dimitsi Weyane, based in Mekelle, capital of the Tigray Region. Developed with technical assistance from the government and other agencies, both series encourage farmers to plant in rows.
In the past, Mr. Tesfaye used to broadcast tef seeds. Like many of his neighbours, he saw no reason to abandon the traditional custom of throwing the seeds from a bag by hand.
Tsege Yhidego is the local agricultural development agent. She encouraged farmers like Mr. Tesfaye to try planting tef in rows. Mrs. Yhidego says, “Farmers would say to me that they were willing to try, but that they were not keen about the extra work involved.”
Mr. Tesfaye started to plant in rows four years ago. He began with a small area, only twenty metres by five. He saw immediately that this small area would produce a higher yield. He explains, “The space between the plants allows them to grow bigger and produce more seeds.”
After a successful harvest, Mr. Tesfaye expanded the area he planted in rows. Four years later, he has stopped broadcasting tef entirely. All of his land is planted in rows.
He says, “I know that this method takes longer and uses more labour, but the production is so much higher that it more than compensates me for the initial work.” Mr. Tesfaye’s yields have more than doubled since he started planting in rows, and he now plants his other grain crops in rows as well.
Mrs. Yhidego considers Mr. Tesfaye a model farmer, and many of his neighbours have followed in his footsteps.
Mamo Berhe weeds his tef on an overcast morning. He first heard about row-planting at the local Farmers’ Training Centre, then heard about it again on the radio. Mr. Berhe planted a small area of tef in rows last season and, encouraged by the results, expanded this season.
With the help of eight neighbours, Mr. Berhe ploughed and planted his half-hectare field three weeks ago. Now the land is flush with green shoots. He says, “I am convinced that my yields will not fail, even if the rains come late.”
Gebrehiwot Tesfaye [no relation] is a radio producer and presenter at Dimitsi Weyane. He is descended from a long line of farmers and happy to be working on these shows. He says, “I selected several successful farmers to talk about their experiences on the shows, so that other farmers will be encouraged to try planting tef in rows.” Gebreyussus Tesfaye and Mamo Berhe were among the featured guests on the program.
The shows proved to be so popular that Mr. Tesfaye had to stop giving out his personal telephone number, as farmers would call him for advice − even at midnight!
The government of Ethiopia is investing heavily in small-scale farmers in an attempt to boost their overall production. Extension agent Mrs. Yhidego says, “Although I am often with farmers, radio programs are very important. Maybe more so than me!”