Ethiopia: Small-scale wheat farmers plant in rows to combat weedy grasses (By Kalayu Menasbo, for Farm Radio Weekly)

| January 20, 2014

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Solomon Girmay smiles as he gazes at his clean, green, and well-organized field of wheat. The crop used to be poor, strangled by grassy weeds that the farmer had been unable to control.

For many years, Mr. Girmay broadcast wheat seeds and was challenged by weed problems and low yields. His wheat grew side by side with grassy weeds, which competed for nutrients. He says, “I lost time managing the grassy weeds…. It took me a long time to separate [the] wheat crop from [the] weeds.”

Mr. Girmay farms near the village of Atsbi Wemberta, about 70 kilometres southeast of Tigray in northern Ethiopia. Like many small-scale farmers in the area, he did not know that planting in rows could help solve his weed problem.

Then he attended a session at the local Farmers’ Training Centre and was introduced to the technique of row planting. Mr. Girmay planted his next wheat crop in rows, leaving about 30 centimetres between each row. He says: “All the grassy weeds that germinate between the rows can be easily removed by hand. It takes less time and little effort. My children are helping me, because it is easy to separate the grassy weeds from the wheat.”

Ethiopian farmers have traditionally broadcast cereal crops. But now the government and other partners are promoting row planting to help farmers more easily manage weeds. The increased yields from reducing competition for nutrients may help to reduce food insecurity in the country.

Asfaw Gebre is a local crop production expert. He says that farmers often lose about half of their potential cereal yield to weeds. Mr. Gebre says: “Farmers face difficulties in controlling grassy weeds because they look like wheat. Farmers like Mr. Girmay who have applied the technique of row planting this year have the chance to control these grassy weeds more easily.’’

Gebretsadiq Tesfay is an expert in extension development and in scaling up best practices. He tells farmers that when cereal seeds are broadcast, weedy grasses rob the crops of sunlight, water, and nutrients. But, he says, “In row planting, where fertilizer and seeds are mixed together and planted in rows … the grassy weeds lack fertilizer, and as a result they become thin and almost disappear.’’

Abraha Kahsay is another small-scale farmer who adopted row planting. He says it is better than broadcasting because he can now differentiate quite easily between the weeds and the crop. He explains: “Last year, I was here the whole summer weeding. But … it is now simple to manage the grassy weeds.”

Mr. Kahsay is confident that his yields will increase. He says, “I have decided to plant my whole farmland in rows next year.”