Farmer participatory tillage trials were conducted in a highland Vertisol area of Ethiopia during the 1999 and 2000 cropping seasons. This participatory initiative clearly demonstrated that incorporating farmers’ knowledge, ideas and preferences could improve the wheat production package. A traditional practice of Chefe Donsa farmers—applying ash from their homesteads to their fields to enable early-sown crops to withstand frost—led to the verification of the yield-enhancing effect of inorganic potassium fertilizer on wheat. Farmer adoption of a minimum tillage production system increased the gross margin of wheat production by US$ 132 per hectare—based on 1999 prices—relative to the traditional flat seedbed system. The minimum tillage system was characterized by a much lower level of soil manipulation relative to the traditional flat seedbed system, and, as a consequence, markedly reduced the total human labor and draft oxen requirements for wheat production. Thus, the minimum tillage system could be an effective intervention for soil conservation due to early-season vegetative cover of the soil surface. Also, the early crop harvest associated with the minimum tillage system was highly beneficial for small-holder farmers—since the early harvest coincided with the cyclical period of severe household food deficits and high grain prices in local markets.


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