Climate-smart interventions for smallholder farmers in Ethiopia

September 12, 2019
a young woman farmer in a corn field
ACIAR
 

Sorghum is a staple food for more than 60 million people in Ethiopia. The crop is also a major source of animal feed, fuel, and building material. However, despite improved practices, sorghum production continues to be labour-intensive and limited by insufficient economic resources, environmental factors, and poor storage.

The challenge

The effects of climate change in Ethiopia’s dry lowlands are causing a higher frequency of drought and crop failures, thereby exposing farmers to food shortages and livestock losses due to a lack of feed. Currently, 70% of sorghum grain is consumed domestically, with women providing the majority of labour and trading of the crop.

Sorghum production is risky, with a lack of economic drivers for increased production. In good years, farmers often have a surplus and grain prices are low; in bad seasons, the reverse is true. The situation is exacerbated by limited storage options, forcing farmers to sell surpluses cheaply at harvest. This prevents small businesses from accessing a reliable supply of grain throughout the year, making sorghum less attractive than alternatives. Rapid population and economic growth are creating new demand for cereals, which could be exploited to generate economic opportunities for smallholder farmers.

The research

To address the limitations of sorghum production and its availability to smallholders in Ethiopia, researchers will develop and deploy key technologies that reduce the risk of crop failure, increase productivity, and create new economic opportunities for women-led businesses. The technologies include drought-tolerant sorghum varieties, improved management practices, value-added sorghum products, small-scale threshers, grain storage systems, and links to new markets. The research will focus on the effects that these innovations and practices have on the economics of sorghum production and it will promote their adoption.

Expected outcomes

  • Improve productivity and climate resilience of 240,000 smallholder sorghum farmers;
  • Reduce post-harvest loss through farm-scale grain storage options and increased economic opportunities for women through value-added products, small-scale threshers, and improved storage facilities;
  • Enhance the capacities of the Ethiopian and Australian research teams in screening breeding lines for root architecture and transpiration efficiency variation using phenotyping platforms and genomics, while farmers will acquire skills in developing and using sorghum-based poultry feed;
  • Increase the adoption of improved and drought tolerant sorghum varieties, increase the use of post-harvest management technologies, and develop new value chains for sorghum;
  • Improve the economic well-being of disadvantaged rural Ethiopians, particularly women and children;
  • Enhance capacity of Ethiopian Institute for Agricultural Research staff to breed drought-tolerant sorghums and to use crop simulation modelling to increase plant breeding efficiency and evaluate the risk of genetic and agronomic interventions.

Learn more about this project.