16 November 2012

Ethiopia: Reducing Post-Harvest Losses, Ensuring Crop Productivity

For farmers, be they traditional or modern, the most unbearable phenomenon is an eminent loss of harvest, for which they have spent their energy, time and money for months, due to weather shocks while the crops are yet in a field.

The phenomenon will be even worse in countries like Ethiopia where the national food security is greatly dependent on nature's goodwill to poor rain at the time when the crop fields need it and to stop it when the fields no longer need it specially during harvesting time.

Ethiopia has a vast area of diverse agro- ecological zones favorable for growing seasonal and pernnial crops. Its farmers that make up around eighty five percent of the overall population depend on rain fed agriculture. Most parts of the country get Kiremt season rain fall, between the months of June and September, which helps them to produce long cycle food crops, particularly in the Northern highlands and central parts of the country. Most Southern, Southwestern and some parts of Eastern Ethiopia, however, get rain during Bega season( when it is dry in the most part of the country), from October to January, according to National Meteorology Agency of Ethiopia (NMAE). In fact, the main agrarian regions of Ethiopia enjoy two rainy seasons, Kiremt also called Meher and Belg. Consequently, there are two crop seasons but Meher is the dominant crop season. Meher encompasses crops harvested between Meskerem (September) and Yeaktit (February). Crops harvested between Megabit (March) and Nehase (August) are considered part of the Belg crop season.

The major food crops produced during these seasons-in most cases by small holder farmers- include: Teff, wheat, maize, sorghum and barley. Certain studies have it that these food crops are the core of Ethiopia's agriculture and food economy, accounting for about three-quarters of total area cultivated.

Sometimes despite the fact that regular annual rain fall keeps its natural cycling, it may not be sufficient to harvest surplus seed crops. At the opposite end, too much rain during early stages of the crops growth may impair agricultural production, especially where flooding is severe enough to kill crops by uprooting or submergence. Flooding can be devastating even after harvest when it occurs before crops have been safely stored as it leaves crops vulnerable to rot. Not only that, pests, swarm of birds, and the likes is another enemy for farmers severely affecting harvest. Some of the disasters are, however, beyond human control while others could be tackled through early warning systems.

Daniel Dentamo is Senior Public Relations Officer with the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA). He says in most parts of the country the Meher season was suitable for harvests and no report of threat has been reported so far. He has also indicated that during during the Meher season twelve million hectares of land has been covered with food crops. "Government has provided various supports to farmers including supplying of select seed, fertilizers, liming acidic soils and training small holder farmers," he added. This year's harvest is, therefore, expected to smash last year's same harvesting period by a significant amount, but still Central Statistics Agency (CSA) has not yet made the correct estimations in figures, says Daniel. According to the MoA, thereabout two hundred million quintals of various crops were harvested in the previous Meher season, in 2010/11. He also took the opportunity to call upon the pertinent bodies to work hand-in-glove with smallholder farmers to successfully harvest the crops, crash and store in a safe manner.

As technological facilities are costly and rare for smallholder farmers most of the processes, from cultivating of lands to transporting crop seeds, are carried out traditionally. Hence, supporting farmers during harvesting, crashing and transporting of crops with technological equipment would increase the quality and quantity of crops produced.

Kassa Fekadu, a Long Range Weather Forecast Case Team Head with (NMAE), explains that the prevailing weather conditions for the Northern and Central parts of the country would not be a threat for harvesting of crops. "The little rainfall witnessed in the northern half , and central parts of the country at the end of October may not be important for most of the places where the crops are ready for harvesting, but the rainfall would not continue and has no potential to harm crops." He added.

Kassa further said that farmers should also employ their long held experiences in case sudden unfavorable weather change breaks, and NMAE will also forecast and inform both short and long term weather changes to the public continuously.

Daniel for his part added that farmers can also team up and facilitate their tasks with better efficiency as had been witnessed in the recent past cultivation period in most parts of the country. More importantly, the produce need to be stored in a safe place, to protect post harvest losses. Available data put that post harvest losses between fifteen and twenty percent annually.

According to the five year's GTP, product and productivity is planned to surge significantly, from seventeen quintals in 2010 to twenty two quintals per hectare by 2015. And this can be attained with continued supports, both from agricultural and meteorological experts as well as other stakeholders. The scientific agricultural practices that are said to have been given during Meher season should continue with equal magnitude and acceleration during the harvesting period too.

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