Ethiopia has about 78 million hectare of arable land. However, only 13 million of it is currently under cultivation. Moreover, even the already existing husbandry is not that much productive due to various reasons including economic and awareness constraints of farmers in using modern technology and absence of proper land management system among others.
Although there are various measures that could be taken by the farmers and the experts, protecting soil fertility is the key one as it is the foundation to the growth of any plant. Improving the fertility of soil is a base to increase productivity and to get the expected benefit from the agricultural sector, said Prof. Fasil Kebede Ethiopian Soil Resource Institute Director General and Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resource (MoA) Minister Advisor.
There are about 18 soil types in the country. The ministry has been working to upgrade the fertility of nation's soil resource. More than 30 universities are working with the ministry through providing various researches and technologies.
The universities have significant roles in bringing new technology, increasing mechanisms with problem solving researches and advising farmers professionally, believed Assistant Prof. Wassie Haile Soil Expert at Hawassa University. As to him, his university is conducting various researches on soil types and recommends suitable fertilizers as a result. "It is also working to introduce new technologies to the farmers on soil protection mechanisms," he added.
Today various universities are teaching Geographic Information System, significant course in the study of soil fertility. And policy makers, experts and the public enterprises are jointly working in the area to introduce new soil fertility management system. Previously, the country used to use only two kinds of fertilizers: DAP and urea. But now the options are increasing and the country is applying more than five types of fertilizers that have significantly increased productivity in response.
Here, the effort made by Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA) could be a case in point. The preliminary results of the spatial prediction of soil fertility research conducted by ATA showed that 29 percent of the Ethiopian crop lands are affected by acidity and significant amount of salt and the agency recommended the use of lime and gypsum.
Since 2012, the Agency has been implementing the Ethiopian Soil Information System (EthioSIS) aimed at establishing a complete, self-sustaining and government-managed soil information system. The system would help to develop soil fertility atlas over country's agricultural lands with recommendations of the specific fertilizers needed in each woreda. ATA has enabled the country to boost crop production and productivity through applying fertilizers to address balanced nutrition.
Due to the proper implementation of new fertilizers, the productivity of wheat, barley, teff and maize products increased on average by 29, 33, 21 and 15 quintals per hectare respectively, said Tegbaru Bellete, ATA Soil Resource Information System Project Leader. To date, four states' including Amhara, Harari, SNNP, Tigray and Dire Dawa administration's fertilizer recommendation atlases are completed. As to Tegbaru, the EthioSIS project is about to complete the other remaining states soil fertility and fertilizer recommendation atlases and key complementary capacity building activities so that it will be handed over to the Ethiopian Soil Resource Institute whose establishment was officially endorsed by the Council of Ministers in October 2017 to sustain the already started initiatives and to remove bottlenecks in the soil sub-sector.
In the other way, the country's fertilizer supply is increasing through time. This year, MoA has bought some15 million quintal fertilizer which has 4 million quintal increment than that of the 2016/7 budget year. However, still there are problems in the awareness of the farmers in using fertilizer. There are also problems related to the delay of transporting fertilizer from port to the country due to shortage of fertilizer discharge space on port. There is also mismatch between fertilizer demand and supply, Ministry Agricultural Input Supply Senior Expert Belete Berhane noted.
On the other hand, the fertilizer increment caused shortage of foreign loan. Therefore, the ministry is working with stakeholders to substitute import through planting fertilizer producing industries in the country. The ministry is working to install various gypsum grinder mills throughout the country. It is coordinating various institutions and non-governmental organizations to achieve the intended result. There is also an initiation to plant fertilizer producing factories in the country. Five fertilizer processing plants are working in providing various fertilizers to the farmer, said Prof. Fasil.
The overwhelming transformation in soil fertility protection could bring notable result in the sector. However, it needs extra effort among stakeholders to be implemented across the country. Therefore, each recommendable soil fertility mechanism and technology should be released to the farmer. This would bring notable change and enable the farmer to increase production, productivity in response.