Scientific agriculture: The way forward to ensure food self-sufficiency

Written by Shushay adane

Agriculture is the art, science and industry of managing the growth of plants and animals for human use. It, in broad sense, encompasses cultivation and management of soil, growing and harvesting crops, breeding and raising livestock, dairyfarm and forestry. Experts in the sector refer to engineering and technology and biological and physical sciences as the underlying factors on which modern agriculture intensely depends on. Available sources in this regard indicate that irrigation, drainage and conservation—each of which is important in successful farming—are some of the fields requiring specialized knowledge of agricultural engineers. Other key point in this regard is the so called agricultural chemistry that deals with other vital farming concerns, such as the application of fertilizer, insecticides (pest control), and fungicides, soil makeup, analysis of agricultural products, and nutritional needs of farm animals. Plant breeding and genetics also contribute immeasurably to farm productivity. Genetics, moreover, makes a science of livestock breeding. Another aspect of soil chemistry is Hydroponics. This is a method of soilless gardening in which plants are grown in chemical nutrient solutions, and used as a means of increasing food production when a given nation’s population increases thereby making land resources scarce.

Ethiopia is one of the countries the engine of whose economies is agriculture. Having understood this reality, the country is working unwaveringly to transform the agriculture sector into a modern one by establishing independent agricultural research institutions at all levels. The government's agriculture development led industrialization strategy is a clear indicator of the extent of the government’s determination to transform the sector. Pertinent to this, the objective of the agriculture and rural development sector in the Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP) of Ethiopia clearly highlights the need to ensure food security and support the food industry through increasing crop production. According to the GTP, the increase in crop production can be realized by applying good agricultural practices and improving extension service utilization and agricultural inputs.

In this regard the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research is one of the institutes working to support the agriculture sector through disseminating improved technologies. The Institute has 14 Agricultural research Centers all over the country. Pawe Agricultural research Centre is one of these centres which are generating and disseminating new agricultural research outputs to farmers and non-farmer users in Metekel and Awi Zones of the Benishangul Gumuz and Amhara states respectively.

Generating and adapting of new crop seed varieties and new practices, multiplication of improved basic seed varieties, giving trainings to farmers and development agents and providing professional advices and possible solutions to agricultural problems of the respective districts are among the main tasks of the centre.

The centre is currently undertaking exemplary activities in its four main research processes namely crop, soil and water, livestock science, and forestry research processes.

The crop research process is organized under different research case teams-cereal research case team, pulses, oil and fiber research case team, and roots, vegetables and fruits research case team.

The crop research process takes the lion’s share of the research activities the Centre carries out. The cereal research case team carries out various researches mainly on crops which play decisive roles in the efforts to ensure food security like maize, rice, singer millet, sorghum and recently on wheat and teff. The crop research process has released various seed varieties that adapt to the surrounding ecology.

Seven maize, four rice, two singer millet and one sorghum seeds are some of the high yielding and disease resistant seed varieties the research process has so far released.

In the interim, the Pulses, Oil and Fiber Research Case Team identifies problems related to productivity of soybean, sesame, groundnut, haricot bean, bean, pea, sunflower, cotton, sisal among others. The crops on which the team is carrying out researches not only serve the industry sector as raw materials but also increase soil fertility. While the Case Team is coordinating research works on soybean at national level, it is also making farmers and other stakeholders beneficiaries of the research outputs such as improved seed varieties.

On the other hand, the Roots, Vegetables and Fruits Research Case Team is undertaking the pre-scaling up of two improved banana seeds by verifying their suitability to the ecology of Pawe and its environs.

In a potato and wheat seed selection event organized by Pawe Agricultural Research Centre in collaboration with Wombera Woreda Rural and Agricultural Development Office, Farmers’ Innovation Group (FIG) which was formed by the Centre, chose Gudene (potato variety) and Dende’a (wheat variety) which are now being scaled up for they have been found to be better in yield and disease resistance. Adane Melak, Director, Pawe Agricultural Research Centre, says the centre, in collaboration with other stakeholders, has been undertaking various tasks of introducing and pre-scaling up of new agricultural technologies for the last consecutive eight years to enable farmers gain access to new research outputs thereby bring meaningful changes in their lives. Some 80,000 farmers in Metekel Zone have become beneficiaries of these new agricultural research outputs released by the Centre.

Aba Welde-Selassie Zeru is both a farmer and a monk living in St. Marry Monastery, in Wombera woreda. He is one of the farmers whose farmlands were visited during the field visit. He told The Ethiopian Herald that he took a selected wheat seed variety called Dende’a and sowed it using both broadcast and row(line) sowing methods in accordance with what agricultural experts advised him to do. He weighed the differences from various perspectives. Aba Welde-Selassie told this reporter that the difference was quite noticeable; anyone can simply identify it. “To your surprise, crops sowed by row planting looked as if they were cut by a scissor that they grew and ripened equally with no difference in height and strength unlike those sowed by broadcast.” The farmer further noted, “Row planting makes it easier for us to weed our crops without having any fear of harming our crops. It also allows crops to effectively utilize fertilizer with no rival weeds nearby them. The other advantage is that the rows that are left free save nutrients for the next crop season. These all are the advantages of using selected seeds and row planting to mention a few,” he said.

From 1988 to 2012 Pawe agricultural research centre has released 140 improved seed varieties from 10 basic seeds .