Farmer-led Agroforestry Innovation in Ethiopia: Improving livelihoods and food security by utilising Acacia saligna
Duration: February 2016 – February 2019. This project has been finalized.
Aim: Integrated Agroforestry Systems (IAFS) can contribute immensely to food security in Ethiopia. Yet the potential for IAFS remains unrealized, whilst agricultural productivity becomes increasingly precarious from over-clearing, overgrazing, variable rainfall and landscape degradation. Recent research in northern Ethiopia identified Acacia saligna as a candidate to increase local IAFS productivity. In addition to its landscape restoration qualities, Acacia saligna is a unique multipurpose treecrop.
This project aims to better incorporate Acacia saligna into IAFS to significantly enhance the income and food security of Ethiopian farmers.
Objective: General objective is to improve livelihoods and food security in Ethiopia by utilising Acacia saligna through farmer-led agroforestry innovation.
Method: Through action-oriented research, key community stakeholders will identify barriers to actualizing Acacia saligna benefits; informing extension and value-chains. Researchers and students will work with farmer-led research groups, utilising existing stands to identify optimal Acacia saligna provenances, management regimes and feed formulations.
Dutch policy goal: Increased sustainable agricultural production.
Year 1: The Acacia Innovation project has completed the first year of implementation. A key part of the project is exploring how to integrate Acacia saligna into existing farming systems in the semi-arid parts of northern Ethiopia. The project’s implementing partner, the Tigray Agricultural Research Institute (TARI), has formed “Farmer Research & Extension Groups” (FREGs) composed of lead farmers in the three target districts. Farmers are now conducting on-farm trials to determine how to optimally prune their trees in order to maximize coppicing and fodder production. Awareness-raising activities have been conducted and measurements were taken from these on-farm trials as per agreed protocols. The coppicing ability of trees after pruning in May 2016 compared with pruning in January 2017 is being examined to gauge seasonal variation on pruning response. Field days, experience sharing among FREG groups, and joint field assessments on the use of Acacia saligna as firewood, animal feed and as a restoration or conservation species are positively shifting farmers’ perceptions. The Mariamagamate project site in Saise Tsaeda Emba district would be suitable as a model site for ongoing experience sharing and farmer field days. Farmer-led selection of the new ecotype is proving to enhance the capacity of farmer groups, and will contribute towards the development of best-bet provenances for their local context.
A 3-year integrated-cropping trial conducted by TARI was concluded in September 2016; results suggest that Acacia saligna trees planted on crop borders do not impede grain yield of wheat, challenging the perceptions of local farmers and offering a complimentary fodder-producing system for livestock.
Two MSc students have now been recruited by the project through Mekelle University to contribute further evidence on how to utilise Acacia saligna. The students will commence their research projects in June 2017 to examine (1) the nutritive value of diets based on Acacia saligna seeds for chicken-raising; and (2) how to best integrate A. saligna into existing farming systems. A BSc student at Wageningen University is concluding a literature review on the benefits and uses of A. saligna. Growth of A. saligna in areas set aside for restoration (exclosures) is now being monitored to determine if selective harvesting may be feasible in mature areas as a way to benefit the livelihood of farmers.
The project’s Launch Workshop in May 2016 led to the formation of a multi-stakeholder platform made up of Consortium partners, government stakeholders at the local and regional level, private sector, and farmer beneficiaries. The platform continues to engage with the research-extension activities with indications suggesting that there is now a broad consensus on the multiple uses of Acacia saligna for local communities in the dryland areas of Tigray, ensuring the research agenda will contribute relevant and significant results during the project life.
Year 2: The research team launched the project in a workshop for approximately 50 people from 15 organisations, members of the R&D consortium, district and regional Government offices, various NGO’s, local businesses and farmers. At this workshop, leading farmers made clear that farmers are allready familiar with the Acacia salingna tree, but that they want to know more about its uses.
The participants also defined research questions. First is how do farmers best access the food security and livelihood benefits of Acacia saligna. Second, can selection of Acacia saligna lead to more productive and market-oriented agroforestry systems for smallholder farmer.
Third, what are the optimal management requirements for Acacia saligna within four agroforestry systems. And fourth, what are the optimal feed formulations supplemented with Acacia saligna dried leaves or seeds for small ruminants and poultry.
Summary of the results: Land degradation in Ethiopia is driven by population pressures and the loss of vegetation through clearing, cutting or overgrazing. This situation is evident in the drylands of northern Ethiopia where the problems are exacerbated by increasingly erratic rainfall.
Research funded through NWO-WOTRO supports the view that Acacia saligna is a valuable multipurpose tree for northern Ethiopia that mitigates land degradation and contributes to smallholders’ livelihoods. A world-first provenance resource stand for Acacia saligna was established to select pole and multipurpose eco-types, which are now being multiplied through mother tree nurseries.
Acacia saligna can integrate into existing farming systems, while farmers with limited land can incorporate the trees as farm or plot borders, homestead shrubs or woodlots. Acacia saligna supports rehabilitation, growing in degraded slopes and increasing populations of native herbs, grasses and shrubs. Managed pruning of trees offers communities sustainable fuelwood and fodder. Wood quality is satisfactory for manufacture of medium-density particleboard, offering income-generation for smallholders. Seed meal can improve egg production of chickens. A slight loss of grain yield due to hedgerows of Acacia saligna is offset by additional browse for animals, allowing farmers to spread their risks in dry spells.
Regional government and private sector are now scaling-up the findings.