After seven years of collecting soil samples from 748 woredas and 62 confluence points in Ethiopia, the Ethiopian Soil Information System (EthioSIS) studies have confirmed that the country’s soils have varying levels of fertility status. According to the study, 96% of Ethiopian soils are either acidic or alkaline, and poor in macro and micronutrients like phosphorus, sulfur, zinc, boron, copper and iron.
In addition to indicating the absence of certain nutrients in certain types of soils, the EthioSIS findings have also helped reverse general misconceptions about Ethiopian soils. For instance, soils in some parts of the country were found to be deficient in potassium, contrary to previous generalization that all Ethiopian soils have abundant levels of this nutrient, and the half-century long exclusive Nitrogen- and Phosphorus-based fertilizer use in the country.
The ATA initiated the EthioSIS Project in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture to identify the fertility and nutrient status of Ethiopian soils and forward recommendations on appropriate fertilizers for each soil type down to woreda and kebele level. So far, the project has delivered soil fertility status and fertilizer type recommendation atlases to Tigray, Amhara, Oromia, SNNP, Gambella, Benishangul Gumuz and Harari regions as well as to the Dire Dire Dawa City Administration. Currently, the soil fertility analysis and mapping for Somali and Afar regions are underway.
“In principle, if soil nutrients are deficient, they have to be replenished,” Tegbaru Bellete, Project Team Leader of the EthioSIS project at ATA explains. “EthioSIS gives fertilizer type recommendation according to a particular soil type’s need, facilitating evidence-informed intensified farming towards improved crop production per unit area.”
The maps and atlases that are being produced and handed over by EthioSIS are a ‘living document’ and as such need to be regularly updated since soil nutrient levels can change depending on soil management and crop intensification. Periodic checks for deficiencies need to be made using measurement tools such as Boron.
Accurate and up-to-date information on soil fertility is key to developing appropriate policies on the preservation and rehabilitation of Ethiopia’s natural resources. With appropriate implementation of informed policies, Ethiopia’s smallholder farmers will be able to maximize production while at the same time mitigating soil nutrient depletion and environmental degradation.
The EthioSIS project aims to digitally map the soil nutrient status of all agricultural land in Ethiopia and establish a soil-test based information system to facilitate accurate decision-making on fertilizer use, and to provide evidence to address problematic soils. The EthioSIS recommendations have also signified the need for similar studies to generate crop-specific fertilizer recommendations.