Changing the way that Ethiopia’s endemic cereal grain tef has been planted for centuries has the potential to boost productivity and production across the country.
Tef is an ancient grain, central to the Ethiopian diet and culture. Tef is also gluten free and high in iron and fiber, which in recent years has caused its demand to surge on the international market. However, until recently, tef was considered an “orphan” crop: one receiving no international attention regarding research on breeding, agronomic practices or other technologies applicable to smallholder farmers. As such, reliance solely on traditional cultivation methods has contributed to tef’s low productivity and quality. Furthermore, tef prices have significantly increased since 2008, creating hardships for many Ethiopian consumers and forcing them to transition their diets to other cereals.
Significant efforts have been made during the GTP I period to address tef related constraints across the value chain, but particularly in areas related to productivity. This work began with a diagnostic study conducted in 2011, followed by the development and release of a national tef value chain strategy-working document.
In parallel, an innovative productivity and agronomic practice-enhancing concept known as TIRR (Tef, Improved seed, Reduced seed rate, Row planting) was introduced in 2011. Historically, tef has been broadcast planted at a seeding rate of 30-50 kg per hectare using tradition varieties. This high rate is not only expensive for Ethiopia’s smallholders, but also produces weak stems as a result of overcrowding and competition for nutrients, sunlight and water.
In contrast, the TIRR package recommends reducing the seeding rate by 90% to use only 3-5 kg of improved varieties of tef seed per hectare, and planting the seeds in rows. Row planning of tef can more easily incorporate the intercropping of pulses, reduces the difficulty of manual weeding, and creates an easier mechanism for the application of yield enhancing organic and inorganic nutrients.
The TIRR package was initially piloted with just three farmers in 2011 and scaled-up gradually over the following years. A 2012 study measured the impact of the intervention, finding that farmers who employed the full package of recommendations achieved a 70% average grain yield increase compared to the national average. In 2013, the ATA’s own assessment of the TIRR package found that the package raised yields by 44% over the control group and 74% over the Central Statistical Agency’s (CSA) 2013 national average yield forecast.
Following these promising results, the package was further scaled up by the agricultural extension system and incorporated into an integrated set of tef interventions. A significant number of federal, regional, zonal and woreda DAs were trained in the TIRR package. In 2014 alone, 119 agricultural staff from across the country attended federal level trainings, which were then cascaded down to close to nearly 6 million tef growing farmers in the four-targeted regions.
In 2014/15, the combined intervention is estimated to have reached 2.2 million farmers (33% of tef growers in Ethiopia), covering an area of 1.1 million hectares (36% of land cultivated with tef). Although, an empirical study has not been undertaken, anecdotal evidence and a conservative extrapolation of the yield increases seen from surveyed farmers during the pilot of the TIRR package implies that the scale up of the TIRR intervention has made some contribution to the national increase in tef production and productivity of 38% and 21%, respectively, seen between 2010/11 and 2014/15.
In parallel with the rollout of the TIRR package, a tef/chickpea double cropping initiative has been supported by DAs, farmer trainings and radio campaigns. Two hundred Subject Matter Specialists within the extension system were trained on tef chickpea double cropping, while federal and regional level field days were conducted to verify and share best practices on the packages.
In addition to these production enhancing efforts, tef marketing activities have also been undertaken during the GTP I period to strengthen the downstream end of the value chain. In collaboration with the Food, Beverage and Pharmaceutical Industry Development Institute, the Oromia Cooperative Promotion Agency, the FCA, and Addis Ababa Cooperative Agency, a tef market facilitation training was provided to 71 key stakeholders. At the same time, an exemption to the prohibition of the exportation of tef flour was granted to a deliverable within the Transformation Agenda.