Reclaiming soil lost to acidification: Lessons from Awi


–  Plots of voluntary farmers have significantly recovered from acidity and become more productive thanks to lime treatment


Awi Zone of the Amhara State, located about 450 kilometers South West of the capital, is one of the areas in Ethiopia that receive heavy rainfall every rainy season of the year. As a result of the leaching of vital minerals such as calcium, potassium and sodium from the soil, soil acidic content has risen in most of the farmlands that farmers in the area are reporting decline in crop yield. This phenomenon has attracted the attention of experts at Pawe Agricultural Research Centre, one of the 16 research centres operating under the auspices of the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR. Since 2002 E.C, the research centre located at 120 kilometers distance in the neighbouring Benshangul Gumuz State, has been undertaking various activities to introduce new technology that could solve the problem and help reclaim the productivity of the soil.

Accordingly the effort made to decrease the acidic content of the soil by treating the acidic soil with lime has brought dramatic changes in the productivity of soils in Guagsa Shikudad, Fagita Likuma,and Banja woredas of Awi Zone; and Wombera Woreda of Metekel Zone in Benshalgul Gumuz State.

Tesfaye Birega, who works at the centre as soil and water researcher, says an increase in nutrients that hamper the growth of crops and a decrease in nutrients that are vital for their growth makes the soil acidic and to be rarely used for farming. The main cause for this to happen in areas like Awi Zone is heavy rain, which erodes nutrients that are important for productivity of the soil. What is more, artificial (man-made) fertilizers could also increase acidity of the soil. According to Tesfaye, some plant species, which could highly utilize important nutrients in the soil, could also contribute their share in the acidification of the soil. Acidification significantly hampers the growth of crops as it vital nutrients for the plants will be deficient in the soil, Tesfaye explains.

To stave off the effect of soil acidification, the research centre has introduced a treatment mechanism by applying lime on the plots of volunteer farmers. After receiving training on the treatment procedures and related matters farmers begun lime-treating their plots which were affected by soil acidification problem. The farmers, who at first, had been doubtful of the lime’s role in improving their plots productivity, were dumb-founded later when they witnessed the astonishing results it brought.

Tesfu Woleli, 40, lives in Ashfa Kebele of Guagsa Shikudad Woreda. He told this reporter during a visit to his lime treated plot that the soil had been almost unproductive and he hopelessly had left it idle for years before he started to use the lime treatment method. “I am very happy to see this wheat growing on my plot once again. I can now produce up to 20 quintals of wheat on one-fourth of a hectare. This is really incredible,” said Tesfu happily. He urged other farmers in the village, who were invited to visit his plot, to use the technology and regain productivity of their plots like he did. Tesfu, who thanked the research centre for helping him and other farmers regain their plots, also explained to them how he prepared his plot for production by treating it via lime in accordance with lesson he obtained from the training he attended previously.

Adane Melaku, director of Pawe Agricultural Research Centre, said the centre is making relentless effort to minimize the acid in the soils of Awi and Metekel zones and increase the productivity of farmers’ plots. Acidity is a common challenge in north western parts of Ethiopia, but it is possible to make acidic plots productive by treating them with lime, he indicated. Adane noted that the center is working with 64 farmers to expand this technology both in Awi and Melekel zones. Plot which were almost unproductive have now increased their productivity up to 70 per cent thanks to the new technology from the centre. Natural fertilizers like compost, cow dung, and ash from fuel wood could also help foster productivity of highly acidic soils, he explained.

Adane urged the offices of agriculture in both zone to take over the effective pilot project and expand the technology to more farmers in different areas. He also underscored the role that could be played by non governmental organizations in helping the farmers utilize the technology. He also advised the farmers to tend to the production of crops like teff, ground nut, cassava, coffee, soya bean and other which are relatively known for withstanding the effect of acidity in the soil. The topography of the farm, level of fertility of the soil, and area of the plot is taken into consideration in testing the soil at the laboratory of the centre to suggest the amount of lime to be used. The farmers are told to use the lime, equally in each part of the plot,a month before sowing the seeds on properly plowed and prepared soil.

Dereje Tilaye, Head of the Woreda Agriculture Office, on his part indicated that the farmers did not have any option but to leave their plots barren due to its decline in productivity. He noted that his office has prepared a separate plot to showcase treatment of acidic soils with lime and expand the technology to more farmers in the woreda. According to him, more than 2,000 hectares of land in the Woreda has been affected by high acidic contents. However, following treatments made using lime has crop yield has increased to up to 20 quintals per hectare, and the Office is now planning to increase this amount to 40 quintals by next year, he noted.

Dereje, who lauded the research centre for its problem-solving interventions, also indicated that non-governmental organizations have played their part by supplying lime to the farmers. He, however, said a lot remains to break the resistance of other farmers from using the technology by clearly showing the difference on plots of voluntary farmers.

Fagita Likuma Woreda, where the soil researchers indicated that the level of soil acidity is relatively higher, is the other area in Awi Zone the research centre’s intervention has shown significant outcomes on plots of groups of voluntary farmers. Tebikew Hunegnaw, who lives in the woreda regrets of the lost years when he did nothing but continue farming while crop yield was still declining. “Previously I used to harvest low yield. Even after I had heard about the issue of using lime, I was suspicious that it may damage the already poor soil. But now I have witnessed the dramatic change it brought on this plot. I am eagerly waiting for the coming years obtain bumper produce,” he said. He thanked the research centre which made that happen and urged for more technologies that can further bring further productivity on their farms.

In a nutshell, the technology introduced by the research centre has brought dramatic changes in improving acidic soils which were almost useless during the last years.

The Woreda Agriculture Office is still expected to make relentless efforts to expand lessons learned the pilot plots to other more farmers. In the broader context Pawe Agricultural Research Centre has done a commendable intervention that can potentially be a solution to the common problem faced by hundreds of thousands of farmers elsewhere in the country. Currently the Centre is undertaking about 30 researches in Awi Zone targeting at boosting crop productivity. The use of lime to treat acidity of the soil has so far attracted the interest of 91 farmers and is expected to be expanded to other more famers within a short span of time.



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