News - October 29, 2015

Ethiopian farmer has neglected soil

Albert Sikkema

Soil fertility in Ethiopia is declining at an alarming rate because farmers there use too little manure and plant waste as fertilizer. They use the manure as fuel and plant waste as fodder. This finding comes from research by Abebe Nigussie published in Waste Management.

Nigussie, who works in the Soil Quality department, studied what Ethiopian farmers and market gardeners do with the waste flows on their farms and what effect that has on soil fertility. To find out, he interviewed 220 farmers and growers of ornamental plants. The farmers use as much as 80 percent of the manure on the farm as fuel and 85 percent of the plant waste as fodder. They also sell some of their waste matter. As a result no more than 10 percent of the manure and plant waste at the most is left over for soil improvement. The ornamental plant growers use about 40 percent of the waste matter to improve the soil. Even that is too little to maintain the – often minimal – soil fertility.

To ensure that more manure and plant waste is ploughed back into the soil in Ethiopia, sustainable alternatives are needed to using manure as fuel and plant waste as fodder. Solar panels could replace the manure as a source of energy, but alternative fodder is not available.

Another possibility would be to make use of urban waste. In cities now a lot of nutrients end up on the rubbish dump. The farmers should make more use of this waste to enrich the soil in the countryside, advises Nigussie.