Restoring pH levels in Ethiopia’s soil, via lime applications to agricultural land, could enhance major crop productivity, provide billions of birr in income for smallholder farmers, and create employment opportunities for youth with a newly developed lime harvesting, distribution and marketing chain. International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), working with other local partners including Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR), Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA), and International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), have recently undertaken an agricultural household survey that explores the level of awareness of farmers on lime application as well as their current mitigation strategies in highly soil acidic areas. This work, along with other collaborators, serves as a foundation for addressing one major component of soil health in Ethiopia.
The household survey showed that significant farmer awareness as well as productivity effects of Ethiopia’s soil acidity problem. Surveying over 300 farmers, in selected areas of Amhara, Oromia, and Southern Nations and Nationalities, and People’s regions with high soil acidity, revealed that 68% of farmers had heard of soil acidity and 58% of these farmers believed they had problems on their own farmland. Different studies have reported that integrated soil management interventions including the application of lime enhanced crop yields. This household survey showed that only 20% of the sample farmers used lime and improved their yield gains by estimated 40%. The study further indicated that the disorganized and ad hoc liming technology promotion approaches have prevented smallholder farmers from fully benefiting from the research and technology transfer efforts. Lime related constraints identified by surveyed farmers include, among others, unavailability of lime, high transportation costs and low confidence in the technology.
Other countries, such as Brazil, have seen major production enhancements with acid soil reclamation and Ethiopia has begun to see the relative importance of this type of activity. Ethiopia’s Growth and Transformation Plan II has set ambitious acid soil reclamation targets for the next five years and IFPRI, together with its government partners, is developing quantitative methods of analysis for better understanding the effects of soil acidity on productivity at a local level for the entire country. This will help effectively target potential pilot projects. In addition, ideas are being developed that would help facilitate lime excavation, distribution networks, as well as business models for sustainable delivery systems.
According to the Ethiopian Soil Information System (EthioSIS), about 40% of the total land area and about 28% of agricultural land is estimated to be acidic (Figure 1). Significant yield reductions, and in more severe cases, even complete loss of production have been reported in several parts of the country. The impact of soil acidity on wheat production alone is estimated to cost the country over 9 billion Ethiopian Birr (ETB) per year (MoA/EIAR, 2014). Several researchers have undertaken significant multi-year studies that have varied both lime application as well as other inputs to measure the effects on productivity. Productivity improvements ranging from 50% to 100% in wheat, barley, teff, soybean and maize are reported under moderate to severe acid soil conditions.
James Warner is a Research Coordinator at IFPRI and Interim Head of IFPRI- Eastern & Southern Africa Office