Ethiopian Highlands


Promoting food security, nutrition and income diversification of rural farm households are major priorities for the Government of Ethiopia (GoE) as they move to implement its second Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP II) with the support of development partners. During its first phase, the Africa RISING in the Ethiopian Highlands project implementing a set of exploratory and action research activities directed towards national and project priorities. It also started scaling several sustainable intensification (SI) options contributing to the program’s overarching goal.

These options cover a range of thematic areas (feed and forages, field and high value crops, land and water management, systems intensification, enabling environments), all of which contribute to sustaining the livelihoods of rural households in the Ethiopian Highlands.

Although it aims to catalyze significant impact at scale, the second phase of Africa RISING in the Ethiopian Highlands is an action research project and will continue to champion development options that have a solid grounding in high-quality research evidence.

The project’s actions to scale-up successful agricultural intensification practices will be screened for positive impacts on health and nutrition as well as inclusive gender roles and gender equity aiming to enhance women’s access to and control over productive outputs, income and assets.

Characteristics and challenges of the Ethiopian highlands farming systems

Ethiopia has an extremely diverse topography, climate, culture, population distribution and market access. The country is administratively divided into nine regions. Of the nine regions, Africa RISING has been operating in the highlands of four (Amhara, Tigray, Oromia and Southern National Nationalities People (SNNP) regions). The total population in Ethiopia is estimated to be more than 94 million, of which the four big regions constitute over 80%. Seventy per cent of the population is engaged in agriculture.

According to Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) (2000), Ethiopia has 18 major agro-ecological zones (AEZs) and 49 AEZs sub-zones. The AEZs classification is based on the basic ecological elements of climate, physiography, soils, and vegetation and farming systems. The 18 major AEZs are delineated and named by terms describing the broad moisture and elevation conditions of areas. A total of 49 agro-ecological sub-zones are identified based on homogeneity in terms of climate, physiography, soils, vegetation, land use, farming system and animal production.

Ethiopia has 12 potential vegetation types. The types are desert and semi-desert scrubland, Acacia-Commiphora woodland and bushland, wooded grassland of the western Gambella region, Combretum-Terminalia woodland and wooded grassland, dry evergreen Afromontane forest and grassland complex, moist evergreen Afromontane forest, transitional rainforest, Ericaceous belt, Afroalpine belt, riverine vegetation, fresh-water lakes and salt lakes (Friis et al. 2010).

Temperature and rainfall are the most important climatic factors for agricultural production in Ethiopia. Altitude is a factor that determines the distribution of climatic factors and land suitability; this influences the crops to be grown, rate of crop growth, natural vegetation types and their species diversity. Temperatures range from the mean annual of 34.5° C in the Danakil Depression, while minimum temperatures fall below zero in the upper reaches of Mt Ras Degen (4,620 meters). Between these extremes are vast areas of plateaux and marginal slopes where mean annual temperatures are between 10° and 20° C.

Rainfall in Ethiopia is generally correlated with altitude. Middle and higher altitudes (above 1,500 meters) receive substantially greater falls than do the lowlands. Generally average annual rainfall of areas above 1,500 meters exceeds 900 mm. In the lowlands (below 1,500 meters) rainfall is erratic and averages below 600 mm. There is strong inter-annual variability of rainfall all over the country.

The dominant agricultural enterprises in all agro-ecological zones are small-scale subsistence farms in the highlands and livestock rearing in the lowlands. Ethiopia grows large varieties of crops which include cereals (teff, maize, wheat, barley, sorghum, millet, oats); pulses (horse beans, chick-peas, haricot beans, field peas, lentils, soybean, and vetch); oilseeds (linseed, niger seed, fenugreek, noug, rapeseed, sunflower, castor bean, groundnuts); stimulants (coffee, tea, chat, tobacco); fibers (cotton, sisal, flax.); fruits (banana, orange, grape, papaya, lemon, mandarin, apple, pineapple, mango, avocado); vegetables (onion, tomato, carrot, cabbage); root and tuber (potato, enset, sweet-potatoes, beets, yams) and sugarcane. It is estimated that 16.5 million hectares is under cultivation and grains are the most important field crop, occupying 86% of area planted and being the chief element in the diet of most Ethiopians. The principal grain crops are teff, wheat, barley, which are primarily cool-weather crops; and maize, sorghum, and millet which are warm weather grain crops.

Cereals, pulses, oilseeds, vegetables, root crops, fruit crops, stimulant crops and sugar cane are cultivated by farmers and other agricultural sectors in Ethiopia. According to CSA (2015) report, cereals, pulses and oil crops contributed 81%, 12% and 7% of the grain production in the 2014/2015 cropping season.

Ethiopia is believed to have the largest livestock population in Africa. The livestock sector is contributor to the economy of the country. Livestock products and by-products in the form of meat, milk, honey, eggs, cheese, and butter provide the needed animal protein that contribute to the improvement of the nutritional status of the population. Livestock also play an important role in providing export commodities—such as live animals, hides, and skins—to earn foreign exchanges for the country. On the other hand, draught animals provide power for the cultivation of the smallholdings and for crop threshing virtually all over the country and are also essential modes of transport for smallholder farmers. Livestock also provide a certain degree of security in times of crop failure, as they are a ‘near-cash’ capital stock. Furthermore, livestock provide farmyard manure that is commonly applied to improve soil fertility and also used as a source of energy. The four regions comprise 89% of the country’s cattle, small ruminants and equines population.

Project interventions

The main aim of the Ethiopian Highlands project is to identify and validate solutions to the problems experienced by small­holder crop-livestock farmers in the Highlands. Some of these problems arise from the difficulties that farmers face in managing the resources that they have and in capitalising on the efficiencies that managing crops and livestock together can introduce into a farming system. However, realising this potential is often influenced by other factors such as cost effective access to inputs and the reliability of markets for saleable produce.

To address these issues, Africa RISING takes an integrated approach to strengthen the farming systems of the Ethiopian highlands. It conducts participatory research that identifies technologies and man­agement practices that work for farmers whilst accounting for the wider contexts in which these must operate. These contexts include the nature and effectiveness of markets for inputs and outputs, of community and other institutions and of the policy environments that influence farm households.

Activities being implemented by partners this year

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