Ethiopia: Cultivating Rice in Arid Areas, Its Prospects

Studies indicate that rice is consumed by the half of the world population and it is also a staple food in the middle east and in Asia. In Ethiopia rice is not a widely cultivated crop but there are vast paddy fields which have the potential for cultivating rice. Rice has sufficient nutritional content and if the cultivation is expanded in various parts, it could play crucial role in easing food insecurity.

The Ethiopian Agricultural Research Institute can be said as a pioneer in experimenting rice cultivation in the Melka Werer Research Centre, Afar State. Currently, the institute, in collaboration with China Aid Technical Cooperation Programme of Senior Agricultural Expert Group, is working towards the wide cultivation of the crop.

Shiferaw Hassen is an agriculture expert working there. As to him, the Werer Agricultural Research Centre which has 250 hectares of land used for various experimental activities and the cultivation of rice, was began ten years ago. The objective of cultivating rice in that area is to transform pastorals into sedentary farmers in their respective land.

The availability of water tanks, the Awash River and sufficient arable land enabled them to change their way of life so far. It is proved that in that arid areas from 40 up to 45 quintals of rice could be produced per hectare and most farmers now cultivate rice. On a half hectare, a farmer can produce sufficient rice which covers his annual food consumption. The cultivation supports the struggle to attain food security and farmers could use the by-product of the rice for food stalk. The water being harvested from Awash River and utilized for irrigation reaches all farms. To enhance the endeavour the centre has continued its research work on rice and wheat.

The place is known for its vulnerability to drought. Expanding irrigation farm on small-scale farmers helps the development of climate resilient economy.

According to Shiferaw, the Werer Research Centre provides agricultural technology and selected seeds to farmers and dedicated farmers who where formerly pastoral but now that uplifted themselves to better income status and expanded their farm size and productivity.

Unlike the highland areas, the lowland part of the country is sparsely populated. Sufficient farmland, which can be irrigated, is available and people in that area should exploit such opportunity. Asked whether rice is prone to pest and herbs Shiferaw said that, the crop is not as such vulnerable because it grows in swampy areas. This situation prevents the occurrence of pests and herbs. If such a thing occurs, the water itself destroys the pest. Planting rice in row enhance productivity and such a technique is applied by farmers.

Similar to other crops, rice cultivation needs utilizing inputs such as fertilizer. The Werer farmers use 50 kilo urea and 50 kilo dap fertilizers per hectare. But the availability of sufficient water is a must. With regard to the support of the China Aid Technical Cooperation Programme of Senior Agricultural Group in enhancing rice cultivation Shiferaw said that, group members share their knowledge and experience and the irrigation technology introduced by the group brings water to the farm rapidly, economize the water usage and highly reduce silt accumulation in the canal. Previously, removing soil from the canal was burdensome and expensive. It was carried out at least for times in a year and the rent paid for the machinery incurs additional cost on the Worer Agricultural Research Centre. But now, due to the newly introduced technology, the money could be saved.

The Chines working culture also inspires local farmers to devote their time for their farming productivity. The Chines Rice Production Advisor Luo Xueyi, on his part, said that, they are trying to adopt the Chines way of cultivating rice and introduce seven types of seeds, brought from China, and which have the capacity to resist high temperature. After plantation, the seedling appears with in 26 days to be harvested with in 110 days, which is shorter than the conventional one. Before cultivating the rice, examining the soil type, temperature and water precedes.

Finally planting takes place. At each step of the cultivation, farmers get lessons and exposures. The farming methods applied there also benefits farmers and play key role in ensuring food security and poverty reduction. He further said that Ethiopia is located in tropical part of Africa with conducive climate for rice cultivation and the river basins such as Awash and others are very important for cultivating rice. At the same time it enables farmers to rise their skills in irrigation farming.

The Chines irrigation adviser Hu Huoijing on his part said that, the irrigation system he applied here is based on his experience brought from China. It is widely used for rice cultivation. Science has proved that water flows from the upper to the lower area .The same is true for irrigation. For the better utilization of water he redirect the water to flow towards the new direction and through the new line water could easily flows to the farm.

This way the rate of silt in to the canal is also reduced. Formerly, the water used to take 10 minutes to reach to the farm. But now it reaches with in one minute and the water management system is better than the previous one. As to him, building the canal with cement is preferable but currently the none availability of sufficient money inhibit them to do so. The Chines Senior Agricultural Group leader Liu Jianjun on his part said the agricultural endeavour supported by Chines expert is the fruit of the ever increasing bilateral relation between the sisterly countries — China and Ethiopia.

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