AgriFoSe2030 Change stories
Tigray government scales vermi-composting technology to boost agricultural productivity in times of conflict
Caption: Vermicompost preparation at a tree nursery site at Mekelle University. Photo: Dr. Kassa Teka
Agriculture forms the biggest component and bedrock of Ethiopia’s economic development. With 80% of Ethiopia’s 105 million people living in rural areas, the agriculture sector primarily consists of smallholder farmers who make their living from less than two hectares of land. Similar to the other countries in the Horn of Africa, millions of households in Ethiopia now face the effects of multiple concurrent shocks including aggravated food insecurity.
Impact of conflict on agriculture and farming
A new food security assessment, released in January this year by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), estimated that almost 40% of the population in Tigray region, Ethiopia, are suffering an extreme lack of food. This has been caused by 15 months of conflict between the Ethiopian National Defence Force (ENDF) and the Tigray Defence Force (TDF).
Access to basic needs and the capacity to sustain livelihoods in the medium to long term has dramatically reduced. Household food security is now extremely constrained, as food production has dropped considerably, and staple food prices remain above average. Households are increasingly having to practice food-consumption based coping strategies, such as reducing the number of daily meals, eating less preferred foods, limiting adult intake to prioritise children and livestock sales at much lower prices.
The conflict also led to disruption of the transport system, government-imposed bank shutdowns, store closures, and communication blackouts. In addition, limited flow of humanitarian and commercial goods has affected the movement of food, nutrition supplies, medicine and agricultural inputs such as chemical fertilisers to the region.
Turning to organic waste to boost agricultural productivity
About 422,880 m3 of solid waste is disposed every year in Mekelle City, Tigray’s province capital (Mekelle City Municipality, 2018). About 70 - 80% of the produced solid waste is organic. Organic farming systems with the aid of various nutrients of biological origin such as vermi-compost are thought to be the answer for the future of food safety and farm security. In the last few years, the use of earthworms as a composting technique known as vermi-compost has been strategically introduced to farmers in a few areas of the country.
It is with this in mind that Dr. Kassa Teka from Mekelle University, started a AgriFoSe2030 project in Tigray dubbed “Vermi-composting for increased agricultural productivity, women empowerment and environmental sanitation in northern Ethiopia” in 2019. The project’s main aim was scaling up the vermi-composting technology to the entire region to contribute for increased agricultural productivity.
The project involved four major activities: i) training of female headed households; ii) worm – culturing through establishement of centers; iii) experimentation (field trial) on major crops; iv) scaling up of project outcomes.
The project was implemented on 96 female headed households from three villages (Ruba-Feleg, Tahtay Adikisandid and Adiha) representing three major agro-ecologies (highland, midland and lowland) in the region.
Caption: During experience sharing workshop for scaling up of project outcomes. Photo: Dr. Kassa Teka
The outcomes of this project proved successful and have come in handy during the ongoing conflict. The local and regional Tigray governments started promoting and scaling up the vermi-compost technology to promote for self-reliance among farmers and boost overall agricultural productivity. During the project, crops such as barley, maize and teff increased its yields substantially compared to plots using chemical fertilisers.
Caption: Maize grown on vermi-compost treated plots (left) and chemical fertilizer treated plots (right). Photo: Dr. Kassa Teka
Recently Dr. Kassa Teka was requested by the Tigray government to establish vermi-culturing centres in the entire region, hold capacity building trainings for soil fertility experts and develop training manuals in both Tigrigna and Amharic languages.
The scaling up of this vermi-compost technology was made easier by Dr. Kassa Teka having involved both regional and local government officials from the beginning of the project in 2019. Every weekend, he trains farmers and the general public about vermi-composting at agricultural technology information sharing events organised by the Bureau of Agriculture and Rural Development in Mekelle.
Caption: Vermi-composting product display during agricultural technology information sharing event. Photo: Dr. Kassa Teka
‘I’m thrilled that the project’s success was evident enough to be adapted and scaled by the Tigray government as a solution towards achieving food and nutritional security in the region during this difficult time’, Dr. Kassa Teka speaking from a UN Centre in Mekelle where temporary internet is provided to researchers and students due to constant federal government-imposed internet shutdowns.
This article is written by Ng’endo Machua-Muniu together with challenge leader Madelene Ostwald and assistant challenge leader Linda Hansson. It was first published by SEI 2022.
Acting Communications Lead, C&E team
Stockholm Environment Institute
Telephone: +46 (0)70-316 80 30
Madelene Ostwald, Assoc. Prof.
Challenge leader of Challenge 2
Department of Thematic Studies/Environmental Change
Telephone: +46 708-51 93 11
Linda Hansson, MSc
Assistant Challenge leader of Challenge 2
Gothenburg Centre for Sustainable Development (GMV)
University of Gothenburg
Telephone:+46 (0)31-786 5536, +46 766-18 55 36