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AFER+  Project

Agricultural Fertility and Environmental Resources ‘plus’

Ethiopia has a rapidly growing population resulting in an urgent need to improve the food production capacity of its millions of smallholder farms. At the same time, it is imperative that this increased productivity does not add further stress to the availability and usage of future natural resources. Inefficient use of nutrients, both organic and in the form of fertilizer, is one of the key constraints to sustainable intensification. Inefficiencies result from the limited availability of blended fertilizers and the absence of crop and soil specific nutrient recommendations.

The objective of the AFER+ project is to develop a prototype Decision Support Tool (DST) of relevance to smallholder farmers, for crop and soil specific nutrient advice, based on data that can easily (e.g. visually) be obtained in the field.

To deliver on this ambitious objective, AFER+ brings together and builds on a number of existing significant research initiatives and research institutes, specifically:

  1. The Tigray Agricultural Research Institute (TARI), which participates in the National Taskforce for development of Decision Support Tools for Appropriate Fertilizer Recommendation;
  2. Teagasc (the Irish Agriculture and Food Development Authority) which leads the EU Horizon 2020 project LANDMARK (Land Management: Assessment, Research, Knowledge base);
  3. GIZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit), which funds and operates the Integrated Soil Fertility Management programme in Ethiopia;
  4. Wageningen University and Research, which manages the CASCAPE project in Ethiopia.

This consortium brings together the expertise, data and financial resources of these institutes, thus leveraging the capacity of all partners involved.  AFER+ is structured as a cluster of three ‘nested’ PhD projects, in which three Ethiopian students work to address the same research question, but at a range of scales:

PhD 1 will aim to elucidate the plot-level processes that underlie differences between soils in their capacity to supply nutrients.

PhD 2 will build on this and develop a prototype decision support tool at farm scale.

PhD 3 will assess the prototype decision support tool within the framework of Functional Land Management at community level.

Outputs from this cluster will include:

- a prototype decision support system

- 3 x 4 = 12 peer reviewed papers

- 3 x 3 = 9 presentations at national and international conferences

- 3 PhD theses

By embedding the PhDs within the local research and development framework, the outcomes from AFER+ will include a Decision Support Tool for nutrient management that will be of direct benefit and relevance to smallholder farmers and the local fertilizer industry. Strategic outcomes include the strengthening of the local research capacity and the development of new meaningful partnerships between institutes with common interest.

The principal Teagasc staff member involved is Dr David Wall, Johnstown Castle.

The Chencha Potato Project

A collaborative project between Teagasc, Wageningen University and the Irish NGO Vita studying seed potato systems in the Chencha Wereda in Ethiopia is reaching its final stages.  Three local Ethiopian PhD students have worked at the crop, farm and community level to identify and solve constraints to production and develop further seed potato interventions.  At a recent workshop in Chencha, local farmers warmly welcomed presentations from the three students and described how the findings would help improve their on-farm practices. Improved potato disease control strategies, targeted extension packages tailored to farmers’ situations, soil fertility management and rotation recommendations are amongst the outputs that will improve livelihoods in the region.

Capacity Building

With the support of the Irish Aid Programme, Teagasc has commenced a programme of capacity building for staff of the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR). A number of EIAR staff members have spent time in Teagasc research centres learning new research techniques.