Ethiopia’s agricultural sector plays a vital role in its economy, employing a significant portion of the population and contributing to both food security and export revenues.
In a society where agriculture is the primary source of employment, it offers food security, industry inputs, job opportunities, and other advantages. Ethiopia’s diverse climate, unique topography, and rich soils enable a wide range of agricultural pursuits.
Ethiopia’s agricultural industry consists of both commercial and subsistence farming, with an emphasis on cash crops, livestock production, agro-forestry, and staple crops. Both modern methods and technologies and age-old practices that have been passed down through the generations have an impact on the agricultural practices of the country. However, the fact that acidic soils are common in many areas is an obstacle for Ethiopian farmers.
The acidic soils in Ethiopia are most commonly found in highland areas, including parts of the Rift Valley, the central and northern highlands, and some regions in the southwest. These acidic soils pose significant challenges to agricultural productivity and can have detrimental effects on crop growth and nutrient availability.
The nation has roughly 16 million arable lands, of which seven million–three of which are affected by acidity–according to research data. 7 million are classified as highly acidic.
Ethiopia’s agriculture industry faces a variety of difficulties, such as restricted access to modern technology, poor infrastructure, uneven weather, degraded soil, and disease and pest infestations. Smallholder farmers also frequently lack access to agricultural extension services, loans, and market knowledge.
Acidic soils hurt plant health and crop production, which can be rather detrimental to agricultural productivity. Ethiopian farmers, who depend on agriculture for their livelihoods and food security, face a great challenge as a result of this. Moreover, increased soil erosion, water pollution, and biodiversity loss are only a few of the long-term effects of acidifying soils on the environment.
Nine million quintals of lime are to be distributed to various regional states of the country to address the issue of soil acidity and to maintain the value of soil health, Lire Abiyu, the leading executive of soil resources development in the Ministry of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Development Sector, told The Ethiopian Herald.
He remarked that a significant quantity of nine million quintals of lime will be needed to treat the targeted 300,000 hectares in the fiscal year; the allocation has been accurately planned to supply the specific needs across the nation. He also revealed that the distribution of lime would commence in the third quarter of the fiscal year.
He mentioned that an average of thirty quintals of lime is necessary to treat one hectare of land. He further stated that the fiscal year’s budget for acidic land treatment has been set at a staggering more than eight point five billion birr, signifying the government’s commitment to addressing this pressing agricultural concern.
The regional states of Oromia, Amhara, Sidama, Central Ethiopia, Southwest Ethiopia, South Ethiopia, and Benshangulgumz will receive their respective allocations based on the number of hectares requested for treatment, he added.
Acidic soil is characterized by a low pH level, typically below 7, indicating an excess of hydrogen ions. The weathering of volcanic rocks, the presence of acidic parent materials, and the leaching of basic nutrients as a result of heavy rainfall are the main natural causes of soil acidification in Ethiopia. Human activities such as improper land management practices, deforestation, and excessive use of chemical fertilizers can also contribute to the acidification process.
On the other hand, the major consequences of acidic soils are the reduced availability of essential nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Acidic conditions can lead to increased leaching of these nutrients, making them less accessible to plants. Additionally, the high concentrations of aluminum and manganese in acidic soils can become toxic to plants, inhibiting root development and nutrient uptake.
According to him, the Ministry of Agriculture’s comprehensive plan to distribute lime to the various regional states of the nation is an essential step towards improving agricultural yields and restoring soil health.
He mentioned that of the 3.7 million hectares severely affected by acidity, 105,000 hectares had already been treated in the previous year, representing a significant milestone in the ongoing efforts to combat soil degradation, but this is not sufficient for the sector.
To address these challenges and promote agricultural development, the Ethiopian government has implemented various initiatives and policies. These include investments in irrigation systems, infrastructure development, research and development, extension services, and market linkages. Efforts are also being made to promote sustainable agricultural practices, enhance productivity, and increase value addition along the agricultural value chain.
He also emphasized that to ensure the production of high-quality lime and tackle potential transportation challenges and other issues, collaboration with relevant stakeholders, both within the government and the private sector, is underway to guarantee the smooth production, delivery, and application of lime throughout the regions.
Furthermore, Ethiopia has placed a strong emphasis on climate-smart agriculture and sustainable land management practices to mitigate the effects of climate change and preserve natural resources, such as through green legacy programs and other initiatives. This includes initiatives to improve water management, promote agro-forestry, and implement conservation agriculture techniques.
He urged those individuals to take collective responsibility and adopt sustainable soil management practices. In addition to lime treatment, he stressed the significance of utilizing natural fertilizers and cultivating resistant crop varieties to preserve soil fertility and mitigate the negative impacts of poor management and environmental disasters.
Through the use of organic matter to improve soil structure and nutrient retention, and additionally, adopting conservation practices such as terracing, contour plowing, and agro-forestry can help reduce soil erosion and maintain soil fertility.
Ethiopian farmers may mitigate the effects of acidic soils and increase crop yields by encouraging farming skills, suitable soil management measures, and sustainable farming methods, which will support food security and economic prosperity.
Ethiopia can advance and upgrade its agricultural techniques in addition to this. Ethiopia can fully utilize its agricultural industry to boost livelihoods and stimulate economic growth by tackling obstacles, encouraging sustainable practices, and investing in infrastructure and technology.
BY FIKADU BELAY
THE ETHIOPIAN HERALD TUESDAY 7 NOVEMBER 2023