Sustainable land management (SLM) strategies can be integrated at the farm level by boosting organic matter in the soil, reducing erosion, enhancing soil water holding capacity, and restoring land productivity by means of affordable practices. The research team, together with communities, developed, tested, and demonstrated various SLM options, including high-yielding cereal and legume varieties, along with improved agronomic practices and soil fertility management technologies, tillage implements, and water harvesting. Crops new to the watershed community were introduced to diversify the agricultural system. Tree and shrub species adapted to degraded land were also identified and tested.
Selecting improved varieties and diversifying
Farmers in the Gumara-Maksegnit watershed still grow traditional, low yielding varieties of most crops. The project introduced farmers to improved varieties. This included crops not previously grown in the region (cabbage, swiss chard, and carrot). Farmers selected better varieties of bread wheat, barley, faba bean, chickpea, and lentil from demonstrations of improved varieties adapted to local conditions brought in by the project. As an example, farmers chose:
- 'Tay', 'Jiru', 'Alidoro' bread wheat varieties;
- 'Estayish', 'Misrach', 'Shediho' food barley varieties;
- 'Degaga', ‘Moti', 'Walkie' faba bean varieties; and
- 'Arerti' and 'Habru' chickpea varieties.
The improved varieties, such as 'Tay' bread wheat, 'Estayish' food barley and 'Degaga' faba bean varieties raised productivity by 27 to 56% compared to traditional varieties. A farmer-to-farmer seed exchange scheme facilitated dissemination and adoption of the improved varieties.
Improving agronomic practices
A combination of compost and chemical fertilizer further boosted yields while improving the chemical properties of the soil. As an example, by applying compost plus nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) to bread wheat, yields shot up by 522%. Splitting the application of nitrogen fertilizer to wheat – 1/3 at planting, 1/3 at tillering, and 1/3 at booting stage – produced significantly higher yields.
Improving land cultivation
Farmers also evaluated methods of cultivation, comparing the animal-drawn moldboard with the Gavin plow and no-till on two soil types and two crops. No-till proved the least demanding and most profitable, and is recommended for Vertisols. The method of cultivation made little difference to the soil moisture content, although with the no-till method, soil infiltration was lower.