The contribution of farmers’ breeders in meeting food security: the case of sorghum (Sorghum bicolor (L.) Moench) in Ethiopia

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The contribution of farmers’ breeders in meeting food security: the case of sorghum (Sorghum bicolor (L.) Moench) in Ethiopia

F. Mekbib

Haramaya University, P.O.Box 138, Dire Dawa, Ethiopia. Norwegian address: Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences, P.O.Box 5502, N-1432, Aas, Norway; Current corresponding address: P.0.Box.: 485 code 1250, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. E-mail:

Key words: adoption, farmer breeding, farmers varieties, farmers preferences, formal breeding, ideotype, improved varieties, integrated breeding, multipurpose values.
Sorghum (Sorghum bicolor (L.) Moench) is the fifth most important cereal crop worldwide and it is the third most important crop in Ethiopia. The national average yield amounts 1302 kg/ha. In order to assess the achievement in farmer breeding various types of research were undertaken. These include survey research to quantify the trend in productivity, the level of and reasons for adoption of improved varieties, yield performance and preference evaluation of farmers’ varieties (FVs) and improved varieties (IVs). As per the trend analysis over the last four decades, total production and yield per hectare has increased by 11.63% and 14.2% respectively. However, area allocated to sorghum has decreased over years by -2.93%. The lack of consistent productivity is attributed to the fluctuation of environmental factors. Sorghum production in Ethiopia is predominantly based on varieties developed by farmers. The share of IVs is very low. FVs and IVs are adopted by 87.3% and 12.7% of the farmers respectively. Besides, the adoption of IVs is limited to the lowland crop ecology. The comparative yield of FVs is higher than IVs by 132%. On top of yield, farmers do prefer their varieties for other multipurpose values namely feed, fuel wood and construction material. FVs under production are identified in each wereda. Farmer breeding has been successful compared to four decades of formal breeding. On the other hand, both farmer and formal breeding are not without weaknesses; a comparative balance sheet is outlined for both. Ideotypes for the three major crop ecologies are suggested and integrated plant breeding is anticipated to develop the proposed ideotypes thereby increase sorghum productivity in the region.

Sorghum (Sorghum bicolor (L.) Moench) is the fifth most important cereal crop worldwide. In the year 2005, sorghum was grown worldwide on 43,727,353ha with an output of 58,884,425 metric tons (FAO, 2005). The productivity of sorghum varies across the different parts of the world. The world average yield being 1314 kg/ha, and yield of developed countries is 3056 kg/ha and that of developing countries is 1127 kg/ha. Despite the low productivity in the developing countries, they accounted 90% of the area and 77% of the total output produced (FAO, 2005). Ethiopian national average yield amounts to 1302 kg/ha (CSA, 2005). The low productivity of sorghum in the developing countries can be attributed to biophysical, socio-economic and policy related factors affecting directly and indirectly sorghum production. One reason could be the low level of sorghum research investment in human, financial and material resources development and low input production system.

The Ethiopian Sorghum Research was incepted in 1957 by Alemaya University, the then College of Agriculture with the subsequent initiation of Ethiopian Sorghum Improvement Program (ESIP) with the fund from International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Canada. As of then, sorghum breeding activities were done in the different ecological parts of the country by different national and international organizations. The collection, evaluation, characterisation and conservation were one of the primary activities. Closer to 8000 indigenous collections were made (PGRC/E, 1986). Various types of crossing programs were undertaken to solve sorghum production problems.

The formal breeding (FOB) have released over sixteen varieties since 1957. Of these, seven were from introduction and nine were from selections of landraces. Of the total released varieties five, four and seven were recommended for the highland, intermediate and lowland areas respectively (EARO, 2000). From the indigenous collection, nine varieties have been released. These include Alemaya 70, ETS 2752, Dedessa 1057, Asefaw white and Gambella 1107, Chirro, Alemaya 1 and 2. The level of adoption of improved varieties is not quantified. Even if there is no quantified data on impact of Improved Varieties (IVs), the majority of the farmers are growing Farmers’ Varieties (FVs) in the three sorghum ecologies (Mekbib and Farley, 2000). Notwithstanding this fact, formal breeding (FOB) is still continuing with the same objectives and strategy (EARO, 2000). Similaraly, farmers have been doing continuous selection and improvement of their varieties for years to meet their changing needs, climate and farming systems. As opposed to FOB, the varieties developed in the Farmer Breeding (FAB) have been well adopted by farmers and are being grown still.

In view of the gap mentioned above, it is indispensable to compare FAB and FOB, assess the achievements made in FAB and its impact on sorghum production in the region in particular and in Ethiopia in general and orientate FOB to meet diverse needs of the farmers and thus develop sustainable sorghum production systems.

Hence, the objectives of this study were to:

  1. Assess the trend in sorghum productivity in Ethiopia

  2. Compare farmers and improved varieties for yield and yield related traits

  3. Assess the level of adoption of improved and farmer varieties

  4. Identify the most important farmers varieties in each weredas for enhancement

  5. Develop a strategy to integrate FAB and FOB

Materials and methods
Study area selection.

Eastern Ethiopia (Fig 1) is selected for the following reasons: firstly, sorghum is the first food crop in the region, in area, production and importance; secondly, the sorghum production in the region is mainly dependent on the FVs and hence ideal sites for studying the impact of FAB; thirdly, the growing of sorghum in the diverse biophysical (Table 1) and socio-economic environments helps to tap the diverse indigenous technical knowledge (ITK) associated with the sorghum breeding. In the study area sorghum is planted on a total area of 188, 413 ha with a total production of 239,190 metric tons. The number of sorghum growing households were 635,342 (CSA, 2005).

Figure 1

Table 1

Crop acreage, yield and total production data.

Data on acreage, yield and total production of sorghum from 1961 up to 2002 was taken from the Central Statistical Authority of Ethiopia and FAOSTAT data base.

Field experiment for performance evaluation of IVs and FVs

FVs and IVs, total amount of 14, were evaluated in 5m x 3m plots in Randomised Complete Block Design (RCBD) with three replications in the year 2000 and 2001 on 11 sites. Inter-row and intra-row distance of 0.75m and 0.20m were used respectively. Recommended rate of fertilizer DAP and UREA at a rate of 100 kg/ha were applied. All other recommended crop protection and agronomic measures were applied whenever it was necessary. Harvesting was done after it reached physiological maturity. Grain yield was adjusted to 12.5% moisture content. Yield data was presented only for Alemaya for two years and two sites. Descriptions of sites are indicated in Table 2.

Table 2

Survey research

In order to assess achievements in FAB and FOB and to assess the reason and level of adoption for IVs various interviews were undertaken. These were focused group (based on gender and wealth) interviews with 360 farmers; key informant interviews with 60 elderly farmers and development agents; on farm monitoring and participation with 120 farmers. These were followed by semi-structured interviews with 250 farmers. All the aforementioned activities were organised and implemented in collaboration with respective farmers, Farmers’ Association and Bureaus of Agriculture in each sites.

Farmers’ preference evaluation

Farmers in each test sites were invited for evaluation around physiological maturity of the seven IVs and FVs. Both individual and group evaluations were made with a total of 168 farmers, of which 139 are men and 29 are women. Pairwise and direct matrix preference ranking were made for the genotypes in each sites. The average number of farmers for both preference ranking was 12. The participating farmers have been growing sorghum individually and they represent the farmers in each test sites.

Data analysis

Collected data was subjected for descriptive statistics, ANOVA, multiple regression, and log-linear regression analysis using STATISTICA, SPSS version 10 statistical and MINITAB Ver. 14 softwares.

Results and discussion
Revisiting four decades of FAB achievement: the contribution of FVs for national food security

Globally the assumption is that most traditional varieties or FVs are replaced by modern varieties in green revolution. These have happened for rice and wheat in Pakistan and India and for maize in Mexico as the performance of IVs were better than FVs. On the contrary, here in the study it is shown that FVs have resisted the defeat and are still under production as most of them are better than IVs. Why FVs are still under production? What are the weakness of IVs? How to enhance FVs for increased productivity?

The importance of sorghum FVs for meeting national food security has been very significant for over four decades. This is shown (Fig 2) by the trend in area and production of sorghum for the last 42 years, 1961-2002. In spite of some of the changes in area and production over the years, there has been a steady increase in the yield and production of sorghum.

As per the trend analysis over the last four decades, total production and yield per hectare has doubled. There was 11.63% increase in total production. The yield increased amounted to 14.2%. The highest yield which amounted 1600 kg/ha was recorded in the years 1979-1983 because of favourable climate. Besides, this was the time where there was villagisation (collective settlement and organization of farmers) program and a practise of using increased plant population and fertilizers. Since then there was no significant change in the trend of input utilization. However, the lowest yield was recorded in 1984-85, and this was the time where Ethiopia was hit by severe drought.

On the other hand, area allocated to sorghum has decreased over years. The percent decrease amounted to -2.93%. In the year 1993, the acerage and production of sorghum was the lowest sorghum owing to the cessation of Eritrea from Ethiopia.

Briefly, the last four decades assessment of productivity trend in sorghum has shown stable improvement. Most of the area allocated to sorghum is planted with sorghum varieties developed by farmers over years. The performances of these varieties are considerably good (See Table 2). This is enhanced by continuous farmer selection of varieties and adjustment of varietal portfolios per the prevalent and predicted environmental circumstances. The change in crop productivity is attributed to the fluctuations of crop and environmental management. The dominant environmental factors are annual precipitation, seasonal rainfall and soil water content at planting, and growing season evapo-transpiration. The crop management factors are crop stand, protection and fertilization. This was substantiated by the fact that crop acreage being similar the yield and total production increases in good years and decreases in bad years.

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