Participatory research to aid food security and biodiversity in Eritrea

CARIAD, Bangor University’s Centre for Advanced Research in International Agricultural Development, is to begin a €520,000 (£453,000) 3 year EU-funded project to increase food security and the biodiversity of farms in drought-prone areas of Eritrea. CARIAD will work with local institutions and farmers to identify improved varieties of crops and better growing techniques, and to improve seed production and marketing. Eritrea is in one of the driest parts of Africa and is subject to frequent droughts. These are likely to worsen as climate change leads to more erratic rainfall.

Children is a sorghum field- a staple crop in east Africa.Children in a sorghum field- a staple crop in east Africa.CARIAD will work with the National Agricultural Research Institute, and the Hamelmalo Agricultural College, who are providing scientific inputs in Eritrea. The NGO Vision Eritrea, together with the Extension Department of the Ministry of Agriculture, will deliver the new varieties and techniques to several thousand farmers. Some training will be provided jointly with ICRISAT, the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi Arid Tropics.

Dr Philip Hollington, project leader for CARIAD, said: “This is an exciting opportunity to expand our work into another area of East Africa, and if we are as successful as we have been in other areas it will give a significant improvement to the lives of a large number of people”.

Dr Bhasker Raj from ICRISAT said: “This initiative will involve farmers in identifying, testing and evaluating improved cultivars and agronomic techniques for adaption to improve crop production and food security. ICRISAT is happy to be a partner in this novel project to enhance the livelihoods of Eritrean farmers”.
The new project will identify and multiply the varieties preferred by farmers of the key local crops; sorghum, pearl millet, and chickpea, as well as improved agronomic practices to make crop production more reliable or contribute to soil or water conservation. It will also provide training for farmers and staff of the Eritrean institutions in these techniques. An important activity will be to set up seed production groups of around 100 members, who will be trained not only in seed production but also in marketing and developing business plans, which CARIAD have found to be the most important contributor to the success of such schemes.
The project, funded from the EU’s External Cooperation Programme, will build on existing highly successful work by CARIAD in many countries in Asia and Africa. This involves farmers in dry areas working with CARIAD and local partners to identify new varieties that suit their particular needs for yield, flavour and time to maturity. These are then widely distributed, and community-based systems set up to provide enough good quality seed to farmers. Similarly, by working with farmers, CARIAD’s agronomists identify, test and promote low-risk, simple and cheap techniques that make cropping more reliable, and help conserve soil and water.

Such methods have already identified many farmer-preferred varieties of different crops, and produced over 200 tonnes of seed, in Ethiopia. In India and Nepal, DFID-funded studies have shown that varieties identified using these methods have been widely adopted, leading to substantial improvements in the food security of resource-poor farming families. They have also proved highly effective in maintaining or increasing on-farm biodiversity, as a wider range of crop varieties, each occupying specific niches in the cropping system, are grown.

Publication date: 9 November 2010