When is a weed not a weed?

5
Farmers weeding a faba bean plot in Bale Highlands, Ethiopia. Photo credit: Apollo Habtamu/ILRI.

Focusing research on farmers’ preferred practice has resulted in tripled faba bean yield.

Africa RISING researchers in the Ethiopian Highlands were intrigued to see that smallholders growing faba bean chose to weed only once in a season, even though they were aware that weeding twice gave consistently higher yields. So to find out why, in 2014 they carried out a study at two sites – Lemo woreda (Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Region – SNNPR) and Basona woreda (Amhara Region).

They found that farmers deliberately weed their faba bean fields much later than is recommended to allow volunteer ‘weeds’ like oats and Trifolium species – which give relatively nutritious fodder – to create an informal legume–forage intercrop in areas with limited grazing land. Because most smallholders have no other source of livestock feed in the growing season, giving up this forage resource would force them to sell their animals at lower prices.

This information led Africa RISING to successfully intensify faba bean-based systems in the Ethiopian Highlands. Researchers introduced competition-tolerant faba bean varieties alongside forage combinations that optimize producing grain for both human consumption and livestock feed.

These innovations have yielded impressive results. Intercropping the improved faba bean and an improved forage crop like oat (previously considered a weed) resulted in increased feed biomass, with a slight decrease in grain yield but overall increased total plot benefit. A farmer practising this intercrop makes approximately USD 2,750 per hectare from their plot, compared with USD 700 per hectare for traditional management (one late weeding) and USD 950 per hectare for improved management (two weedings).

Farmers in the Ethiopian Highlands are embracing this technology because it is based on their traditional practice, requires no extra weeding – and improves their livelihoods.

Partners: ICARDA; ILRI; Lemo woreda/District Extension; Southern Agricultural Research Institute

PARTNER SPOTLIGHT logoThis blog post is part of our Partner Spotlight on Africa RISING. The aim of the program is to transform agricultural systems through sustainable intensification of mixed crop livestock systems, a key pathway towards better food security, improved livelihoods and a healthy environment. The program comprises three regional research-for-development projects, led by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (in West Africa and East and Southern Africa) and the International Livestock Research Institute (in the Ethiopian Highlands). The International Food Policy Research Institute leads the program’s monitoring and evaluation project. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) supports the program as part of the U.S. government’s Feed the Future initiative.

GFAR Secretariat is turning the spotlight on the work and collective actions of Partners in GFAR who share in our mission to strengthen and transform agri-food research and innovation systems globally. Not a GFAR partner yet? Join now!

 


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