Preaching the Conservation Agriculture “Gospel”

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Tesfaye and Mogise Bukulo use conservation agriculture techniques to grow more and better food for themselves.

In Ethiopia’s Kindo Koysha District of Ethiopia, staff at the Terepeza Development Association (TDA) are preaching the gospel—the gospel of conservation agriculture.

The TDA, which is supported by Canadian Foodgrains Bank through its member World Relief Canada (WRC), is sending out evangelists—they call them “animators”—and gaining converts to the new way of farming in the dry and hilly area about 360 kilometres southwest of the capital of Addis Ababa.

“Where you have lots of soil erosion, conservation agriculture is the only way,” says Bereket Tassew, director of TDA.

“Where the land is deteriorated, it is the only way to grow good crops.”

In 2012, TDA, the relief and development arm of the Wolaita Kale Heywet evangelical church, signed on with the Foodgrains Bank and the WRC to help poor farmers improve their yields and soil through conservation agriculture, a minimum tillage method that utilizes mulch to protect the soil from erosion, preserve moisture, increase soil fertility and control weeds.

That first year, 20 farmers agreed to give it a try. It was a big risk; Ethiopians have been using the traditional method of tilling the land for centuries. If it didn’t work, people would have less to eat.

But the results were good—as TDA staff knew it would be. By the end of the crop season, 130 other farmers had been converted to the new way of farming. Today over 1,500 are participating; the TDA is hoping to reach 8,500 by 2020.

One of those converts is Tesfaye Bukulo.

In 2015, the father of five decided to give conservation agriculture a try. After receiving training and planting his first conservation agriculture crop, he saw positive results: Where he once got almost no crops, because of the drought, he grew over 200 kilograms of maize.

“It also reduced erosion during rain and due to wind,” he says. “The soil is much better now.”

It’s also less work. Since the mulch cover inhibits weeds, his family doesn’t have to do as much weeding—something that makes his children happy.

And since he doesn’t plough his field, he doesn’t need to ask neighbours to come and help, as he has traditionally done—which makes his wife, Mogise, happy since she doesn’t have to prepare food for field days anymore.

There were critics, he says—non-believers who said it wouldn’t work.

“There were some who tried to discourage me,” says Tesfaye. “But when they saw the results, they were convinced.”

Today some of those critics, including agriculture professors and officials with the government’s ministry of agriculture, are coming around.

“We bring them out to meet the farmers and see the results,” says Alemayehu Koysha, who does monitoring and evaluation with TDA. “Now the teachers have become the students.”

Now Tesfaye shares the conservation gospel with other farmers; he’s become an advisor and coach to 20 of his neighbours.

This includes Tadimes Zemedkun, who has become what’s called a “copy farmer”—when he saw the results Tesfaye got, he decided to try it himself.

“I was convinced by what I saw from on his field,” says the father of six of his first attempt at conservation agriculture.

“I am expecting good results.”

“Conservation agriculture is changing lives,” says Tassew. “Through it, farmers have hope. The drought conditions have been very bad recently, but through conservation agriculture they can still grow enough food for their families.”