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How Investment in Irrigation Is Paying Off for Ethiopia’s Economy

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After rapid economic growth averaging 10% every year between 2004 and 2014, Ethiopia has emerged as an engine of development in Africa.

And there are no signs that ambitions for further growth are fading. This is clear from the government’s blueprint to achieve middle-income status – or gross national income of at least US$1006 per capita – by 2025. This would see a rapid increase in per capita income in Ethiopia, which is currently US$783, according to the World Bank.

Ethiopia’s growth has been propelled by at least two factors: the prioritisation of agriculture as a key contributor to development and the fast-paced adoption of new technologies to boost the sector.

third of Ethiopia’s GDP is generated through agriculture, and more than 12 million households rely on small-scale farming for their livelihoods.

One of the drivers of growth in the agricultural sector has been the expansion of irrigation. The country has seen the fastest growth in irrigation of any African country. The area under irrigation increased by almost 52% between 2002 and 2014.

This was achieved by investing in the sector, and by harnessing technology to expand irrigation to farmers who traditionally relied on rainfall to water their crops. This boosted productivity and income for farmers by helping them extend the growing season and become more consistent in their production.

Meanwhile, only 6% of arable land is currently irrigated across the whole of Africa. This means that there’s huge potential to expand irrigation and unlock economic growth.

These factors are highlighted by a new report from the Malabo Montpellier Panel. The panel convenes experts in agriculture, ecology, nutrition and food security to guide policy choices by African governments. The aim is to help the continent accelerate progress towards food security and improved nutrition.

The panel’s latest report analyses progress – and highlights best practice – in irrigation in six countries. These include Kenya, Mali, Morocco, Niger and South Africa. Other African countries can draw lessons from the report’s insights.

Reasons for success

The report identified a number of common factors in countries where significant progress has been made to expand irrigation, including key policy and institutional innovations.

In the case of Ethiopia, one of the main reasons for its success is that agriculture and irrigation have been featured on the Ethiopian policy agenda since 1991. In addition, specialised institutions have been set up with clear commitments to maximise the benefits of water control and irrigation systems.

In addition, the government has invested in the sector and has plans to continue doing so. It aims to allocate US$15 billion to irrigation development by 2020.

The investment is expected to deliver a number of returns. These include:

  • more efficient use of fertilisers,
  • a reduction in the seasonal variability in productivity and
  • better yields from irrigated crops grown.

Another major area of development has been the collection of data. This is an invaluable asset that allows for careful monitoring and management of resources such as water, especially in times of drought.

In 2013, Ethiopia’s Agricultural Transformation Agency began mapping more than 32,400 sq kms to identify water resources, particularly shallow groundwater, with the potential for irrigation development.

The final results of this mapping in 89 districts revealed nearly 3 billion cubic metres of water at a depth of less than 30 meters. This could allow approximately 100,000 hectares of land to be brought under irrigation, benefiting 376,000 families.

Finally, Ethiopia has harnessed the value of a full range of irrigation technologies. These have ranged small-scale interventions to large infrastructure.

A joint project between the Ethiopian Bureau of Agriculture, local extension officers, and an NGO called Farm Africa, for example, helped women and young people adopt small-scale irrigation. This was part of an initiative to increase their incomes and improve their nutrition.

Overall, the project reached nearly 6,400 women and landless people. The irrigation project also benefited 700 farming families.

What other countries can do

In order to have food and income security and to attain broader development goals, countries need to make sure that all levels of government are engaged in planning and implementation. The private sector and farming communities also need to be involved to expand irrigation.

The experience of Ethiopia and other countries leading on irrigation can help other African governments develop country-specific strategies to effectively take irrigation to scale. The benefits of doing so, such as enhancing on-farm productivity and income, and improving resilience and livelihoods, are transformational.

The expansion in irrigated farming, coupled with reliable agricultural inputs and stable markets for the expected growth in farm products, has the potential to catapult Ethiopia to the forefront of African countries that have embraced agriculture as the engine of economic growth.

Agriculture

Uganda Sees 11% Growth In Sugar Output This Year

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Uganda expects sugar output to rise 11% this year as three mills under construction in the country’s northern and eastern regions come online, officials say.

“Production is currently at 450,000 metric tons. When three new factories that are under construction and development start producing, we will go up to a half a million metric tons,” Uganda’s Trade and Industry Minister Amelia Kyambadde says in an interview with FORBES AFRICA.

The East African country is only able to consume 360,000 tons per year, leaving a surplus for export in a region that’s grappling with deficits. Uganda exports sugar to the DRC, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan and Tanzania.

Underpinning the country’s sugar sector are millers, including Kakira Sugar Works, the largest producer. Sugar Corporation of Uganda Limited – Lugazi and Kinyara Sugar Works are the other largest players.

READ MORE | The Industrialists Who Have Tasted Sucrose And Success

While this growth in output is imperative, the government is keen to see diversification in production to include industrial sugar as the country seeks to save its foreign exchange, Kyambadde says. 

“I see a bright future,” she adds, “but producers also need to diversify and produce the finer sugar. All of them are producing the bigger crystals but finer sugar for production is what we would like them to start producing.

“At the moment, we are importing that finer sugar.

“So that has been our concern with them, that why don’t you diversify and start producing the sugar that’s ready for production,” she says.

But these efforts have largely been stalled by Uganda’s high power tariffs, according to Kyambadde.

“They (millers) say from this level, the ordinary sugar, they have to have another line that would make it finer. That means the consumption of power definitely is higher,” she says.

“So that is one of the challenges; that the costs of production are so high,” she said, adding that new power plants will reduce costs to an ideal five US cents/KW.

Uganda is also looking to establish new laws to govern the sugar sector but disagreements over exclusivity clauses relating to purchase of cane from farmers abound.

In March, President Yoweri Museveni declined to assent to the Sugar Act of 2016 that was passed by Parliament in November last year. His spokesman, Don Wanyama, says the president is concerned about the proximity of millers.

“It’s going to antagonize the old sugar players,” Wanyama says. “It’s (the act) not going to be assented to,” he says.

READ MORE | Ugandan Firm Uses Blockchain To Trace Coffee From Farms To Stores

“We hope this issue will be corrected now that the bill is being sent back to parliament,” says Jim Kabeho, the Chairman of Uganda Sugar Manufacturers Association, the largest industry lobby.

“Farming constitutes 60 percent of our costs; yet someone without a single tractor and using cheap old machinery just wants to come and buy from your farmers,” he said in a phone interview.

Kabeho, also a director at Kakira and a board member at regional business lobby, the East Africa Business Council, warns that Uganda has lessons to learn from Kenya which allowed “market distortions” in the name of allowing competition only to end up with less production and having to rely on imports.

Yet for Ibrahim Baliitamuto, a cane grower in the eastern district of Mayuge, all that matters is price stability.

 “It’s very easy to make a fortune from sugarcane if the prices offered by factories are not changed very often,” Baliitamuto says.

“You can’t tell me about growing maize (corn) when I have a choice of sugarcane.”

Kyambadde says in returning the law to parliament, the president was being mindful of the big players.

“He thinks that the output of the small players is negligible, but we are still discussing that,” she says.

-Joseph Burite

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Agriculture

Why Do Zebras Have Stripes? They Make Bad Landing Strips For Flies

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Scientists are providing new evidence to answer the longstanding question about why zebras have stripes. It appears stripes make terrible landing strips, bamboozling the fierce blood-sucking flies that try to feast on zebras and carry deadly diseases.

Researchers on Wednesday described experiments demonstrating that horse flies have a difficult time landing on zebras while easily landing on uniformly colored horses. In one experiment, the researchers put cloth coats bearing striped patterns on horses and observed that fewer flies landed on them than when the same horses wore single-color coats.

“We showed that horse flies approach zebras and uniformly colored horses at similar rates but that they fail to land on zebras – or striped horse coats – because they fail to decelerate properly, and so fly past them or literally bump into them and bounce off,” said behavioral ecologist Tim Caro of the University of California-Davis, lead author of the research published in the journal PLOS ONE.

READ MORE | The South African Horse Industry: A Potential Billion Rand Market

Close cousins to horses and donkeys, the world’s three zebra species, known for their black-and-white striped bodies, roam Africa’s savannas eating a variety of grasses. Their stripe patterns vary among individuals, with no two alike.

There had been four main hypotheses about the advantages zebras accrued by evolving stripes: camouflage to avoid large predators; a social function like individual recognition; thermoregulation, with stripes setting up convection currents along the animal’s back; and thwarting biting fly attacks.

“Only the last stands up to scrutiny,” Caro said. “Most biologists involved with research on mammal coloration accept that this is the reason that zebras have stripes.”

African horse flies carry diseases such as trypanosomiasis and African horse sickness that cause wasting and can be fatal.

Breeding high performance bugs for animal feed

The researchers videoed horse flies as they tried to prey on captive zebras and domestic horses at a livery in North Somerset, England. Stripes did not deter flies from a distance, as they circled horses and zebras at similar rates. But the flies managed to land on zebras less than a quarter as often.

University of Bristol biologist and study co-author Martin How said stripes may dazzle flies somehow once the insects venture close enough to see them with their low-resolution eyes.

“In addition to stripes that prevent controlled landings by horse flies, zebras are constantly swishing their tail and may run off if horse flies do land successfully, so they are also using behavioral means to prevent flies probing for blood,” Caro said. -Reuters

-Will Dunham

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Agriculture

Watch Your Step: Kenyan Herders Mark Out Disease-Free Grazing Routes

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The morning calm of Losirien valley was broken by a cow bell tinkling as Benjamin Kerei led his herd of about 50 animals down a parched trail alongside a dry riverbed in southwest Kenya.

On the 10-km (6-mile) journey to a nearby grazing ground, the 24-year-old was on the lookout for fresh wildlife tracks.

Like pastoralists all over the East African country, Kerei needs to keep his cattle away from wild animals to avoid exposing them to infectious diseases, some of which can be deadly to both livestock and humans.

With droughts and floods shrinking the amount of habitable land in Kenya, the search for enough food and water is driving people and wildlife deeper into each other’s territories.

As a result, cases of infectious diseases that are passed from animals to humans – called zoonotic diseases, or zoonoses – are on the rise, said Patrick Kimani, chief executive of the Kenya Livestock Producers Association.

In recent years, some herders have found a simple way of keeping their livestock and themselves healthy.

They search for grazing routes that are not used by wildlife, and mark them for others to follow.

In the southern part of Kenya’s Rift Valley, Kerei – who began using the method two years ago – said zoonotic diseases were very common but herders did not know how to treat them.

“This is why we choose to use safe grazing routes to reduce (the) chances of livestock coming into contact with sick wild animals,” he said.

WIDESPREAD CASES

In Kenya, there are at least 36 known zoonotic diseases, according to Samuel Kahariri, chairman of the Kenya Veterinary Association (KVA). The most serious include brucellosis, Rift Valley fever, rabies and anthrax.

Most of these diseases are widespread among pastoralist communities, Kahariri added.

Brucellosis, for example, is one of the most common zoonotic infections globally.

Mainly transmitted from cattle, sheep, goats, elk and deer, it can be passed to humans through the consumption of raw meat or unpasteurised milk, causing flu-like symptoms.

Sam Kariuki, director of the Centre for Microbiology Research at the Kenya Medical Research Institute, estimated that around 750 Kenyans contract brucellosis every year.

But spotty record-keeping makes it impossible to get an accurate picture of how zoonotic diseases spread, he noted.

The data does show that the number of brucellosis cases has increased in the past few years, said James Akoko, a researcher studying the disease at Maseno University in Kisumu County.

Akoko said the negative effects of climate change combined with a growing population meant there was more contact between humans, wild animals and livestock than ever before.

“People are encroaching into areas that were meant for wild animals, and that kind of contact can create opportunity for the diseases to spread across different hosts,” he said.

BRICK TOWERS

Pastoralists like Kerei are working hard to prevent that.

Once they identify routes that do not cross into wildlife territory, they mark them out with small brick towers.

Besides checking for tracks and faeces, they know the presence of big cats like lions and tick-eating birds indicate that grazing animals such as buffalo and deer have moved into an area, said Paul Gathitu, a Kenya Wildlife Service spokesman.

When that happens, the brick towers are dismantled, signaling to others that the route has become risky.

“It is a difficult task ensuring that our livestock do not share pasture or watering points with wildlife,” said Kerei. “But it is the only cheap and readily available measure we have.”

For now, the technique is used mainly by Maasai tribes in the Rift Valley and the Borana in northern Kenya, said Abdulaziz Jama of the Pastoralist Capacity Development Programme.

Anecdotal evidence from local elders confirms the technique works where there are no other options to fight diseases, he added.

“Use of safe grazing routes is one of the many (types of) indigenous knowledge that have been helping marginalized communities battle climate change and zoonotic diseases where the national government has failed,” he said.

REAL-TIME ALERTS?

The government is struggling to manage the spread of zoonotic diseases partly because of the difficulty it faces in tracking them as herders move from one location to another, said the KVA’s Kahariri.

The problem is exacerbated by poor road and communication networks in areas where pastoralists live, making it hard for them to share information with the government when a zoonotic disease appears, Kahariri added.

Ezekiel Kiamba, from Ildamat village in southeast Kenya, said officials should do more to support herders.

The 32-year-old farmer does not use safe grazing routes to protect his 80 cows. Instead, he hires a private vet to regularly check and vaccinate his herd, at $20 per dose.

He would like to see the government use modern technology to send real-time information about outbreaks to rural communities.

“Some of us pastoralists have smartphones which the government could use to work with us and help manage zoonotic diseases,” he said. “I am still waiting for this to happen.” -Reuters

-Kagondu Njagi

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