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Tsetse control to fight hunger in Ethiopia

Trypanosomiasis is spread by the tsetse fly (© Peter Luethi/Biovision Foundation)
Trypanosomiasis is spread by the tsetse fly
© Peter Luethi/Biovision Foundation

Three years ago Aba Yesuf Abdullahid, a farmer in Arubo village in western Ethiopia, was the proud owner of eight cattle, over 100 goats and eight donkeys. Thanks to a combination of drought and trypanosomiasis, both prevalent throughout the plains of Benshangul Gumuz, near the border with South Sudan, he was reduced to one cow, one donkey and ten goats. Spread by the tsetse fly, trypanosomiasis has also wiped out the livestock of Abdullahid's elder sister, Araba, and without oxen to cultivate their land for sorghum and maize, yields have dwindled, producing barely enough to feed their families.

But Araba and Aba have turned their farms around since Araba attended training to learn about eco-friendly farming and livestock practices, run by Bio-economy Africa (BEA) in partnership with Biovision Foundation. First, in collaboration with BEA and government extension workers, Araba identified tsetse hot spots in her area and then set up four traps per square kilometre on her own, and her neighbour's farms. These 'NGU' traps were developed by the insect science research institute, icipe, in Nairobi, Kenya, and use blue coloured cloth and cow urine to attract tsetse flies. Once the flies are attracted to the funnel shaped cloth, they move up, attracted by light, until they enter a bottle at the top where they are trapped.

NGU traps were chosen as an effective and environmentally friendly option instead of using chemicals, which kill insects indiscriminately, or clearing vegetation or multiplying and releasing sterile tsetse flies. The traps are able to attract and catch all four species of tsetse common in the area. "The traps have to be inspected regularly by the farmers and urine added from time to time to keep the flies attracted," explains Dr Getachew Tikubet, director of operations at BEA. "Tsetse populations have gone down by over 90 per cent in the last seven years, and so have incidents of bites on animals." As a result, Aba plans to buy two cows when he sells his next sorghum crop.

Black Screening greenhouses only allow about 60 per cent of the sun's rays through to plants inside (© FAO/Astrid Randen)
Black Screening greenhouses only allow about 60 per cent of the sun's rays through to plants inside
© FAO/Astrid Randen

Environmentally friendly farming

During the training, Araba also learnt about a number of eco-friendly farming solutions that would help her maximise on-farm yields. One was 'Black Screening' greenhouses. Made of tight black mesh netting, Black Screening greenhouses only allow about 60 per cent of the sun's rays through to plants inside. "The screening nets absorb 40 per cent of the sun, while allowing as much water as possible to get though," Tikubet explains. "They also considerably reduce evaporation ensuring that crops have as much moisture as possible." With a Black Screening greenhouse 18 by 24 metres, Araba is growing kales, spinach and coriander. The crops have flourished and with surplus to sell the extra income has enabled her to open a tea kiosk at the village shopping centre.

Another farming practice that has proved useful is shelf farming, with up to four layers of shelves made of bamboo on which soil and manure is layered. Crops with shallow roots, such as spinach, kales and other vegetables, are planted, watered and weeded regularly. "Through this method farmers are able to grow crops that would otherwise never perform well in arid lowlands where fertility and rains are low and temperatures usually high," Tikubet adds.

Widening the net

NGU traps were chosen as an effective and environmentally friendly option instead of using chemicals (© Peter Luethi/Biovision Foundation)
NGU traps were chosen as an effective and environmentally friendly option instead of using chemicals
© Peter Luethi/Biovision Foundation

"Nothing goes to waste here," explains Araba. "I feed the flies caught by the traps to my chickens, and they have also thrived. Now I look forward to buying oxen of my own so I don't have to hire one from neighbours." She adds that after receiving training, farmers will be able to make the traps themselves and sell to others, which will then reduce their costs.

To increase the impact of the training Araba received, BEA required that she pass on the knowledge she had gained to at least ten other farmers, who will in turn teach another ten. So far, around 10,000 farmers in Ethiopia have undergone training, and BEA aims that by 2015 more than half a million farmers across Ethiopia will be practising eco-friendly agriculture. BEA also has plans to help farmers in other African countries to reduce tsetse numbers and to grow highland crops in semi-arid areas. "Farmers everywhere are willing and eager to learn," Getachew believes. "The hunger for knowledge is immense and this gives us confidence in our future expansion plans."

Written by: Maina Waruru

Date published: July 2012

 

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