The soils and climatic conditions in the spate irrigated areas are very conducive to grow different types of cereal crops, oil crops and vegetable crops, mainly of semiarid in nature, which have been adapted to the climate for many years.
The major crops grown in the spate irrigated areas are sorghum and maize.
Sorghum is the most preferred crop and it is widely grown in the northern part of the eastern lowland, which is north of Massawa port. Maize ranks second and is widely grown in the southern part of the eastern lowlands like in Foro, Afta and Zula.
Other types of crops grown in the spate irrigated farms include pearl millet, cotton, sesame, groundnut, tomato, pepper, okra, kerkede and watermelon. These crops are not widely and continually grown year after year like sorghum and maize, but occasionally and usually in small quantity for home consumption. Some 2030 years ago cash crops like cotton, sesame and watermelon used to be grown on a large scale in some farms, but because of war and the recurrent drought in the country they are now grown in small quantities. The spate irrigated farm of Marsa Gulbub was one of the major cotton growing areas in the country, but now the farmers are growing only sorghum.
The common types of land races of sorghum grown in the spate irrigated areas vary in their characteristics. These landraces can be distinguished from each other by grain color, shape of the head, height and tillering capacity of the plant. Hejeri is a high yielding, short stalked, good ratoon ability, has white grain and white flour, and compact
Feterita (Wedi Aker ) is second to Hejeri in preference by farmers for its short growing season and short stalks. Less preferred for human consumption and has less bird problems has a white grain, which forms darker flour when milled.
Hartsetsa has an intermediate stalk, compact head and high yielding and poor ratoon ability. Good for human consumption has red grain and grayish color when milled. It matures within three months. Durra is a tall, low yielding? open headed, good ratooning ability and early maturing variety with a red seed coat. It has vigorous vegetative growth and is grown more as animal feed than for human consumption. It matures earlier than the abovementioned types of sorghum.
Maize varieties grown in the spate irrigated area are highly heterogeneous landraces, which are broadly classified into white and red maize based on kernel color. Various local names are given to these indigenous landraces. “Shagai”, Wedilebab and “Merora ” (Tigre, Saho) are types of white maize. They are late maturing, taking up to four months from sowing to harvest and require more irrigation water than the red types. The most common type of red maize is Chenger, Asa Elbo and Berih (Tigre, Saho), which mature in two and half to three months.
There are two types of pearl millet (Bultug: Tigre, Tigigna ) varieties hairy (bristle) and hairless. Both types of pearl millet tiller more vigorously and have short growing season in the range of two and half to three months. Hairy type pearl millet has long panicle covered with a sort of hair like material and creamy colored grains. Even though it is less attacked by birds and highly preferred by farmers nowadays this variety is abandoning due to its low yield. Hairless type of pearl millet has the same characteristics like the hairy cultivar except it has white grains. It is grown in shallow and/or coarse soils near Wadi course, in the canal beds in the down stream.
Keren type groundnut (Ful: Tigre, Tigigna) used to be grown in large areas when the landholdings were bigger before the redistribution. Necessity to allot a large proportion of the smallholdings to cereal food crops and inability to market groundnut as a profitable cash crop as well as termite and high labour demand restricted the area under groundnut.
Black and red colored sesame (Simsim: Tigre, Tigigna ) types are only used as seeds. The susceptibility of sesame to termites is the other reason for this crop being grown on small areas. Watermelon (Berchik: Tigre, Tigigna ) is another crop grown in spate irrigated fields. The farmers also plant in a small area Kerkede (Hibiscus sabdariffa ) that is used as a beverage like tea after drying the flower. These crops are grown mainly for home consumption only.
Magazine: Ministry of Agriculture 2012