Agriculture is the main economic activity to most of the developing countries and is a significant part of their GDP. Food production remains a challenge and a cause of malnutrition, conflicts, migration and other problems to the developing countries in the 21st century. The critical need for increasing food production in developing countries like Eritrea is through modern technology.
Agriculture is the backbone of the Eritrean economy, because the majority of its population is engaged in peasant farming, growing sorghum, barley, taff, maize, wheat, fruits and vegetables as food crops, while producing cotton, coffee, and oil seeds as industrial crops. Livestock development, dairy, meat and meat products, and fisheries also play significant roles in the economy. More than 75 per cent of the population depends on agriculture and its allied fields for income and employment. Therefore, since most of the people earn their living from agriculture, improving the economics of agriculture is the way to development and poverty reduction.
The government of Eritrea gives food security top priority in its macro-economic policy. Insufficient food production in the Sub-Saharan Africa induced by environmental and policy failures is making them beg for foreign help, which indirectly cripples their economy and productivity. Thus, unable to feed their own people they are being immersed in a vicious circle of debt and unable to assert themselves in the international arena despite their immense resources. The people and government of Eritrea understood this from the onset of independence and sought to free themselves from this “African problem” by upholding the principles of self-reliance and wise use of natural resources.
Sustained growth in agriculture is critical for food security for two reasons. First, growth in agricultural productivity translates into increased food supplies and lower food prices for consumers. And second, growth in agricultural productivity means higher incomes, and thus improved ability to purchase food and other basic necessities for many food insecure people, who earn their livelihood through agricultural production. And basically, it helps to meet the basic human rights, i.e. the right to have food.
In Eritrea, annual crop production depends on rainfall that is variable and unevenly distributed from year to year. Therefore, the primary goal of Eritrea is to guarantee food security by introducing modern technology, irrigation, terracing, soil and water conservation, with less dependence on rainwater.
Modern and commercial agriculture in Eritrea began with the advent of Italian colonialism in 1890. After independence, commercial farming has been practiced to meet the consumption demands of the urban population, to supply local industries with raw materials and to generate foreign exchange reserves. There are few areas in Eritrea where modern agriculture is being practiced. They are Aligidher, Hamelmalo, Afhimbol, Elabered, etc.
Elabered Estate is located in the Anseba Region of Eritrea, about 68 Km north-west of Asmara. It was established in 1893 by an Italian entrepreneur on around 12 Ha producing vegetables, sisal, tobacco…etc. And later grew into a complex agricultural area with the industrial intensification of the Italians. The farm was heavily damaged during the war for independence and was rebuilt in 1998. Since independence, the Estate has followed a dual approach to the agricultural development. These were the “improvement” and “transformation” approaches. The improvement method is meant to bring gradual improvement in farming methods in the Estate. The transformation approach aimed at rapid increase in production through modern methods. Currently, the estate is working under two branches: cultivation and livestock departments.
Indicating on the uniqueness of the Estate Captain Hagos Meles, manager of the Elabered Estate, says “the Estate has a long history of development to take its present shape and uses the Anseba River as the main source of water through diversion and other mechanisms which make the production cost low”. The estate utilizes a mechanized type of farming and is irrigated from a chain of dams.
The Estate covers a total land area of about 1,200 ha of which 300 ha is arable land, 108 ha is covered by various kinds of civil works, 22 ha is presently occupied by ponds, dams and canals, while the remaining 570 ha is topographically rough and primarily steep, covered with trees, vegetation and stones. Of the 300 ha of arable land about 84 ha is covered with perennial crops while 86 ha is mainly covered with vegetable and fodder crops. Portions of the remaining irrigable land have recently been developed while the rest are being unutilized primarily for crop rotation and future expansion of fruits and vegetables. Out of the 570 ha about 100 ha is occupied by grass during the rainy seasons.
Mr. Destalem Asmelash, the managing director of crop cultivation in the Elabered Estate, says the estate has five branches: vegetables, fruits, crop disease prevention, livestock and dairy products and animal food departments. Fruits, vegetables and dairy products are supplied to Asmara three times a week. The Elabered Estate, in addition to the milk distributed locally, provides around 4000 liters of milk weekly to Asmara.
The current spatial pattern of production, includes different kinds of vegetables, thousands of fruit trees such as orange, coffee, Olives, lemon, papaya, mango, guava… etc. and animal food such as Alpha- Alpha, Columbus, and Cereals. The Estate is currently working with a special focus on livestock reproduction. Now it is raising 600 pigs, 300 cows (around 200 Holstein, 100 Barka) for milk and 86 sheep under the livestock department. Moreover, 11 ha of Alpha-Alpha and 11 ha of maize are in a good stage for animal food. The grass and Taff hay are harvested to serve as food for the animals during the winter season. The Estate is utilizing and recycling existing resources that have a cost reducing effect. The byproduct of these animals is used in the Estate as fertilizer.
The estate is currently being administered under the Crop and Livestock Corporation.
Agricultural development can’t be carried forward without constant attention to markets.
The main goal of the Elabered Estate complex is to stabilize the market price of different agricultural items, from vegetables to fruits with special focus on animal reproduction and dairy products. Furthermore, it is providing satisfactory fresh products to the surrounding markets and the capital all year round. The Estate works in close cooperation with agriculture related institutions set up in different parts of the country, and it is staffed with agricultural specialists trained in these institutions.
After Independence, some of the agricultural research institutions or sub – research centers were either renovated or re-established to work more closely with the farmers and other related organizations (i.e. Ministry of Agriculture, Hamelmalo Agricultural College, the National Agricultural Research Institution of Halhale and other related food and agricultural organizations) engaged in agriculture, and are playing vital role in the development of this sector. The Government established seed banks, research stations, laboratories and contacts with international research institutions. Applied research on plant pests, livestock, forestry and horticulture are in progress. In order to increase their knowledge of entrepreneurial ability and farm management, farmers are given vocational training, nationwide, periodically by concerned entities.
The beneficiaries from the Elabered Estate are the farmers and other staff alike. The estate creates and facilitates new business and employment opportunities as civil workers to hundreds of the local people. There are different processing industries in the Elabered estate.
To augment the production capacity, the Elabered estate is equipped with horticulture and animal science specialists who graduated from the Hamelmalo Agricultural College. In addition to local civil workers, there are 37 specialists in animal and veterinary science. Mr. Jaefer Mussa is a veterinarian currently working in the Elabered estate. While explaining their activities, he says “we are carefully observing our animals’ feeding and health conditions. If they are treated carefully they are keen to give a satisfactory product. Moreover, working here in the field we have been trained is helping us to apply it on the ground and is increasing our knowledge”.
The agro food sector of the Estate offers significant potential for expansion. Markets are available for domestic products. It has an advantage of vegetable production year around. For instance, four harvests of lettuce per year obtained in the farm and 12-14 cuts of Alfa- Alfa are obtained per year. However, introduction of modern irrigation technology such as the drip and sprinkler and farm mechanization would enable the Estate to save water and intensify its production, which the Estate is working duly to obtain. Furthermore, it needs rehabilitation due to the aging of the infrastructure.