The sub-zone of Mendefera is part of the densely populated central highlands of Eritrea where agriculture is the primary mode of production.
The total land area of the sub-zone is 496 sq.km of which around 13,400 hectares is arable land. Cereals, fruits and vegetables grow in the fertile plains of the sub-zone. Agriculture is the primary occupation of around 80% of the people while a small percentage engages in trade and other activities.
Last year around 14 thousand hectares of land was planned to be cultivated and around 79% of this was used to grow cereals and the remaining to grow pulses and vegetables.
Annually community campaigns are conducted before and after the harvest time. Mr. Bereket Tekleslasie, director of the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) branch in Mendefera sub-zone said as part of the efforts to familiarize farmers with modern type of farming and transform the agricultural practice, farmers are now given training regularly. Farmers are advised to use compost fertilizer which reduces pollution, reuses organic waste, reduces the cost of fertilizers and returns to soil the nutrients needed to produce food.
Crop rotation is one of the ways the MoA has been encouraging farmers to adopt and practice in order to increase production. Mr. Bereket said: “The advantage of crop rotation is that it enables farmers to easily manage farms by controlling weeds and diseases. Farmers are advised to rely on rotation and long-term soil quality to deal with these kinds of problems and ensure the productivity of fields instead of relying on fertilizers and pest control. This also balances the natural soil nutrients necessary for crops to grow. As of last year, we have been employing the integrated farming scheme in order to enhance our production capacity. According to the scheme, the sub-zone has been divided in to three farm zones, where farmers grow a designated crop. This has proved to be effective and very productive and the farmers have accepted it after seeing the results”.
The sub-zone is endowed with water resources and many small and big dams have been constructed. It is one of the areas which experience good rainfall patterns annually. Last year, a record high amount of rainfall (1141 mm) was registered in 84 days. Farmers and entrepreneurs in this sub-zone are encouraged to utilize this resource and engage in fruit and vegetable production. The sub-zone is known for its fruits and vegetables.
“This year one of the successful activities we have undertaken is the distribution of selected wheat and potato seeds in large farm areas. These seeds were obtained from the National Agricultural Research Institute in Halhale and were tested in 54 hectares of land last year and proved to be effective. Selected wheat seeds weighing 1500 quintals were distributed to 850 farmers who have become beneficiaries of the initiative. The seeds were sown in designated areas studied by the MoA and experts from the Crops Department conducted through supervision of the farms until the harvesting time,” he said.
Traditional farming results in a poor yield of about 12 quintals per hectare; with improved seeds, combined with appropriate farming techniques, yields per hectare reached 30 quintals. If all necessary inputs are made this can reach up to 45 quintals from a hectare as was witnessed last year in an exemplary farmer who harvested 44 quintals from a hectare. The seed is also drought resistant and can reach production stage in a short period of time. The tissue culture laboratory at the National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) is contributing to this result by cleaning seeds to make them free from pathogens such as viruses, bacteria and fungi.
The MoA is advising farmers to replace their seeds with the selected seeds, and it expects to obtain 8000 quintals of selected wheat seeds from NARI next year.
Last year, 1550 quintals of selected potato seeds were distributed to 500 vegetable farmers. The farmers are offered 25% on top of the market price for their produce as an incentive to ensure delivery of quality seeds to the potato seed store. In the store, trained workers carefully select the potatoes that are suitable for further multiplication. This has stabilized market prices during the harvest time.
According to the data obtained from the MoA, around 138 thousand quintals of vegetables were produced last year and the MoA is working to boost the production level and increase the land area for cultivation.
The sub-zone of Mendefera is known for its dairy production owing to its abundant forage. The MoA has distributed inter-breed cows that can give higher amount of milk, and it gives the farmers training to familiarize them with modern type of farming. Around 276 thousand liters of milk was produced last year.
Afforestation is promoted by the MoA, and around 150 thousand seedlings are distributed to schools and public and religious institutions annually. As part of the efforts to mitigate the deforestation problem, energy-saving stoves have been introduced widely.
Chicken and honey production are also practiced and encouraged by the MoA branch of the sub-zone. The sub-zone is suitable for the production of honey. Since 2012 there has been an extensive campaign to encourage farmers to engage in the production of honey. As part of the efforts to secure the nutritional needs of families, every farmer is expected to have one bee hive. The honey producers are grouped in unions. This was designed to benefit the farmers. Through the unions they can be accessed easily for training and be given material support. They can also sell their produce at a fair price. Farmers have reported that they harvest up to 30 kg of honey from one bee hive. Experts from the MoA regularly offer advice and training on bee management techniques, and honey harvesting and post-harvest storing techniques. “There is a promising potential in this sector and if exploited properly, an abundant amount of honey can be produced in the future by adopting modern and mechanized types of bee reproduction,” Mr. Bereket said.
There are around 1000 bee hives in the sub-zone and last year around eight thousand quintals of honey was harvested. Activities are underway to replace the traditional bee hives with modern ones.
The MoA branch of the sub-zone works closely with private and governmental institutions to boost production. NARI in Halhale is one of its main partners.