The Ministry of Agriculture along with partners has been making preparations to positively impact this year’s farm activities in a bid to augment production.
The activities include conducting awareness raising campaigns, distributing improved crop and vegetable seeds to farmers and taking precautionary measures to combat possible outbreak of desert locust invasion during the rainy season.
Over 50,000 hectares of farm land was expected to be cultivated before the start of this year’s main rain season. But only 10,000 hectares of land was cultivated as there was not an even distribution of early rainfall across the nation. Crops such as maize and teff that were supposed to be cultivated before the start of the main rain season were sown in small amount. The Ministry of Agriculture advises farmers to follow guidelines to be able to carry out farm activities effectively.
Minimal distribution of rainfall was registered in the Anseba region, good distribution of rainfall in the Central region, which was limited to Asmara, while there was good distribution of early rain in the Southern region with the exception of Tserona, Mai-Ayni and Dekemhare.
The Ministry of Agriculture has given out improved crop and vegetable seeds to farmers to help increase production. Farmers, on their part, have shown their determination to increase production by intensifying their efforts.
Desert locust in Eastern Africa and in the Gulf countries continues to pose a threat. The possibility of an invasion by a swarm of desert locust is so worrisome that Eritrea has been making preparations to combat any threat of invasion particularly during the farm season. Mr. Bereke Okbamichael, Director of Crop and Livestock Development Division, said that the Ministry of Agriculture, local communities, members of the Eritrean Defense Forces and all administrative regions are working together to combat the locust threat.
Awareness raising campaigns have been conducted across the country. Five sites in Golug and Shamboko, Gash-Barka region, and another site in Mendefera, Southern region, have been set up to carry out surveillance activities.
According to Mr. Bereke Okbamichael, the improved seed that is given out to farmers has been collected from two sources – farmers who used the seeds in the last growing season and the National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI).
Improved crop and vegetable seeds collected from farmers have been distributed in all regions of the country except the Gash-Barka region due to a delay in rainfall. Wheat and millet seeds have been distributed all over the highland of the country.
Although the provision of improved seeds to farmers is effective in increasing production, farmers may sometimes choose local indigenous species. For instance, a Sorghum species known as “Hariray”, a local seed which is drought resistant, is farmers’ choice in times of water scarcity. In this line, said Mr. Bereke, measures are often taken to preserve indigenous seeds.
So far, 242 quintals of improved crop seeds have been distributed directly from NARI. The crops include eight varieties of wheat, five varieties of barley, two varieties of sorghum and two varieties of legume seeds. Moreover, more than 4,200 quintals of improved crop seeds from last year’s harvest were collected from farmers and redistributed to all regions.
Mr. Bereke said that more than 5700 quintals of potato seeds were collected from model farmers and redistributed in the Central, Southern and Anseba regions. What is more, 500 quintals of hybrid maize have been distributed to all regions of the country. Mr. Bereke also said that more than 22,500 quintals of Urea and DAP were distributed to seed, crop and horticulture producers.
As regards the distribution of improved potato seeds, Mr. Bereke said that three to four varieties of improved potato seeds have been in circulation among farmers. Some improved varieties are to be cultivated in the western lowlands particularly during optimal temperature that stretches from September to November.
Improved potato seeds piloted in Shambiko and Omhajer in the Gash- Barka region have shown good result but a satisfactory outcome is expected if cultivated during the relatively cold season. Varieties of chickpea cultivated in Shambiko have shown impressive result and the farmers are encouraged to carry out mass production. “If cultivated in September, October and November the production will be as ample as that of January’s harvest in the highlands,” Mr. Bereke noted.
What Mr. Bereke revealed is that a variety of seeds commonly cultivated in the highlands have been tested for three consecutive years in the lowlands with satisfactory results when cultivated in a favorable climatic condition. “There is no reason why teff, potato and wheat should not be cultivated around Kerkebet dam,” Mr. Bereke stressed.
According to Mr. Bereke, the lowest annual rainfall registered in Eritrea is 200 mm in Denkalia, Southern Red Sea region. In cold season all sorts of crops could be cultivated even in this part of the country.
For instance, over 40 quintals of sorghum have been harvested in She’eb, and what this shows is that there is high production in less humid areas and the chance for crops to be hit by disease is very low.
Around 500,000 hectares of farm area are expected to be cultivated during the rainy season. This figure could be high considering that some areas in the Northern Red Sea region are cultivated three times in a year.
When it comes to horticulture, currently, 23,000 hectares are used for growing vegetables while 5,000 hectares are for the cultivation of fruits such as banana, mango and orange. Most fruit and vegetable farms are irrigation-based.
As part of the integrated farm activities, the Ministry of Agriculture works to enhance animal production. It promotes poultry as well as the production of rabbits, horses and pigs. The Ministry of Agriculture has distributed around 70,000 chickens to farmers, which is expected to reduce the price of eggs.
The Government has constructed 42 dams in the last two years. The expectation, according to Mr. Bereke, is to cultivate around 10,000 hectares of farm land using the dams.
The Ministry of Agriculture is working hard to further expand farm activities through Medium Integrated Household Agricultural Program (MIHAP). Through this project, subsidiary farmers are encouraged to engage in small scale bee keeping, animal husbandry, dairy farm and horticulture that could be carried out at a household level.
The Ministry of Agriculture has been encouraging small scale farmers to cultivate two hectares around dams. Efforts are being made to substitute spate irrigation with drip irrigation to judiciously utilize water resources. Training has been given to farmers in compost preparation as well as soil and water conservation. Terracing activities have particularly been conducted regularly in croplands as part of the overall soil and water conservation endeavors.