The Great Teff Planting Experiment August 08 2014, 0 Comments

Aleem and a row planter

Nearly 7,000 miles away, in the highlands of Ethiopia, August is the beginning of rainy season--and, therefore, of planting season. As they have for generations, millions of teff farmers set to tilling their land. This year, they can seize a new opportunity: for the first time, they have the ability to produce a surplus harvest. The secret to that surplus is in a new way of planting. 

When I lived in Ethiopia, I watched how Ethiopian farmers plant by “broadcasting”—throwing handfuls of seed onto the soil. This method has been passed down for generations. Farmers broadcast more and more handfuls of seed, seeking to increase their yield. Unfortunately, the result has not turned out the way they expected: instead of increasing their harvest, seeds suffer as they compete for soil nutrients, water, and sunshine--ultimately depleting the potential of each plant. As such, the historical average yield of Ethiopian teff has plateaued at 2,600 lbs per hectare—far below the land's potential yield.

This month, however, could be a game-changer. Under the direction of Dr. Tareke Berhe, Director of the Teff Value Chain team at the Ethiopia Agricultural Transformation Agency, three million teff farmers are preparing to plant teff seeds in a new way. Instead of broadcasting seed, they will plant teff in rows. More important, they will plant fewer seeds. While I was working with Dr. Berhe and his team, we found that planting fewer seeds in rows reduced competition among individual plants, leading to more bountiful harvests. Average farmer harvests doubled,and more experienced farmers even quadrupled their yields, producing over 10,000 lbs per hectare.

Smart planting, such as the program underway this month in Ethiopia, holds enormous potential for Ethiopian farmers and their environment. Love Grain looks forward to working with Ethiopian organizations to see this potential realized—this planting season and every one to follow.  --Aleem, Love Grain Cofounder