Ethiopian ad­ven­tures

Toby vis­its Ethiopia as pa­tron of the Send a Cow char­ity, and learns cru­cial lessons about third-world crop grow­ing

Amateur Gardening - - Toby Buckland -

ETHIOPIA isn’t what I ex­pected. But then, be­fore fly­ing, my only re­search was re­call­ing the Band Aid video from the 1980s – and while there are aca­cia-tree dot­ted deserts, they only cover a fifth of the coun­try.

I’m in the Cen­tral Plateau, a vast area big­ger than France and 2,000m (6,562ft) above sea level, trav­el­ling south along the Rift Val­ley. The soil is fer­tile, pa­prikared and vol­canic. Com­bined with the mois­ture of the three-month rainy sea­son, it pro­duces lush, leafy growth and the po­ten­tial to grow a wide range of crops.

Tra­di­tion­ally, farm­ers have raised taro, maize and sweet po­ta­toes but the small, half-hectare scale of plots means these low-value crops are in­suf­fi­cient to feed fam­i­lies year-round. Added to this, war, famine and dis­ease all mean that grow­ing skills have been lost. This is where the work of Send a Cow comes in – a char­ity for which I’m proud to be a pa­tron and why I’m bounc­ing along dirt tracks in a 4X4, meet­ing small­hold­ers and their fam­i­lies.

By switch­ing to what the Ethiopi­ans charm­ingly call ‘Ir­ish po­ta­toes’, beet­root, cab­bage and car­rots – veg­eta­bles that are nu­tri­tious and that peo­ple want to buy – their lives have been trans­formed. Fam­i­lies are fed, and there’s sur­plus to sell at the mar­ket, and time and again the farm­ers have told me they use the cash to send their chil­dren to school. It re­ally is that sim­ple and that in­spi­ra­tional.

The lessons aren’t one way, ei­ther. Com­post-mak­ing is some­thing that ex­pe­ri­enced Ethiopian grow­ers have turned into a fine art (see be­low). The magic is all in the stack­ing and cre­at­ing the heap in one go so the dif­fer­ent lay­ers re­act with one an­other. Add the Ethiopian sun­shine, and crumbly com­post can be ready in as lit­tle as 21 days!

Ethiopian farm­ers cope well with ex­treme weather and tech­niques such as in­ter­plant­ing peren­nial veg with other leaves. Us­ing leafy mulches will work for us, too – es­pe­cially as our cli­mate changes and gets less pre­dictable. More on that next week…

“Fam­i­lies are fed, and there’s sur­plus to sell at the mar­ket”

Cul­ti­vat­ing new po­ta­toes (or ‘Ir­ish po­ta­toes’, as they are known lo­cally), lives have been trans­formed Potato fields be­ing tended by Ethiopian farm­ers Fer­tile, vol­canic Ethiopian soil

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