The practice of agritourism and multifunctional agriculture may be less familiar to audiences in developing countries compared to developed ones. Agritourism and multifunctional agriculture, as alternatives to conventional farming, emerged mainly in recent versions of the European Union’s common agricultural policy (CAP). In the era of rapid urbanization, rural and urban areas have become mutually reliant on each other and the concept of multifunctionality refers to agriculture, that is not only assessed in terms of its contribution to food and fibre production, but also for its wider range of social, environmental and economic benefits. In Dugda District of Oromia Region’s East Shoa Zone, Teklemariam Simie, a 79 year-old farmer is engaging in what may be considered an emerging version of multifunctional agriculture. He integrates livestock rearing with crop production as well as a cafeteria business in his small-scale farm of five hectares in total. Before embarking in the farming business, Teklemariam was a taxi driver in Addis Ababa for 11 years. However, the income he earned did not allow him to provide for the ten family members he was supporting at the time. Therefore he started the farming business in 1973 as an alternative means of livelihood. Teklemariam recounts that his childhood experience and knowledge in rural Bulga, Central Shoa, gave him the confidence to start farming as a business. In the 1980s his farm activity was hampered as a result of the unfavorable socialist policies regarding asset ownership and security. After some time, things became easier and he was able to focus on his farm activities full time. Teklemariam performs much of the farm activities himself although he is supported by his daughter and a handicapped son who lost one of his hands. He grows fruits such as papaya, mango, avocado, lemon, peach, guava, grape and custard apple; and he also grows cotton, silk worm and about 11 types of fodder. In addition, he cultivates basil, green beans, garlic, onion, soya bean and moringa. Cotton was the first crop he planted with the support of the Melkasa Agricultural Research Center. Teklemariam informed us that income from cotton sales was enough to buy two oxen which were then used to expand the farm.
The farmer grows various fodder seeds such as cowpea, lablab, pigeon pea, alfalfa, sesbania, leucaena, rhodes and elephant grasses, vetch, and bracharia. In 2003, his first year of fodder seed production, he earned about 8,400 Birr (USD 410) from the sale of 110 kg of cowpea. Motivated by this income, he expanded fodder seed multiplication and has invested more than 22,000 Birr in fodder seed production in recent years with the aim of becoming a fodder seed supplier in his village. He says he provides fodder seeds to fellow farmers, some of whom he met at a training on fodder production in Debre Zeit last year (2014). Teklemariam’s farm also serves as a demonstration and field-level practice teaching site for farmers allowing him to share his experiences. In the livestock sub-sector, Teklemariam is involved in poultry, dairy and apiculture production. He buys day-old chicks from Debre Zeit which he rears and sells after three months and has innovatively constructed a traditional incubator out of mud that is heated with wood fire to mimic the electrical incubator. He is currently expanding his poultry business and plans to buy at least 3,000 day-old chicks for commercial broiler production. In terms of apiculture, he plans to increase his 10 hives to 50 by the end of the year. Teklemariam values diversification over specialization in Ethiopia’s weather-dependent and risky farming context. The farm solely depends on manure and natural fertilizer from decomposed parts of trees and crops in the farm but he also conserves and efficiently uses water by among other methods, covering the roots of the trees and the surrounding soil with grasses and other materials to help the soil retain moisture. Teklemariam also started operating a small grocery adjacent to the farm to sell food and drinks to visitors and other customers. He performs all of these activities with only 4 years of formal education. He says that his main teacher was the problems he faced and his commitment to get out of poverty. An interesting aspect of his farm is how all activities are integrated and complement others in terms of inputs and outputs. For example, the apiculture business benefits from access to crops which provide nectar while at the same time, the bees pollinate the crops. On the other hand, the fodder crops provide feed for his dairy cows and manure from the livestock fertilizes crops and is used to produce biogas for cooking and lighting. The farm is not only a source of income for Teklemariam but is also a source of amenity value for his community. Young couples reportedly take shelter in the beautiful green farm for a day or so during weekends particularly during dry seasons when the surrounding vegetation is dry; making the farm one of the few remaining options for shelter from the sun in the area which lies in the East African rift valley. This service, is an opportunity for Teklemariam and can be commercialized as a result of increasing demand from urban dwellers. The farmer supplements his indigenous knowledge on the production and management of his activities with additional knowledge obtained through trainings. He has received trainings and advice from the office of agriculture on improved farming practices such as water harvesting techniques and row planting. He was, recently, the champion of a water harvesting campaign in his peasant association. Teklemariam has also been trained by the Livestock and Irrigation Value Chains for Ethiopian Smallholders (LIVES) project on improved poultry production and marketing which he says has enabled him to better plan his poultry expansion project. Some of the major challenges at the farm are water shortage, lack of someone to take over the farm as Teklemariam is aging and low awareness of opportunities offered by the farm such as its touristic potential. It’s also Teklemariam’s concern that he may not have a capable successor to expand the farm as he envisions it. Time seems to be against him. His daughter who is managing the cafeteria business and his son are the only family members around him. Empowering these two young people to manage their father’s five hectare land through coaching and mentoring is an option. LIVES and its partners could look into ways in which this exemplary farmer could be supported to make the farm more attractive to tourists, marketing and awareness campaigns and value-addition procedures for the farm’s produce such as eco-labeling of products from the farm could increase his income and make it a model of rural agritourism and multifunctional farming. Teklemariam Simie can be reached on his mobile phone at +251 91 957 6853. His farm is about 2.5 kilometres north of Meki town, on the way to Addis Ababa. GPS coordinates: N = 08` 11.668’ E = 038` 51.628’ Written by Zewdie Adane and Abule Ebro.