By Birhanu Biazin, Yoseph Mekasha and Tesfaye Shewage
Sidama zone of southern Ethiopia has ample opportunities to develop irrigated fruits for improved household income and nutrition. However, fruit trees such as apples take years to bear their first fruit; meaning producers see no income from the fruit orchards for at least three years. In light of this, the Livestock and Irrigation Value chains for Ethiopian Smallholders (LIVES) project is demonstrating intercropping of improved fodder species with fruits in Sidama and Gamo Gofa zones.
Intercropping of fruits with short maturing crops such as vegetables and leguminous fodder species enables fruit producers to get multiple benefits that include obtaining additional income from fodder and vegetables, improving soil fertility from leguminous fodder and enhancing water productivity (yield per unit of water consumed) when irrigation is used for intercropped fields. But knowledge of improved fodder and fruit production systems has been quite low in Sidama zone.
Haileleul Ayele, who lives in one of the LIVES intervention households in the zone, is involved in apple and dairy production in Arbegona District. Haileleul had planted some apple trees but most were not bearing fruits so the LIVES project provided him with grafted seedlings of improved apple varieties and trained him on improved production techniques. Haileluel also supplies fluid milk to restaurants and cafés in the district town of Yaye. He supplements feed for his three cross-bred milking cows with commercial concentrate to improve their productivity. But the price of commercial concentrate feed has been increasing over time so the project advised him to start feeding alfalfa to his dairy cows to improve their productivity.
Haileluel intercropped alfalfa seeds on the same field that he planted apple trees in his homestead. With coaching from specialists from the LIVES project and the office of agriculture, he has been applying agronomic practices appropriately for both the alfalfa and apple trees farming. He uses farmyard manure from the dairy cows to fertilize his field in two forms: fertigation and direct application of dry farmyard manure. To apply fertigation, he harvests rainwater from his 52 m2 rooftop into a rain water tank. The collected water is mixed with farmyard manure in an earthen pit where it stays for more than a month. The manure and water mixture is then easily directed from the pit to the alfalfa and apple fields by gravity along a slope. Due to the predominantly steep slope feature of the area, fertigation could be widely applied by smallholder farmers who are engaged in both irrigated crops and dairying.
Alfalfa is a perennial and high quality forage crop with crude protein content of about 18%. It can withstand long periods of water stress and can access water through its deep roots. Through irrigation during the dry season and using the fairly well-distributed rain during the rainy season, Hailelul, is able to cut his alfalfa rows every three weeks on average to feed his dairy cows.
The alfalfa is about 50cm long when cut at about 15 cm above the ground and he harvests about 15kg daily. After starting to use alfalfa as a supplementary feed and mixing it with roughage such as Enset leaf and crop residue,Hailelul spends less money on commercial concentrates to feed his cows. Moreover, his milk yield has consistently increased by 2 litres per day per cow on average. Given the current milk price of ETB 15 (USD 0.73) in Arbegona, Haileleul is planning to acquire more dairy cows and also increase the land area covered by alfalfa.
The LIVES project is currently working with several households in Sidama zone to intercrop alfalfa with fruits for proper integration of dairy and irrigated fruits farming. Knowledge management interventions such as farmers field days are being organized by the project to disseminate this practice to a wider scale.