Project Description

Picture: courtesy of A. Avdeenko / A. Bohne


In an ongoing project in cooperation with the GIZ Ethiopia and the Ethiopian Government we analyze the impacts of improved soil fertility management methods in Ethiopia’s highlands on agricultural practices and productivity.

The second most populated country on the African continent, Ethiopia is also one of the least urbanized countries in the world, with 80% of the population residing in rural areas (ECOSOC 2016), mostly in the highlands, where the overwhelming part of cultivable land is to be found (Mulualem & Yebo, 2015). Accordingly, a large share of the population (about 85%, CSA 2015) relies on agriculture as a main source of income. In spite of the importance of the agricultural sector and of the natural potential of the highland region, both soil fertility and agricultural yields remain low and poverty and under-nutrition are widespread. A complex set of biophysical, soil-related and socio-economic factors underlie the phenomenon. The rugged topography of highland areas, as well as the brevity and intensity of rain, result in strong natural erosion. Man-made factors accelerate soil erosion and degradation. The use of inappropriate agricultural methods such as (mineral) fertilizer as a blanket solution, deforestation or overgrazing exacerbate the situation. The increasing soil degradation comes along with rapid demographic growth, both factors leading to undermined food insecurity.


To increase agricultural productivity and thereby reduce farmers’ vulnerability, an integrated soil fertility management project (ISFM+) was launched in 2015 in Amhara, Oromia and Tigray Regional States of Ethiopia. The project is led by the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ) in close cooperation with the Ethiopian Government (Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources (MoANR)), and has been commissioned by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). ISFM+ focuses on soil protection and rehabilitation in the Ethiopian highlands, and aims at influencing the soil characteristics in ways that optimize plant growth and improve the availability of scarce nutrients. The integrated approach chosen makes use of farmers’ own resources and farming practices, including conserving soil and water, and crop rotation in the fields. It targets in particular wheat, maize and teff production. Through advice, capacity building and support to Ethiopia’s agricultural extension service and agricultural bureaus, the project is expected to achieve a wider use of integrated soil fertility management technologies and increased crop yields.

The research approach, a randomized controlled trial (RCT), allows for rigorous assessment of the project’s impacts by comparing treatment, control and super-control micro- watersheds (MWS) as units of intervention. This impact evaluation will contribute to the effectiveness of the ISFM+’s training-based program by providing knowledge on soil productivity, farmers’ attitudes toward innovative technologies, evidence of farmers already employing practices similar to those introduced by the project, and more generally, farmers’ agricultural approaches. The insights generated by the evaluation will thereby inform soil-protection and food-security strategies.