Publications

2021

Traditional knowledge affects the soil management ability of smallholder farmers in marginal areas with A. Mantino, G. Ragaglini, M. Dell'Acqua, C. Fadda, M.E. Pè and A. Nuvolari

Agronomy for Sustainable Development, 41(9) [https://doi.org/10.1007/s13593-020-00664-x]

Soil fertility is key to sustainable intensification of agriculture and food security in sub-Saharan Africa. However, when soil nutrients are not adequately managed, smallholder farming practices slowly erodes soils to almost inert systems. This case study contributes to the understanding of such failures in marginal areas. We integrate agronomic and social sciences approaches to explore links between smallholder households’ farming knowledge and soil fertility in an ethnopedological perspective. We interview 280 smallholder households in two areas of the Ethiopian highlands, while collecting measures of 11 soil parameters at their main field. By analyzing soil compositions at tested households, we identify a novel measure of soil ability, which provides an effective empirical characterization of the soil managing capacity of a household. Regression analysis is used to evaluate effects of household knowledge on the soil ability derived from laboratory analysis. Results highlight the complexity of knowledge transmission in low-input remote areas. We are able to disentangle a home learning and a social learning dimension of the household knowledge and appraise how they can result in virtuous and vicious cycles of soil ability. We show that higher soil ability is associated with farmers relying to a great extent on farming knowledge acquired within the household, as a result of practices slowly elaborated over the years. Conversely, lower soil ability is linked to households valuing substantially farming knowledge acquired through neighbors and social gatherings. The present study is the first to formulate the concept of soil ability and to investigate the effects of the presence and the types of farming knowledge on the soil ability of smallholder farmers in remote areas. We show that farming knowledge has a primary role on soil fertility and we advise its consideration in agricultural development policies.

Wheat Varietal Diversification Increases Ethiopian Smallholders' Food Security: Evidence from a Participatory Development Initiative with E. Gotor, M.A. Usman, B. Fantahun, C. Fadda, Y.G. Kidane, D. Mengistu, A.Y. Kiros, J.N. Mohammed, M. Assefa, T. Woldesemayate and F. Caracciolo

Sustainability, 13 [https://doi.org/10.3390/su13031029]

This study assesses the impact of a participatory development program called Seeds For Needs, carried out in Ethiopia to support smallholders in addressing climate change and its consequences through the introduction, selection, use, and management of suitable crop varieties. More specifically, it analyzes the program’s role of boosting durum wheat varietal diversification and agrobiodiversity to support higher crop productivity and strengthen smallholder food security. The study is based on a survey of 1008 households across three major wheat-growing regional states: Amhara, Oromia, and Tigray. A doubly robust estimator was employed to properly estimate the impact of Seeds For Needs interventions. The results show that program activities have significantly enhanced wheat crop productivity and smallholders’ food security by increasing wheat varietal diversification. This paper provides further empirical evidence for the effective role that varietal diversity can play in improving food security in marginal environments, and also provides clear indications for development agencies regarding the importance of improving smallholders’ access to crop genetic resources.