Nearly half of Ethiopia’s farmland damaged by high acidity, salt

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Acidity and high salt content have damaged 43 percent of Ethiopia’s farmland, according to a paper presented last week in Adama. It says 11 million hectares of it is considered to have a high salt content.
Poor irrigation and lack of awareness about using water and soil productively are two of the culprits, according to the paper.
According to the Agriculture Transformation Agency (ATA) the decline in soil fertility costs Ethiopia billions of birr in reduced wheat, barley, sorghum and maize yields. The impact of soil acidity on wheat and barley production alone is estimated to cost the country over 18 billion birr per year.
One thing that would really help reduce acidity is treating the soil with limes. Several researchers have undertaken significant multi-year studies that have varied lime application to measure the effects on productivity.  Improvements ranging from 50 to 100pct in wheat, barley, teff, soybean and maize were reported under moderate to severe acidic soil conditions
According to the paper adding limes could increase cereal production to 4.6 tons per hectare from its current 1.1 tons per hectare. However, the price is daunting since treating just one hectare of land for acidity takes 2.6 tons of limes and just one quintal goes for 170 birr. Primarily for this reason limes are only being used at six local farms.
“We need to work on transporting limes more efficiently,” Dr. Kaba Urgesa, State Minister for Agricultural and Natural Resources, said
In the past six months 14,000 out of 26,000 hectares of acidic soil has been treated.
Soil runoff is another concern according to a staff from ATA.
“The soil in the highland areas has washed off and many important nutrients are missing so we must do something to save our soil.”
Dr. Kaba says the government is taking steps to alleviate the problem by importing crops from Amahara, Oromia, Somalia and Tigray.
He says fertilizer is being used on cereal crops along with potash on 49,406 hectares of soil and they have seen increased fertility.
Ethiopian soils are deficient in various essential nutrients like boron, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, sulfur, and zinc and copper, although severity differs from region to region. Some nutrients like iron are in a sufficient range in many parts of the country. However, nutrient availability to crops depends on numerous soil and crop factors such as: soil pH, organic matter content, soil texture, adsorptive surface, nutrient interactions in the soil, and crop varieties.