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Agro-biodiversity Project

Full Project Name: Mainstreaming Agro-biodiversity into the Agricultural System of Ethiopia

Ethiopia is recognized as a centre of agro-biodiversity, designated as one of eight Vavilov Centers around the World (original centers for the domestication of crops). The Ethiopian population has been actively engaged over the millennia in crop domestication and hybridization efforts to suit local tastes and deal with the vagaries of climate and geo-physical conditions. The country harbors important gene pools of wild crop relatives (CWR) for at least 197 species of crops, including grains, pulses, oil seeds, vegetables, tubers, fruits, spices, stimulants, fibers, dyes and medicinal plants. In addition, several crops that were domesticated outside of East Africa exhibit high secondary diversification in Ethiopia, evidenced in farmer varieties (FV) of wheat, barley, and several pulses. The indigenous landraces of various crop plants species, their wild relatives, and the wild and weedy species are all highly prized for their potential value as sources of important traits for crop improvement programs. Among the most important traits that are believed to exist in these landraces are disease and pest resistance, nutritional quality, resistance to drought and other stress.

Despite the national and international importance, Ethiopia’s agrobiodiversity is highly threatened by environmental degradation, which poses a serious challenge to the development potential of the country. The key challenges are land degradation, deforestation, habitat conversion and the consequent loss of “wildlands” which harbor wild relatives, and the replacement of land laces and farmer varieties (FV) with hybrid high yielding varieties (HYV). One of the greatest risks to the rich diversity of Ethiopia’s crop wild relatives is the loss of natural habitats as a result of deforestation, change of landuse and human encroachment. Information on current and historical land cover/land use change show that forest resources in Ethiopia have been subject to heavy deforestation and degradation.

In view of these unprecedented problems affecting agrobiodiversity in the country, this project represents a unique opportunity to conserve wild crop relatives and landraces in a dynamic, participatory way, involving farmers who manage the bulk of the country’s indigenous crop genetic resources, and in fact practice in situ conservation as a part of their traditional management strategies. The project is designed to address local circumstances, meshing interventions to improve governance over farming systems with market based approaches, ensuring that biodiversity management needs are factored into each. It will create four in situ gene banks covering a total of 500,000 hectares to protect the wild gene pools for coffee, enset, teff and durum wheat through four pilot sites. Lessons learnt at the pilot sites will be widely disseminated across regions and up to the federal level for strategic planning work. This will assist in upscaling of the approaches used at the pilot sites, contributing further to the mainstreaming of agrobiodiversity conservation into the national agricultural systems.

Project activities will be implemented in the course of five years. During this time, local capacities for the expansion and sustaining agrobiodiversity will have been built, and together with the established policy  and institutional support, will be crucial in safeguarding the important wild gene pools. Through the project, agrobiodiversity will be secured and it will be less threatened. Options for future use of gene pools will also be secured, ecological stability of wild coffee forest increased and ecosystem services through water harvesting and carbon sequestration from the wild coffee forest improved. In addition, habitats for pollinators and other will be biodiversity improved and there are options for the future use of its wild gene pools in adaptation of agriculture to climate change.

The overall goal of the project is “Improved in situ conservation of agro-biodiversity resources (including crop wild relatives) secures biodiversity values, ensures food security and sustains human wellbeing”. To achieve this, the conservation values of Ethiopia?s rich agro-biodiversity endowment have to be considered in the agricultural sector planning and development, so that farm productivity and food security are improved while simultaneously securing the survival of important agro-biodiversity. The Objective of the project is therefore: “To provide farming communities with incentives (policies, capacity, knowledge and markets) to mainstream conservation of agrobiodiversity resources, including CWR, into their farming systems. The project objectives will be achieved through three outcomes that overcome the threats and barriers identified above.

  1. Enabling policy and institutional framework supporting in-situ conservation of agro-biodiversity and wild crop relatives,
  2. Markets provide incentive for farmer uptake of agro-biodiversity friendly practices, particularly for wild coffee, enset, tef and durum wheat,
  3. Crop Wild Relatives and farmer varieties of wild coffee, durum wheat, enset and tef are conserved in in-situ gene banks and on-farm conservation sites

Duration: 5 Years

Status: Ongoing

National Project Coordinator: Mr. Kiflu Tarekegn  (welela2009@gmail.com)