Agriculture in Eritrea
Agriculture in Eritrea
Eritrea is located in the north-eastern part of Africa along the Red sea to the east, Sudan to the west north, Ethiopia to the south and Djibouti at the extreme south-eastern tip. The overall size of the country is about 125,000 square km . Its mainland coastline is about 1 900 km from the Sudan border to the DJibouti border. Eritrea has a continental shelf of 56 000 km2 with a plateau containing 360 islands that define the Dahlak Archipelago. The latter add another 1 300 km of coastline. The waters of the southern part of the Red Sea are highly productive in part due to allochthonous advection of monsoon upwelled nutrient rich waters through Bab El Mandab.
The climate of Eritrea is tropical desert on the coast and the eastern plain, mild semiarid in the mountains and tropical semiarid in the south-west From June to September, the country is influenced by the southwest monsoon coming from Ethiopia, which brings a bit of rain, especially in the central and southern inland part. According to temperature, around 72% of the country is classified as very hot or hot (with mean annual temperature exceeding 24 C) while not more than 14% is classified as mild or cool (with mean annual temperature below 21.5 C).
About 3.6 percent of the total land area in Eritrea is presently cultivated. The soils and climatic conditions in the spate irrigated areas are very conducive to grow different types of cereal crops, oil crops and vegetable crops, mainly of semiarid in nature, which have been adapted to the climate for many years. There are four main topographical regions. The Central Plateau includes parts of the provinces of Akele Guzai, Hamasien, Seraye. The Western Lowlands cover Gash-Setit and part of Barka. The northern massif starts at Keren and extends northwards into the Sudan. The Coastal Plains stretch down the Red Sea coast from Sudan to the border of the Republic of Djibouti.
Annual crop production depends on rainfall that is variable and unevenly distributed from year to year. The major crops grown in the spate irrigated areas are sorghum and maize. Sorghum is the most preferred crop and it is widely grown in the northern part of the eastern lowland, which is north of Massawa port. Maize ranks second and is widely grown in the southern part of the eastern lowlands like in Foro, Afta and Zula. Other types of crops grown in the spate irrigated farms include pearl millet, cotton, sesame, groundnut, tomato, pepper, okra, kerkede and watermelon. These crops are not widely and continually grown year after year like sorghum and maize, but occasionally and usually in small quantity for home consumption. Some 20-30 years ago cash crops like cotton, sesame and watermelon used to be grown on a large scale in some farms, but because of war and the recurrent drought in the country they are now grown in small quantities. The spate irrigated farm of Marsa Gulbub was one of the major cotton growing area in the country, but now the farmers are growing only sorghum.
The common types of land races of sorghum grown in the spate irrigated areas vary in their characteristics:
- Hejeri is a high yielding, short stalked, good ratoon ability, has white grain and white flour, and compact head;
- Feterita (Wedi Aker) is second to Hejeri in preference by farmers for its short growing season and short stalks. Has a white grain, which forms darker flour when milled;
- Hartsetsa has an intermediate stalk, compact head and high yielding and poor ratoon ability.
- Durra is a tall, low yielding; open headed, good ratooning ability and early maturing variety with a red seed coat. It matures earlier than the abovementioned types of sorghum.
Maize varieties grown in the spate irrigated area are highly heterogeneous landraces, which are broadly classified into white and red maize based on kernel color. Various local names are given to these indigenous landraces. "Shagai", Wedilebab and "Merora" (Tigre, Saho) are types of white maize. They are late maturing, taking up to four months from sowing to harvest and require more irrigation water than the red types. The most common type of red maize is Chenger, Asa Elbo and Berih (Tigre, Saho), which mature in two and half to three months.
There are two types of pearl millet (Bultug: Tigre, Tigigna) varieties hairy (bristle) and hairless. Both types of pearl millet tiller more vigorously and have short growing season in the range of two and half to three months. Keren type groundnut (Ful: Tigre, Tigigna) used to be grown in large areas when the landholdings were bigger before the redistribution. Necessity to allot a large proportion of the smallholdings to cereal food crops and inability to market groundnut as a profitable cash crop as well as termite and high labour demand restricted the area under groundnut.
Black and red colored sesame (Simsim: Tigre, Tigigna) types are only used as seeds. The susceptibility of sesame to termites is the other reason for this crop being grown on small areas. Watermelon (Berchik: Tigre, Tigigna) is another crop grown in spateirrigated fields. The farmers also plant in a small area Kerkede (Hibiscus sabdariffa) that is used as a beverage like tea after drying the flower. These crops are grown mainly for home consumption only.
Livestock production is practised in a number of different farming systems. Most livestock producers in Eritrea are subsistence farmers. Their primary objective is to produce enough food to feed their family and to maintain sufficient reserves to see them through drought years. Cash income from sales of livestock is a secondary consideration and mainly directed to household necessities such as sugar, coffee, salt school fees and medicines. Pastoralists are found in the western and eastern lowlands. Agro-pastoralists are found throughout the country. Agriculture mainly comprises mixed farming and some commercial concessions, mostly in the river basins. Most agriculture is rain-fed. The major product of Eritrea's domestic animals differs in various agro-ecological zones and production systems but they are economically and socially important in most walks of life. In the Highlands the provision of draught power is crucial to the livelihood of the people and the transport role is also important: milk and meat are largely by-products in this zone. In the Lowlands milk and transport are the major products of livestock with meat being of lesser importance.
Some 30% of Eritrea may have been covered by various types of forests up to the end of the 19thcentury. Indiscriminate use and encroachment, other unwise land use practices, and an extended war have resulted in a forest cover that has dwindled to only 0.4% of Eritrea's area today. Shortage of fuel wood -- current use is estimated at 4 412 259 m3/year – particularly in the rural areas, has pushed many households to use crop residues and dung as a source of energy.
Commercially valuable fish are either reef dwelling, such as groupers, snappers and emperors; demersal, such as lizardfish and breams; or pelagic, such as jacks, trevallies, mackerels, tunas, sharks, sardines and anchovies. Most traditional Eritrean fishermen use one of two types of fishing craft: Houris or Sambuks. Houris are 8 - 13 m long and are constructed of planks of wood. An outboard motor is used for their propulsion and they can take up to 5 fishermen. Most rivers are seasonal and have highly fluctuating discharges. The largest river, the Setit (the Teccazze in Ethiopia and the gash in the Sudan), is the only one which flows throughout the year. Its discharge in the dry season is as low as 5 m3/sec while more than 900 m3/sec is discharged during the wet season. Other rivers such as the Gash, Barka and Anseba flow for 3-4 months during and after the rains while others flow only intermittently for a few days at a time’. There are about 110 water reservoirs throughout Eritrea's interior, thirty of which are regularly stocked with species such as tilapia and carp. Some of these inland reservoirs are quite productive and are an important source of protein for surrounding communities. An inland fisheries centre is located in the central zone of Eritrea at an elevation of 1800 m with facilities such as experimental ponds, currently under construction. Species currently stocked or considered good candidates for further stocking include Oreochromis niloticus, Tilapia zilli, Cyprinu caprio, Carassius carassius and Carassius auratus.