Coping with drought for food security in Tigray, Ethiopia

A.A. Berhe

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


Agricultural production in drylands suffers from drought and in sub-Saharan Africa, only about 15% of the terrestrial rainwater is used by plants for food, fodder and fiber. Drought was the major cause of crop failure and food insecurity for the last three decades in the semi-arid northern Ethiopia. Information from field experiments, farmers and FAO’s AquaCrop model were used to understand and evaluate characteristics of the local climate in relation to drought and its mitigation. Farmers often have a different perception of drought than scientists. This gap was solved with an improved analysis of rainfall data that focuses on drought. Drought in semi-arid north Ethiopia can be due to (1) a too short growing season due to late start and/or early cessation of rains, (2) a too long dry spell at critical growth stage or (3) due to total failure of rain. Different types of drought have different coping strategies. Coping strategies for drought are adaption of sowing date, in-situ water conservation and water harvesting for deficient irrigation. Physical water conservation structures need to account for extreme variations in rainfall typical for most drylands. Ridging is most promising while mulching is no longer promoted. Agronomic measures such as the use of quick maturing and drought resistant crops are often more attainable than adoption of water conservation practices. Crop failure is often more due to water scarcity than to lack of fertility. However, when agricultural production increases, water and nutrients often alternate as production limiting factors. The strong water-nutrient synergy in drylands requires precision fertilization and plant density adjustment. Farmers also have a different opinion about climate change; farmers’ climate change has more to do with desertification. Experimental results showed that drought alleviation strategies have the potential to reduce the risk of crop failure and drought in the semi-arid northern Ethiopia.

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
  • Stroosnijder, Leo, Promotor
  • Keesstra, Saskia, Co-promotor
Award date16 Jun 2011
Place of Publication[S.l.]
Print ISBNs9789085859253
Publication statusPublished - 2011


  • agroclimatology
  • drought
  • water stress
  • irrigation
  • rain
  • crops
  • hordeum vulgare
  • barley
  • eragrostis tef
  • mulches
  • yields
  • ethiopia


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