Determinants of tillage frequency among smallholder farmers in two semi-arid areas in Ethiopia

M. Temesgen, J. Rockstrom, H.H.G. Savenije, W.B. Hoogmoed, D. Alemu

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Traditional tillage systems practiced by farmers in semi-arid regions of Ethiopia are characterized by repeated and cross plowing with an indigenous plow called Maresha. Repeated and cross plowing have led to land degradation. Conservation tillage systems that advocate minimum soil disturbance can alleviate land degradation problems. However, before introducing reduced tillage systems, it was found necessary to study why farmers undertake repeated plowing. The study was undertaken in two semi-arid areas called Melkawoba and Wulinchity located in the central rift valley of Ethiopia and on two major crops; Tef (Eragrostis Tef (Zucc.)) and maize (Zea mays XX). Fifty farmers from each area were randomly selected and interviewed using a structured questionnaire. The results showed that farmers in the study area plow repeatedly in order to completely disturb unplowed strips of land left between adjacent furrows. Unplowed strips are the results of the V-shaped furrows created by the Maresha plow. Farmers generally do not plow before the soil is wetted by rainfall. Wetting and drying cycles due to dry spells occurring between rainfall events force farmers to plow frequently to avoid moisture losses through surface runoff, evaporation and weed transpiration. Tef fields are plowed 4¿5 times while maize fields are plowed 3¿4 times. Tillage frequency increased with the education level and experience of farmers; with their perception about the purpose of tillage such as moisture conservation, weed control and soil warming; and with resource availability such as area of land and family labor. Tillage frequency was higher for Tef than for maize and in heavy soils than in light soils.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)183-191
JournalPhysics and Chemistry of the Earth
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 2008


  • soil-water storage


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