Tef (Eragrostis tef), an important crop for both income and nutrition in Ethiopia, has joined the list of ICRISAT’s research crops. Being a minor millet and grown in semi-arid and sub-humid environments, it fits well into ICRISAT’s mandate.
Tef is not only gluten-free, but also highly nutritious. It has the highest amount of protein among cereals and has high levels of calcium, phosphorous, iron, copper, barium and thiamine.
Relatively unknown outside the country, Ethiopians are proud of the crop and consider it as their identity. Tef is grown on 3.02 million ha land with more than 6.54 million smallholder farmers producing 4.75 million tons. It is the number one crop in terms of area and ranks second in terms of production in Ethiopia.
The decision to include tef was made by ICRISAT Governing Board during its 72nd meeting held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in April 2015. This was at the request of Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR). As a follow-up, ICRISAT organized a stakeholder consultation meeting recently to identify key constraints and opportunities using the value chain approach.
“It is really exciting to focus on tef which is gaining prominence internationally. The ability of the crop to grow in diverse environments and its nutritional value makes it an extremely important crop in improving the resilience, income and food security especially under climate change. There is a need to improve the profitability of tef cultivation while undertaking genomic and genetic studies that help develop varieties resistant to lodging and other stresses that the crop is facing,” said Dr David Bergvinson, Director General, ICRISAT.
Despite its importance as the most-preferred cereal crop with an annual growth rate of over 11%, production has failed to match the demand. Much of the production increase was due to expansion of area under cultivation, which, with finite land resources, is unsustainable. The meeting identified the continuous use of unsustainable, traditional methods of land preparation and crop management as one of the major challenges impacting productivity and profitability of the crop. A typical tef farmer tills the land at least five times before planting and the general practice of broadcasting the seed makes weeding and other intercultural operations highly labor intensive.
The meeting identified a set of high priority constraints as well as opportunities. Excessive tillage, high seed rate, inefficient and imbalanced use of fertilizers, lodging and shattering, and high pre- and post-harvest losses (up to 40% of the production) have emerged as the major constraints which could be addressed by research in the short term. Breeding for higher yield and improved tolerance to key biotic and abiotic stresses including tolerance to Striga are considered important in the medium term.
Priority areas of interventions were identified to improve production, profitability and sustainability of tef in Ethiopia which will be factored into the country strategy.
At the day-long workshop held on 10 August, presentations were made by Dr Kebebew Assefa, Coordinator, National Tef Improvement Program, EIAR, on the past and current tef research and achievements; and Dr Ayele Gebreamlak Ayetenfisu, Director, Tef and Rice Value Chain, Agricultural Transformation Agency, Ethiopia, on strengthening tef value chain. The meeting was attended by 35 participants.