Global Soil Week: fertile soil in Ethiopia

17.04.2015 – The international action week from 19-23 April stresses the importance of soil for sustainable development. GIZ works worldwide to protect it – in Ethiopia, too.

A quarter of the world’s soil is infertile and the area of soil being lost continues to increase. Alongside droughts and other natural causes, agricultural use is a major factor in soil destruction: poor agricultural practices, a lack of erosion protection, excessive nutrient removal and improper use of fertilisers impair soil fertility. This causes soil to be more easily washed away or blown away by the wind – nutrient stores and humus are lost, reducing soil quality even further. Initiatives such as Global Soil Week and the designation of 2015 as International Year of Soils aim to draw attention to the importance of soil in sustainable development.

The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH is implementing over 30 projects around the world to protect soil in the long term, including in Ethiopia. Here, it has been commissioned by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) to work on sustainable land management. Logging, overgrazing and arable farming on slopes, along with other inappropriate agricultural practices, have destroyed a great deal of soil in this East African country. Each year, 30,000 hectares of soil are lost, which results in falling yields and declining agricultural productivity. ‘No soil means no food. That is why soil conservation is so hugely important’, stresses Alexander Schöning, one of GIZ’s soil experts.

Sustainable agricultural practices are already in use on about 200,000 hectares of degraded land in Ethiopia with the support of GIZ: careful terracing, rows of stones to protect against erosion and rules for using the land that have been developed by the village community itself have made it possible to stabilise the soil. Ditches to capture the rainwater were dug in collaboration with smallholders. This has significantly improved the water supply and the area of irrigated land has already increased by about 2,000 hectares since 2008. The farmers have seen a vast improvement: yields on the protected soil have risen by a third and the incomes of around 400,000 people have improved. ‘The Ethiopian government attaches great importance to this approach that they are now funding similar measures outside the programme region, too,’ says Johannes Schoeneberger, GIZ’s programme manager in Ethiopia.