The powerful potential of limestone for the economy of Ethiopia
A simple cream-colored stone that is abundant in many parts of Ethiopia, could enable millions of farmers to lift themselves out of poverty. This humble stone could help to substitute grain imports with domestic production thereby restoring Ethiopia to food self-sufficiency.A simple cream-colored stone that is abundant in many parts of Ethiopia, could enable millions of farmers to lift themselves out of poverty. This humble stone could help to substitute grain imports with domestic production thereby restoring Ethiopia to food self-sufficiency.
How can the potential of this plentiful stone be reaped?
Is the answer to buy bulldozers and excavators for mining, build chemical plants to transform limestone into the ultimate fertiliser, train and raise awareness of development agents and farmers? Actually, none of these! We just need an adequate supply system to enable farmers to access ground limestone e.g. lime for their fields!
Acidic soils are challenging farmers by “locking” vital nutrients within the soil. Lime increases the soil pH thereby freeing these nutrients which otherwise are inaccessible for plants. This results in reducing the need for fertiliser and positively affects yields. However, due to various challenges in production, transport, and distribution, unfortunately, lime is in short supply.
Taking the 3.5 million hectares of highly acidic soils in Ethiopia and assuming a yield increase of 50%, by using lime and improving practices (lime and integrated soil fertility management can increase yields on acidic soils by up to 118%), we could harvest around 4.7 million metric tons (MMt) of extra grain per year. Imagine that this is about the weight of 5 million Toyota Vitz cars or the amount of wheat required to bake 7,900 million loaves of bread! Compare this to Ethiopia’s grain imports of 1.5 MMt wheat for ~349 M USD per year. Assuming we could allocate all these acidified hectares to wheat production using lime, we could realistically achieve the impact outlined in the following graph.
Additionally, 350 million USD (100 USD/ha a year) could be saved on fertilizer. This, plus the import substitution and possible wheat exports - could shave approximately 1534 million USD off our trade deficit of roughly 12000 million USD per year. That is more than 10%!
Towards reaping the benefits
The government has long since realised the importance of lime for farmers and its potential impact on the Ethiopian economy. It has allocated funding and resources to improve access to lime by establishing a supply chain. More needs to be done however, in order to supply lime to all smallholders in this country.
An efficient system will need cooperation across sectors; cement factories to produce more lime, cross country transporters, agro-dealers and cooperatives to ensure timely deliveries and continuous supply, financial institutes to provide loans and importantly the government to continue to support them all, by providing a conducive and enabling environment.
The potential impact is huge: hundreds of jobs could be created along the value chain, farmers production would increase potentially leading to food security and alleviating the dollar deficit thereby freeing up resources for other essential sectors such as health or education.
Sounds too good to be true? See for yourself!
Find out more about lime and its effect from ETVs Masa programme by following the link to the video below.
About the Integrated Soil Fertility project
This is a joint effort between the Ministry of Agriculture ( Soil Fertility Directorate of Mr. Tefera Solomon) and its line agencies, the German Cooperation and other local partners. The Integrated Soil Fertility Management Project (ISFM+) implemented by GIZ, promotes the use of lime and other soil amendments/practices in order to increase soil health and yields in the Ethiopian highlands. To find out more, visit the project page.
Author: Julia Doldt Photograph: ©GIZ/Abinet Shiferaw Publishing date: 17 September 2021