A corn named “Lutheran”
LWF grain supports farmers in drought and preserves diversity in Ethiopia
(LWI) - “‘Lutheran’ changed my life,” says Amare Mulaw. The Ethiopian farmer is not referring to the Christian denomination, at least not directly. He speaks about the benefits of a new crop variety introduced by The Lutheran World Federation (LWF). The new crop is part of a development project which supports small-scale farmers in Amhara province who are dealing deal with climate change.
Mulaw’s home town Erffa is a kebele (community) located 37 km southwest of Lalibela town, in Lasta Woreda (district), Amhara Regional State. The region is famous for its rock-hewn churches, which are UNESCO world heritage. For farmers like Mulaw however, the wealth lies in the soil. They spend their lives hoping for rain and a good harvest.
LWF support during the drought of 2016
In the past years however rain has not come often enough, sometimes not at all. LWF started working in Mulaw’s community in 2016, as a response to the El Niño-induced drought. The response had various components: natural resource conservation activities through cash-for-work helped to prevent erosion while providing financial aid to the farmers, whose harvest had failed. The most vulnerable were supported with direct cash payments as well as seed distribution including corn, lentils and teff, a local grain which is very popular and used to make injera-bread.
Even if the old variety takes only three to four months to grow, the extra two months that “Lutheran” takes to grow is worth the wait due to the size, yield, taste, overall quality and potential for commercialization.
Three years later, when the project ended, LWF made sure the short-term emergency aid was transformed into a long-lasting development program to the communities who keep struggling with extreme droughts. The plan is to build the farmers’ resilience and equip them to deal with the changing weather. Results are already visible: Now, in 2019, farmers are growing and benefitting from the seeds that were distributed in 2016.
“Lutheran” more popular than teff
In 2015, LWF had introduced new and improved corn and lentil varieties, which soon became very popular. The corn is popularly known as “Lutheran” and has become a staple in this region where people use to farm teff. It is also more popular than the corn variety used before, which is called “Raya”.
Amare Mulaw is a model farmer successfully growing ‘Lutheran’. ‘For the first time, I was able to earn almost ETB 9,000 (310 USD) from the sale of Lutheran grown on his land,” he says. He has now tripled his income from just one crop.
Enthusiastically, he explains why he prefers the new grain. “To start with”, Amare explains “it has a superior taste. Secondly, the corn stalk holds three large cobs whereas the Raya only holds one or two small ones maximum. Furthermore, due to the leafiness and thickness of the cob cover, it does not get attacked by birds and pests. I now get 6 ETB (20 cents) for one cob whereas before I used to get half the amount.”
“Finally, even if Raya takes only three to four months to grow, the extra two months that Lutheran takes to grow is worth the wait due to the size, yield, taste, overall quality and potential for commercialization.”
Preserve plant diversity
According to Amare, the demand for Lutheran is very high, but he and the other farmers only have enough production to satisfy demand in Erffa and the nearby Gragn Amba village. He hopes to supply corn up to Lalibela where “Lutheran’s” reputation already precedes it. His next plan - with the support of LWF - is the multiplication of the grain so that it reaches more farmers at little or no cost.
In the long run, this would not only mean an economic benefit to the farmers. “Lutheran” is an improved variety of a local corn type, higher in protein and more drought resistant. This landrace is endemic to the region known for its plant genetic resources. Through seed multiplication, LWF helps farmers preserve that diversity and sustainable agricultural practices in a market increasingly under pressure from high yielding varieties and use of chemical fertilizers.
Amare still grows “Lutheran” through rain-fed agriculture, but that is going to change as well. Currently, the Erffa small scale irrigation scheme is being rehabilitated, opening up additional opportunities for increased production and income. Amare is excited about the potential of irrigated farming, and the possibilities it would bring to no longer be dependent on rainfall alone.
“My life has changed,” the farmer says. With the increased income, he now plans to buy a bajaj, Amharic for tuk-tuk, a ubiquitous and affordable mode of transportation in these parts. He has already made improvements to his house and is sending his children to school.
Contribution by Sophie Gebreyes, LWF Country Representative in Ethiopia. Edited by LWF Communications