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Government of the State of Eritrea



Counterpart Organization:

National Agriculture Research Institute within the Ministry of Agriculture

Duration Phase I (GCP/ERI/001/ITA):

5 years from September 1996 to August 2001

Total Approved Budget Phase I (GCP/ERI/001/ITA):

US$4 466 488

Duration Phase II:

4 years and 3 months from August 2001 to December 2005

Total Approved Budget Phase II:

US$2 987 992 gcp/eri/006/ita

Strengthening the Agricultural Research in Eritrea Phase II

Project Rationale and Justification

Agriculture is the most important sector of the Eritrean economy, relying primarily on smallholder traditional crop and livestock production. In the past decade, the country’s economy in general and the agricultural sector in particular were seriously affected by both the prolonged political unrest and the periodic droughts, which displaced farmers, reduced the availability of agricultural inputs and adversely affected agricultural support services including research and extension.

Since attaining independence from Ethiopia in 1991, the Government of the State of Eritrea has focused on developing its agricultural research and extension service capacity both through human resources and infrastructure development. In this context, following a specific request of Eritrea, FAO implemented project GCP/ERI/001/ITA funded by the Government of Italy, which came into effect in 1996. It lasted five years up to August 2001. The project aimed at rehabilitating the Research and Extension Division within the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA), supporting the setting up of a research station and providing extensive staff training both within and outside the country.

Considerable economic development occurred between 1993 and 1998, and agricultural output steadily increased, which resulted in a sharp decline in the need for food aid. However, conflict with Ethiopia erupted again in 1998, causing new displacement of people and disruption of production in all sectors.

The final evaluation mission of GCP/ERI/001/ITA, concluded that the project had successfully built research and management capacity in the MoA, and that its impact on production systems was high. It also proposed to formulate a new phase of project GCP/ERI/001/ITA, also to be funded by the Government of Italy, in order to continue to strengthen agricultural research as a way to increase and sustain farm-level productivity.

The present project, GCP/ERI/006/ITA, was effectively declared operational in September 2001. The emphasis of this second phase is placed on adaptive research, the evaluation and transfer of available technologies through on-station and on-farm participatory technology development, and through the dissemination of technologies and management of practices adapted to the prevailing farmers’ conditions.


The overall goal of the project is to assist the MoA in building-up its institutional capacity for the generation and dissemination of relevant improved agricultural technology and modern cultural practices (within the context of production/farming systems).

Emphasis is given in two areas: firstly, the project will continue to strengthen the human resources capacity of the National Agriculture Research Institute (NARI) within MoA and improving its ability to manage and carry out effective agricultural research programmes. Secondly it will improve the quality of research services. The research aims at improving the productivity and sustainability of horticultural crops and animal production, developing integrated land and water management systems, and exploring moisture conservation and utilization techniques. The dissemination of findings amongst farmers is expected to increase food security and the standard of living in rural areas.

Activities and Main Results

Formal arrangements were established with regional networks of research centres to set up training courses for the national staff. Several researchers were sent to various centres of excellence for short-term training courses in different topics: project management and rural development, pearl millet breeding techniques, advanced citrus propagation, management of agricultural research, and soil and plant analysis. This type of training contributed significantly to improving their technical skills in implementing various research activities and programmes. In addition to that, seven members of NARI were funded by the project to attend a two-year Master of Science Programme at the University of Asmara in Agriculture and Business Economics.

A Farmer Advisory Services (FAS) was constituted within the MoA, to improve research/extension/farmer linkage and coordination at national and subnational level. The programme of MoA is at its pilot stage of demonstration in three subzobas.

Within these three subzobas, the Directors of various Research Divisions of NARI, who are also members of the FAS committee, have actively participated along with the Extension staff in organizing the demonstration of improved and appropriate technologies. These included demonstration of improved varieties of cereal and horticultural crops, optimum fertilizer rate of application and other agronomic practices.

On-station and on-farm research trials were implemented with the local farmers on priority vegetable, fruit crops varieties and management practices, including fertilization and irrigation. The aim was to test, select and make available to producers improved varieties and agronomic and soil management practices for horticultural crops.

An initial attempt to review and assess information on soil and water conservation technologies was carried out by the project. Conservation tillage on-farm research was initiated in 2002 and continued during 2003 and 2004 crop season to test and develop alternative land husbandry practices, to improve moisture retention and infiltration, and reduce erosion. Three pilot demonstration sites were selected in three agro-ecological zones (AEZ): Hazemo, Debarua and Galuj. The crops grown on these sites, selected with active participation of researchers, extension agents and farmers, have performed better compared to farms in surrounding areas.

The Soils Research Laboratory based at the Halhale Research Centre, within the NARI, performed physical and chemical analysis of soil samples from different sources, providing the results to beneficiaries with comments and recommendations

Soil and fertility types, as well as threshold levels of plant nutrients in cereals and horticultural crops were identified. Diagnostic surveys and studies on agroforestry in the main production systems were carried out in the south western, central Highland and northern western areas. Based on the findings, it was recommended that agroforestry research should be strongly linked to market opportunities and income generating activities.

Emphasis was given to disseminate agroforestry technologies to extension workers and farmers. Initially six hundred high quality seedlings of improved varieties of tree fruits were imported from Kenya for home garden development. More recently under utilized indigenous species of fruit trees, have been identified and are being domesticated, by planting them out of the forests and woodlands in farmers’fields. Similarly the seeds of most notable, superior tree germplasm mainly from genera Casuarina, Acacia, Eucalyptus and Moringa have been collected and have been distributed to farmers. The forest research team has also yielded encouraging results by restoring fertility in poor soils using leaves and stocks of selected forest species as a green manure.

In order to improve the management of pastoral small ruminant production systems, the project has finalized a research on goat based integrated dairy production systems in collaboration with the Halhale Research Centre. In the central region, specific research in multi-nutrient blocks was completed through on-farm trials. The composition of the selected outputs is region specific and involves the use of locally available feed resources.

In addition the project has recently started following researches on animal nutrition in Halhale: (i) assessment of the performance of rain fed crop fodders productions (oats and vetch mixture), (ii) assessment of the production potential of alfa alfa in Eritrean Highland (iii) evaluation of the nutritive values of different exogenous crops and their adaptability to Eritrean conditions. The outcomes of the three researches will contribute to the development of the Eritrean dairy sector.

On-farm and on-station post harvest loss assessments are being carried out. These assessments aim at developing agricultural engineering technologies that decrease post harvest storage losses, improve the efficiency of human and animal draft power and reduce problems related to moisture content. A study on quantitative assessment of post harvest losses of staple cereals initiated in 2002 on barley, tef and wheat continued during 2003. The tests carried out at 12 farmer’s fields in different villages around Halhale on barley and wheat crops showed that losses during harvest can range from 4 to 12 percent.

On-station and on-farm comparative trials of different types of improved grain storage structures were also conducted at Halhale Research Centre and surrounding villages supported by the project. These structures, using wheat, barley, sorghum and chickpeas, have shown very promising results compared to the local type. The insect and rodent infestation rate was very high in the case of the local storage structures, after four months, whereas the improved type of storage structures did not show any infestation during the same period. The metal bin was by far the most promising structure, where grain stored for more than a year was found to remain still in good conditions. As a result, farmers who were involved in the trial expressed their approval and some requested this storage structure.

Further Remarks

A Tripartite Review (TPR) meeting was held in Asmara in March 2004. While taking note of the extensive work achieved by the project, the meeting expressed concern on the delays accumulated in implementing some of the project activities. In the TPR, all parties agreed that in order to face the considerable equipment component in the project, a full time expert was required. Following the meeting recommendations the Chief Technical Adviser joined the national team in September 2004 and the project was extended to December 2005 at no additional costs.

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