Scientific Publication

Pathways for fitting legumes into the farming systems of East African highlands: a dual approach

Food legumes remained to be important components of various farming systems of Eastern Africa, while the attempt to integrate fodder legumes and legume cover crops (LCCs) became unsuccessful. Despite recognising their benefits as soil fertility restorers and high quality fodder, farmers remained reluctant to integrate legumes mainly due to community/farmer specific socio-economic determinants. This paper is based on the experiences of the African Highlands Initiative that has striven to integrate legumes in Ethiopian Highlands, Areka, and also understand the processes of integration of legumes of different use through participatory research. Areka had an altitude of 1990 masl, and rainfall amount of 1300mm, which is characterised by mixed subsistent farming systems, poor access to resources, intensive cropping, land shortage and soil degradation. Participatory evaluation was conducted on the agronomic performance and adaptability of eight legumes for three consecutive years during the main and small growing seasons, accompanied by extensive data collection on socio-economic determinants. PR experiences showed that the selection criterion of farmers was far beyond biomass production. The major biophysical traits are performance of the species under that specific agroecology, which was characterised by yield, disease and pest resistance, effect on soil fertility and the succeeding crop and its compatibility into the existing cropping system.Specifically, farmers identified firm root system, early soil cover, biomass yield, decomposition rate, soil moisture conservation, drought resistance and feed value as important criteria. The total sum of farmersâ?? biophysical criteria showed that Mucuna followed by Crotalaria could be the most fitting species, but farmers finally decided for Vetch, the low yielder, due to its fast growth and high feed value. Farmersâ?? priority was livestock feed over soil fertility. The final decision of farmers for integrating a food legume into their temporal & spatial niches of the system is dictated by the food habit while for non-food legume it depended on land productivity, farm size, land ownership, access to market and need for livestock feed. The potential adopters of LCCs and forage legumes were less than 7%, while 91% of the farmers integrated the new cultivars of food legumes. Strategic combination of biophysical and socio-economic determinants in the form of decision guides was suggested to facilitate the integration of legumes to help farming communities, development agencies and researchers to easily identify potential adopters, learn about the criteria of choice and suggest an improved system management.Moreover, it may also help them to identify niches and/ or create niches, modify the existing systems and promote the technology for wider use