From the Field Enset farming in Ethiopia: explained by smallholder farmers

enset farming Ethiopia explained by indigenous farmers-Alliance Bioversity International-CIAT

Researchers of The Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT, the Hawassa University, the Southern Agricultural Research Institute in Hawassa, and BlueGreen Labs led an extensive survey across the main enset-growing belt in the Ethiopian highlands.

375 enset-farming households in 20 communities were interviewed to gain insight into multiple aspects of these enset farms, from socio-economical differences, to crop diversification, the specifics of enset cultivation, management and uses, and the challenges pertaining enset production. The results from this survey have been published in three individual articles. 

Have you heard of the enset crop?

Enset is a crop solely cultivated in the Ethiopian highlands, and mostly unknown outside of Ethiopia. Grown by smallholder subsistence farmers, it is a staple starch food for ~20 million people. The enset plant looks similar to a banana plant, but is not grown for its fruits. Rather, the plants’ underground corm and pseudostem base are processed into porridge and bread. 

Image 1: Enset plants (in the back) grown on a subsistence farm. Picture by Guy Blomme. 

Enset: A staple crop supporting subsistence households 

Enset-farming households rely on enset as a staple or a co-staple in combination with maize, wheat, barley, teff and to a lesser extent tubers and legumes. The co-staples grown on a farm varied mainly with altitude, according to the productive cultivation boundaries of the selected crops. 

The considerable food crop diversity cultivated on the enset-based farms, with an average of 6.4 different food crop species on a farm, combined with livestock rearing, are key for the self-reliance of these Ethiopian communities. Most households will buy no or only few additional food products, and rely on the crops and livestock maintained on their farm to feed the family. 

Enset is a criticial food source. All visited enset-growing households consumed enset-derived products at two or three of their daily meals.