The Sustainable Intensification of Maize-Legume Cropping Systems for Food Security in Eastern and Southern Africa (SIMLESA) is working in Ethiopia , East Africa, because of the country’s large population of approximately 96 million people (World Fact Book, 2015)1 , and high poverty levels2as a result of recurrent famines, aggravated by small farm sizes, frequent droughts and extensive land degradation.

The potential for improving productivity and incomes for farmers who depend on maize and legume systems, however, remains pitifully high. In this country, 1.99 million hectares is planted to maize yielding approximately 3.243 tons per hectare, but with very high variability which increases the risk of seasonal food insecurity. Likewise, the legume area is expanding4 in response to growing export demand for legumes – for example, haricot beans to East Africa, and Sudan. However, less than 25 percent of the maize or legume area is under improved varieties but underdeveloped seed systems are a major constraint.

Other constrains to agricultural production and productivity are low level of technology adoption, poor market access for smallholder farmers, and limited technological options for the very diverse5 agro-ecological areas and farmers’ circumstances. Resource shortages, including scarcity of land in high potential areas6, seasonal labour shortage, inadequate draught power, and insufficient supply of input and credit are identified as major crop production challenges. Also, population pressure is another constraint contributing to environmental degradation and declining land holding per household. Farmers in drought-prone areas have an average farm size of 2.36 hectares and average family size of eight people per household.

On the other hand, average farm size in sub-humid maize-legume based farming system is 1.5 hectares with average family size of seven per household. Cognizant of these inter related production constraints of the predominantly maize-legume farming systems, Ethiopia was identified a major SIMLESA program country by ACIAR and CIMMYT.

SIMLESA activities are being implemented by eight research canters including 17 districts/communities located in different maize-legume growing agro-ecologies of the country.

In the sub-humid high potential maize and legume growing farming systems, low soil fertility, especially low nitrogen, is the most important production constraint. Use of traditional soil fertility management practices such as crop residues, manure, fallow, cereals/legume intercropping, crop rotation, among other practices, has declined together with farm size, coupled with alternative uses for manure as fuel and crop residues as feed, fuel and construction material. Few farmers practice fallowing and crop rotation because of scarcity of land. With increasing population pressure, and land scarcity, livestock increasingly dependent on crop residues; production of improved forage or fodder crops is hampered by poor awareness of available options and lack of seed.

  2. 39% of the population is below poverty line
  3. The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia Central Statistical Agency Agricultural Sample Survey 2013/14
  4. The areas of pulses was 2.37 ha in 2010 while was 3.26 in 2014.

Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning

Direct beneficiaries reached through SIMLESA support : 128,208

Innovation Platforms: 19

Farmers Reached: 10,473

Researchers Trained: 651

Adoption Target: 153,303

Thematic Area Ethiopia
Area under dedicated for maize (millions) 1.7
Production per ha (tonnes) 2.0
Baseline reports 1
Current Maize Productivity 6.34
Current legume Productivity 2.4

SIMLESA Impacts in Ethiopia

  • Scientific Impact


    Through partnership and collaborative research in the target countries, in line with the program design, the SIMLESA program has consistently maintained its focus on generating scientific impacts.

  • Capacity Impact


    SIMLESA has continued to deliberately direct its efforts on trainings in conservation agriculture principles and technologies; sustainable and climate responsive agriculture production systems; agricultural production systems simulations; risk management and systems modelling acknowledging the socioeconomic dynamics of households in different sites.

  • Community Impact


    During the design phase, the program set targets and adoption pathways to achieve scaling out processes in terms of the number of research communities covered, number of farmers reached out and the number of adopters (these being the farmers who have learned, embraced and started practising sustainable intensification technologies).

  • Economic Impact


    SIMLESA has brought increased use of CA-based sustainable intensification options technology in communities which have also led to evident reduction of production costs and increased crop productivity per unit area especially and dietary diversification in farm households where maize and legumes are intercropped.

  • Social Impact


    SIMLESA, on the social dimension side, continues to improve family fabric through the hosting of exploratory trials which promote the participation of men, women and youths thereby making everyone strategic and important participant in household farming activities.

  • Environmental Impact


    Climate change is expected to negatively impact agricultural production in SIMLESA countries. Low-nitrogen stress combined with drought and heat stress will become increasing constraints on maize production, and on growing improved varieties.



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