Many soils in Ethiopia are fragile and in critical health. We therefore started developing a decision support tool to help targeting soil health support to where its most needed.
Policymakers and development agencies in Ethiopia have made large investments in improving soil health across the country. But without sound criteria to guide these investments, the impacts are uneven at best and ineffectual at worst.
The focus on soil health has increased as demands rise for agriculture to create more food and more income. Ethiopia’s strategy to grow and transform the economy demands a lot from agriculture, partly laid down in the second Growth and Transformation Plan of the government. As a result, farmers are expected to improve farm productivity. But without safeguarding soil health on farms, Ethiopia’s vision for agriculture is at stake.
The government and aid agencies operating in Ethiopia allocate a significant share of their agricultural budgets to the improvement of soils. But these investments won’t bear fruit, as my colleague Tilahun Amede and I argue, largely because there are no agreed criteria and decision-making processes in place to guide investments. That needs to change.
In realms beyond but also including agriculture, the absence of decision-making criteria leads individuals or entities to follow their own logic or vested interests, which often leads them to allocate resources to immediate needs rather than medium to long-term strategies. But rebuilding soils and enhancing soil health is a long-term investment. And this investment requires a structured process.
In 2019, GIZ (Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit) and ICRISAT launched a study and initiative for better decision-making to improve Ethiopia’s soil health. One of the pillars of our work is a decision support system that helps guide policymakers, administrators, scientists and donors toward more targeted and appropriate resource allocation that will improve soil health across the country.
This research is not an isolated study. It falls well in place with like-minded initiatives, such as support to the Ethiopia Soil Information Service or the Ethiopian Soils Research Institute. But the system that links these initiatives together, and supports criteria-based decision-making, has so far been lacking in Ethiopia.
To address this issue, we began by crafting a simple multi-criteria decision support tool meant for use by 7-15 people tasked with making investment decisions. Through the tool, participants define soil health and soil fertility-related objective – rigorous, and participatory so that the process becomes structured and transparent and results in decisions become realistic, with the potential to be effectively and efficiently implemented.
The tool is scalable, it works at the level of a farm, village, woreda (a lower level administrative division), regional and at the national level. A central proposing underpinning the tool is that indicators are central to the development, implementation, monitoring of policy frameworks in Ethiopia, and therefore soil health improvements.