Enhancing enset agriculture with mobile agri-data, knowledge interchange and climate adapted genotypes to support the Enset Center of Excellence

Lead Research Organisation: Royal Botanic Gardens Kew
Department Name: Biodiversity Informatics

Abstract

Ethiopia is an African country ranked 104/119 in the most recent Global Hunger Index, with 28.8% of the population undernourished from 2014-16. The annual costs of malnutrition have been estimated at $4.7 billion, equivalent to 16.5% of Ethiopia's economy, with significant long-term socio-economic consequences. Whilst Ethiopia has historically been the world's largest recipient of targeted food aid, little food-insecurity has been reported for the southern Ethiopian highlands even during the devastating famines of the 1980s.

Agriculture in Southern Ethiopian highlands is dominated by enset, the regional starch staple. which possesses unique attributes that enhance the food security of the communities that grow it. However due to isolated and remote nature of the region, and the perception that enset is 'poor persons food' research on enset has historically been neglected in favour of cereals. Enset is an unusual crop/plant, closely related to banana - the world's most important fruit. However enset differs in that the mature plant does not produce edible fruit (as these are filled with numerous large and hard seeds). Instead the plant is grown for 3-12 years, before the petioles, pseudostem and corm are harvested and collectively processed into starchy food products. Enset serves as a staple food for about 20% of the Ethiopian population, over 20 million people, mainly in the south and south-west of the country. Under appropriate conditions it is estimated that 60 mature plants can provide enough food for a family of five to six people.

Our network of UK and Ethiopian Universities and agricultural organisations have been studying the genetic diversity and distribution of enset in Ethiopia. Our aim has been to identify and characterise enset varieties with useful traits, such as enhanced pest or drought tolerance, as well as better understanding its environmental requirements and reproductive biology.

Here, we propose a series of impact development activies - together with our Ethiopian partners - to help translate and embed our research findings into practical outcomes and applications for rural farmers. We have three main themes:

1. To support progression of the Enset Center of Excellence, a regional enset research initiative. We will do this primarily through interchange of project staff, encouraging the development of new skills, new perspectives, and fostering new collaborations. Our key goal is to encourage traditionally distinct and relatively isolated partner organisations to work more closely together for the benefit of Ethiopia.

2. Developmen of a basic mobile app to advise farmers on optimum local genotypes, disease identification and best agronomic practice. From our experience, this is the best way of rapidly delivering location specific, accurate and practical advice directly to farmers. We will use smart phone location capabilities to consult a pre-loaded mode of enset performance to recommend optimum landraces to farmers. We will also translate the disease diagnostic ID sheets we have developed to be mobile friendly, and available in the five most spoken languages, to help farmers identify enset pests and pathogens.

3. To install and develop three local enset nurseries, to grow and distribute selected enset landraces. Based on the findings of our existing research, we will select 10 genotypes that perform well (high yield, disease tolerant) across a range of agroecological conditions. Rapid clonal propagation of these genotypes using local ethnobotanic knowledge, will enable multiplication of plantlets to generate thousands of individuals that can be sold to farmers (for a small standard market price) to support the long-term sustainability of the nursery.

As the second most populous African country, the population of Ethiopia predicted to reach 172 million by 2050. Thus we believe there is an urgent need to develop underutilised crop plants, to rise to this food security challenge.

Planned Impact

Who might benefit from this research?

Ethiopia currently has the second highest population in Africa (>108 million) where agriculture accounts for 80% of exports and 75% of Ethiopians are smallholder farmers. Thus food security is a priority for the Ethiopian government, particularly with the population predicted to reach 172 million by 2050 and increasing agricultural uncertainty due to climate change. Therefore the project outcomes outlined here will be critical to develop strategies to safeguard food and nutrient security, maintain sustainable livelihoods and enable climate-smart adaptation for the agricultural economy with impact specifically targeted to benefit the millions of farmers across the region who depend on the resource provisioning of their indigenous agri-systems.

More broadly, translating the findings of genomic and environmental modelling research into agricultural impact in rural areas are global agricultural challenges faced by researchers around the world. Millions of small holder farmers and the value chains that depend on them stand to benefit from improved approaches to deliver this. As such, our findings are anticipated to have high applicability to other diverse farming systems and orphan crops.

How might they benefit from this research?

Enset provides an important dietary starch source for 20 million people, as well as co-products including fibres, medicines, animal fodder, roofing and packaging. Under appropriate conditions it is estimated that 60 mature plants can provide enough food for a family of five to six people, over the course of a year, with little to no off-farm inputs (i.e. fertilizer, pesticides). Enset is also the most used crop for 'wages in kind' and a key crop for livestock fodder in the dry season. It's unique combination of characteristics gives enset an important role during times of famine in the areas in which it is traditionally cultivated. Enset's resilience and versatility has earned the name 'the tree against hunger'.

Our proposal seeks to enhance enset performance, by using data from the largest environmental, genomic and ethnobotanic survey of enset diversity to date. We will condense this research into clear advice and recommendations, delivered through a simple mobile-app. We anticipate several benefits, including: Improvements in yield due to growth of climate-optimisd genotypes; reduced time from planting to maturity; easier detection of pest and pathogens (using ID keys) and enhanced resilience (by selecting appropriate landraces); agricultural management advice including information on planting density, fertilisation, seasonal activity and intercropping arising from research elsewhere in the network. We also note that we will be able to deliver advice, based on the latest research findings, much more rapidly than traditional methods. Finally, to embed these benefits and make them accessible to all, we will supply selected enset landraces at a nominal cost.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description This impact extension grant allowed us to robustly consolidate our collaborative research network and reach out to the users of project data and information. This was achieved through extensive interchange of UK and Ethiopian researchers and a productive 3rd pathway workshop in Wolkite at which the Ethiopian Academy of Sciences agreed to take forward the development of the Enset Centre of Excellence via a platform for all interested parties under he leadership of the Ethiopian Academy of Sciences and with Agriculture ministry and Agricultural Research council involvement. The award also developed an app for android phones providing key authoritative project-generated information to extension workers and farmers on best agronomic practice, a tool for disease diagnosis and a tool for optimum landrace selection at any locality in the enset cultivation zone. Interchangers from Ethiopia and the UK played key roles in its co-development. This was profiled and tested, with feedback provided, at the above workshop in February 2020. We have also cultivated planting material in two locations of up to six optimally adapted resilient landraces for distribution to farmers by our in-country collaborators.
Exploitation Route The Enset Centre of Excellence will be critical in supplying the evidence to support enset cultivation in Ethiopia, both in areas where it is currently grown and regions where it is less familiar. It will be a critical food resource for the future of 10s of millions. The android phone app will be adopted, supported and enhanced by the Ethiopian enset research community as a tool to support farmers and farming.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink

 
Description An app for android phones providing key authoritative project-generated information to extension workers and farmers on best agronomic practice, a tool for disease diagnosis and a tool for optimum landrace selection at any locality in the enset cultivation zone was launched in February 2020 via the google play page: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.ensetemap. The Enset Centre of Excellence platform will coordinate enset research to ensure efficiency, effectiveness, and translation into policy. It will also seek to leverage funds for further research. The workshop at which the platform was launched was co-funded by the project and the host organisation, Wolkite University.
First Year Of Impact 2020
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink
Impact Types Societal,Economic

 
Description Hawassa declaration for a pathway towards the Enset Center of Excellence
Geographic Reach Africa 
Policy Influence Type Membership of a guideline committee
Impact A commitment to broad collaboration between partners in Ethiopia is beginning to change overall attitude towards Enset, which has become a marginalised crop.
 
Description Bentham-Moxon Trust grant
Amount £1,536 (GBP)
Organisation Bentham-Moxon Trust 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2020 
End 03/2020
 
Title Enset genotype-environment model 
Description This model enables us to predict the optimum enset landrace for a given environment to support farmer decision making 
Type Of Material Computer model/algorithm 
Year Produced 2020 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact This model will contribute to our Enset App after robust testing 
URL https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.ensetemap&hl=en
 
Description Royal Botanic Gardens Kew collaboration with Hawassa University 
Organisation Hawassa University
Country Ethiopia 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Hawassa University has provided extensive local support in Sidama zone, Ethiopia, including translators, organising vehicles and field assistants.
Collaborator Contribution Kew has provided training through long-term collaborative fieldwork, collaborative paper writing and a public lecture to Hawassa University stuff. A Kew PDRA has also assisted with the co-supervision of two Hawassa MSc students, conduing research on Enset
Impact https://doi.org/10.1093/aob/mcy214
Start Year 2017
 
Description Royal Botanic Gardens Kew partnership with Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia 
Organisation Addis Ababa University
Country Ethiopia 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution As part of our collaboration we have contributed equipment (laptops, GPS units, measuring tools) and working together on fieldwork to provide training. We have provided access to Kew laboratory facilities to PhD student Solomon Tamrat.
Collaborator Contribution As part of our collaboration, Professor Sebsebe Demissew (ForMemRS) has visited Kew on three occasions to discuss progress on our research, to provide input on our analysis and help develop publications and follow on grant applications. Addis Ababa University have also contributed the research time of two MSc students and one PhD student to collaborate on the project. Addis Ababa University is also our key Ethiopian partner organisation. In this role, they have overseen our network of collaborating organisations including Wolkite University, Hawassa University, the Southern Agricultural Research Institute and the Ethiopian Biodiversity Insititute.
Impact https://doi.org/10.1093/aob/mcy214
Start Year 2017
 
Description Royal Botanic Gardens Kew partnership with the Ethiopian Biodiversity Institute 
Organisation Ethiopian Biodiversity Institute
Country Ethiopia 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Kew has contributed research on enset seed and germination biology to our joint collaboration
Collaborator Contribution The Ethiopian Biodiversity Institute has supported Kew in all aspects of material transfer and export of enset tissue for DNA analysis.
Impact https://academic.oup.com/aob/advance-article/doi/10.1093/aob/mcy214/5303834
Start Year 2017
 
Description Royal Botanic Gardens Kew with Gulele Botanic Gardens, Ethiopia 
Organisation Gulele Botanical Garden
Country Ethiopia 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Collaboration with Gulele botanic garden in developing an enset nursery resource for enset sucker propagation. We provide expertise and planting material.
Collaborator Contribution Providing space and resources for a nursery site at Gulele Botanic Garden
Impact http://www.enset-project.org/
Start Year 2019
 
Title Enset App (Android) 
Description The Enset App is a free Android application aimed at Agricultural extension agents in Ethiopia. It has three main functions: 1. It provides disease diagnostic digrams and photographs on a field portable device. 2. It provides information on management best practice. 3. It uses genomic analysis performed by the project to identify landraces optimally suited to local climates. Thereby support the climate adaptation of farmers. 
Type Of Technology Webtool/Application 
Year Produced 2020 
Open Source License? Yes  
Impact This application was presented at a project workshop for enset researchers in Ethiopia and received broad positive feedback. 
URL https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.ensetemap&hl=en
 
Description Bioversity lecture on enset 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact James Borrell provided a lecture on our enset and agri-systems associated research to the Musa Genetic Resources team at Bioversity
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Enset Research at Kew Science Festival 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Interactive sessions with child-friendly components (competitive harvesting starch from enset plant) in science cafe format.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Ethiopian TV interview 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Ethiopian TV news stations interviews with Dr James Borrell and Dr Paul Wilkin on enset, IFLIP and agri-systems research and collaborations between UK partners and Ethiopian partners.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Interview with Thompson Reuters 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact James Borrell provided and interview to Thompson Reuters on our enset research at Kew.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Lecture to Kew's volunteers team 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Lecture to Kew's volunteers team on enset and agri-systems research
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Lecture to Maastrict postgrad students 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Lecture to Maastrict postgrad students on enset and agri-systems research at Kew
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description The third pathway meeting towards the Enset Center of Excellence 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact We organised a two day workshop and meeting in Wolkite Ethiopia, attended by 101 registered delegates. These included representitives from all project partners, other Universities across Ethiopia, Agricultural organisations, policy makers, the media, and the Ethiopian Academy of Sciences.

The following declaration was agreed:


WOLKITE DECLARATION
In the two days conference hosted by Wolkite University in collaboration with Ethiopian Biodiversity Institute, Addis Ababa University, Hawassa University, Leicester University, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and a number of institutions have participated (list attached herewith).
During the conference presentations and discussions that followed, it was realized that the various aspects of enset crop encompasses various disciplines including agriculture, anthropology, biology, biotechnology, engineering, social sciences, etc.
Cognizant of the fact that the Ethiopian Academy of Sciences
• has six working Groups (Agriculture, Engineering, Health, Natural Sciences, Social Sciences & Humanities and Fine Arts)
• is mandated to help develop capacity building, promote technology transfer, and provide scientific based advice and contribute to policy making at national level; and
• has extensive networking and collaboration with international and regional activities with national academies worldwide
The participants of the conference collectively agreed to request the Ethiopian Academy of Sciences and the Ethiopian Agricultural Research Council Secretariat to create a platform for all stakeholders present in this conference and other potential stakeholders o chart the way forward around enset crop and to provide priorities in the following subthemes (and other critical subthemes not considered here, if any)
o food security and other ecosystem services
o economic innovation and value chain
o resilience to climate change, stress, pests and pathogens
o nutrition and health
o management
o expansion of enset cultivation
o processing
• to present the activities the institutions are involved with the enset crop

To realise the points mentioned above it is agreed that:
• The EAS Secretariat will collaborate with RBG Kew and partners involved with Agri-systems and the Ethiopian Agricultural Research Council Secretariat to fund the creation of a platform
• All interested national and international stakeholders (currently participating and others that will be identified) to cover their own expenses to participating in the meeting
Wolkite - Agena, Dessalegne Hotel
11 February 2020
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.wku.edu.et/index.php/en/2013-11-08-03-53-43/366-wolkite-university-is-preparing-to-hold-...