Harnessing garlic production as cash crop in Ethiopia

Garlic is one of the most important vegetable crops produced in Ethiopia. Selected varieties of garlic are adaptable and high yielding with high market demand. Its quality is determined by its length and weight. The origin of garlic is thought to be in Asia and spread to other parts of the world through trade and colonization.

Garlic has been used for more than 5000 years, and ranks second to onion in the world. With respect to its production and economic value, garlic is one of the main vegetable crops in the world and used as a seasoning in many foods throughout the globe. The oil of garlic is volatile and has sulfur combining compounds with strong odor. Its unique flavor and pungency has health benefits.

Garlic gives flavor to many types of food items. These range from vegetable soup, meat, salad, tomato combination, spaghetti, sausages and pickles. It is consumed as green veg and it is used in different ways, both fresh and cooked. It is also consumed before it is fully matured.

It is used with bread and butter and for food preparation. According to Tadesse Abadi, garlic has also medicinal value which is applied for the control and treatment of hypertension, worms, germs, bacterial and fungal diseases, diabetes, cancer, ulcer, rheumatism, etc. Many people appreciate garlic for its other many medicinal attributes. Traditional healers recommend it for relief of pain, agony, common colds, chills and aches.

The plant can perform best when planted on well drained soils. It is productive if planted on flat soil beds. It is not productive on heavy soils, which are poorly drained during the rainy season. It is advisable to plant on the edges and crusts. To obtain good yield, producers should give attention to the preparation of land which has high fertility with considerable quantities of manure or fertilizers. Garlic production requires a growing period of up to six months with the right amount of rainfall. Garlic withstands moderate frost. It is, however, necessary to stick to the optimum temperature for garlic growing as “recommended” by agriculture experts.

Production of garlic spreads throughout the country and has been cultivated under irrigated as well as rain fed conditions, mainly in the mid and highlands of Ethiopia. Garlic is one of the most important vegetable crops in Ethiopia and is used as ingredient of local stew “wot” and has also a tremendous use in the formulation of local medicines.

According to the CSA, in Ethiopia, garlic was cultivated on thousands of hectares of land and over a million quintals of yield is normally harvested during crop seasons. The average yield per hectare is about ten tons. Garlic is one of the most important bulb crops produced by small and commercial growers for both local use and export. As a cash crop, it is used for earning foreign currency through exports. At off season the same quantity of garlic is usually sold at twice or three times the value of onion.

Producing and marketing high value vegetable crops are intensifying throughout Ethiopia. Different vegetables and spices have been introduced and cultivated mostly in the lowlands or flood plains where source of water and soil fertility is relatively higher. Garlic is one of the high value vegetable crops produced during the cold season, in rotation with pulses that contribute in breaking the life cycle of pest problems. During production seasons, the area covered by garlic production is on the rise because of its marketable value.

According to Nigussie Dechassa, in many garlic producing areas, the declining levels of available nutrients is frequently the limiting factor next to water. According to FAO, the cleaning of soil from organic matters depends upon availability of water. The other constraints include lack of improved varieties resistant to major diseases and insects.

To overcome such production problems, efforts have been made in the selection and breeding of high yielding varieties. The major constraint of garlic production and productivity in the country is lack of better and enriched varieties in the required quality and quantity. Consequently, farmers are restricted to use garlic that is inferior in yield, prone to most of the diseases and insects with traditional agricultural practices.

Generally, it is assumed that not all local varieties are inferior in yield and quality. But less attention has been given to improving these varieties. Mostly farmers use very limited amount of fertilizer that is below the recommended amount. The optimum rate of fertilizer application is unknown and very small amount is used, which could not have significant effect on crop production. The low yield of garlic in Ethiopia is, therefore, the result of lack of improved garlic varieties as well as the low rate of fertilizer application. Farmers apply little amount of fertilizer to “reduce the cost” of production due to lack of awareness of fertilizer application rates.

Studies have indicated appropriate applications to attain maximum quality of the crop for enhanced household income. It is also reported that improved quality and nutrient contents do not necessarily result in significant level of yield. However, in some cases chemical applications showed a direct and positive effect on pungency and soluble sugar content. This showed the importance of conducting research focusing on the increase of yield. It is also necessary to test different varieties on farmers’ land to identify local varieties for attaining maximum garlic yield potential for the specific agro-ecology.

The varieties and agronomic practices recommended elsewhere may not be applicable in other areas due to “agro-ecological differences.” In this respect, research works have been initiated with the objective of identifying high yielding and adaptable garlic varieties. However, research has to be conducted if there is market demand for the identified variety of garlic. Studies show that garlic has a wide range of adaptation to different environment. The ecological requirement for garlic is a reasonably mild winter season which has some rainfall followed by a sunny dry summer.

On the other hand, excessive humidity and rainfall are unfavorable for the vegetative growth of garlic. As M. Yamaguchi et al pointed out, the garlic plant is easily stressed by water logging during its growth. To attain maximum garlic yield, the upper soil surface should be moist, but not wet. It has a wide area of adaptation and cultivation in moist parts of the country. However, the productivity of garlic in many parts of the world is low due to genetic and environmental factors affecting its yield. World production of garlic is ranked 14th among vegetables, with Asian countries as major consumers of garlic.

Yield and quality will vary with climate, region, altitude, soil, cultural practices, and variety of garlic. T. Abadi pointed out that the term “biological elasticity” describes the variability of garlic to climate changes over time. There is no single practice that is best suited for every situation. It is advisable to learn from local growers who have rich experience in growing and harvesting garlic. It is advisable to conduct experiment with different cultural practices and varieties to discover the “best combination” of operations. Experiences show that soils will need more frequent water applications, but less water applied per application.

Scientific cultivation of garlic is not common among traditional farmers. Though it is one of the most important vegetable crops in the country, farmers are growing it from the available varieties without nitrogen fertilizer. The garlic produced in the traditional farms is not compared to improved varieties for its response to nitrogen fertilizer. In recent years, however, assessment was made on the effect of nitrogen fertilizer on garlic yield.

Garlic yield and yield related traits were significantly “influenced” by nitrogen fertilizer. The application of this fertilizer resulted in high yield when compared to local yield without fertilizer application. This improved variety had also the highest proportion of marketable portions categorized under medium and large categories.

The cost benefit analysis of garlic indicated that maximum economic return could be obtained with new varieties. It is possible to identify garlic varieties with highest and lowest economic returns by locality. Those districts that have similar agro-ecology provided similar garlic output per unit of area. Agricultural experts specializing in garlic species could “map or identify” those localities that are fit for high quality garlic production. Once the question of production is settled the next step is “locating the market” that gives high price for a unit of garlic. Farmers may not have the knowledge of producing a marketable surplus, over and above their household consumption of garlic.

They should be provided with market information on where, when and how to sell their produce. Should they deliver it to the market themselves or should they sell it a middleman that exploits their lack of information on the current value of garlic is a question to be addressed by agricultural extension agents.

Similarly, the value chain system that stretches from garlic production, storage, transportation to final market has to be clearly identified by the concerned agricultural agency in the locality. This chain had to be identified and cleared with the objective of avoiding the exploitation of garlic farmers by rent seekers. These exploiters are found in every ring of the value chain.


The Ethiopian Herald May 6/2021

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