Orchard and Tree Initiative

The MAI orchard initiative was established to help develop trees that can survive on little irrigation. This is an important factor, as irrigation is not necessarily available in many parts of the country. It is sometimes an all day effort for local people to haul water from the rivers, by hand or loaded on carts pulled by donkeys. Because this is not practical for watering an orchard, MAI wanted to grow trees that would minimize this effort, to maximize land production and yield. This initiative includes fruits, nuts, and berries.

The objective of this initiative was to send fruit trees from the United States to Ethiopia. Tree and fruit species were selected based on what could potentially do well in the country, varieties that local people would like, and what was nutritious.

These imported seedlings were to be planted on a property allocated to MAI by the Seventh Day Adventist School. They would be planted for research purposes and then watched and cared for properly, to see how the fruit performs in Ethiopia.

But, when the trees got to Ethiopia, they had to be cleared through customs. The Ethiopian government decided that they wanted to manage the trees and took ownership of them. MAI stills has access to the trees to study them when needed.

According to Marty Petersen, the MAI fruit tree project, “In the extent that we discover types of fruit that work well and are liked by the Ethiopian people, that will help them.”

Adaptation Trials

Since his initial visit to Ethiopia, Lloyd Ward has tried to identify varieties of trees and plants that are not currently in Ethiopia, such as certain banana, mango, and pineapple varieties. His research concluded with a list of 162 new varieties, which he would like to see introduced and tested in various Ethiopian climates.

As of February 2010, three orders had been shipped to Ethiopia from the mainland States, as well as a fourth order from Hawaii. These shipments of plants, trees, and seeds were shipped to government research facilities in Ethiopia so that they can be planted there and tested for quality.

The Hawaiian shipment bound for Ethiopia contained trees, plants, fruits, and nuts – all beneficial for famine relief. It also included bamboo. This variety of bamboo is tropical and different than what is typically grown in Ethiopia. Used for timber, the stocks of this bamboo are hollow and can grow to be 12 inches in diameter and 100 feet tall. It can be used for water pipes and construction, and it provides another economical benefit in that the shoots can be eaten.

The Ethiopian government used these shipments of food plants, provided by MAI, to plant and run adaptation trials. These trials check for any diseases that could develop in the plants, as well as make sure that they will not spread too much and become invasive. After the trials are completed, and if they are a success, the government will open MAI to spread the plants throughout Ethiopia.

These adaptation trials must be run so that the trees can be certified for release throughout the country. The trials must be done before MAI can take control of the trees and plant them. Dr. Solomon, the Assistant Minister of Agriculture in Ethiopia, just wanted to be sure that they would grow well in the country.

It was a struggle initially to get the trees shipped over Ethiopia, but all 162 varieties have now arrived in the country. While the majority of the varieties are new to Ethiopia, Lloyd learned that a few were already present, as well.

The trees have been in the Ethiopian government’s hand for awhile now. Based on the way that plants and crops grow in Ethiopia, these little MAI trees should be seeing considerable growth. One of Lloyd’s biggest frustrations in this project is not knowing what is going on with the trees and not knowing how to find out. He would like to know how long they want the adaptation trials to go before MAI is allowed to start taking the trees and spread them throughout Ethiopia.

The wheels of bureaucracy are slow, but Lloyd said, “My hope is that within a year we’ll be sharing those trees with Ethiopian farmers.”

Until the trees are released for use by the Ethiopian researchers, MAI can buy trees from nurseries in the country and plant them on various properties. There are many native fruit trees in the country, such as apples, oranges, lemons, and limes. Wes Haws has over 500 trees now on site at Beltu.

As of September 2010, a few of the varieties MAI imported to the country had been released for distribution – a couple apple varieties and a few varieties of plants already present in Ethiopia. Lloyd hopes to progress the trees into the next phase, which is trial planting and marketing. Trial planting of the trees will probably take place near Arsi Negele, either on the land there or on the Farmer’s Training Cooperative (FTC). There is also the option that the Ethiopian government may be willing to provide cuttings from the trees to MAI, while they keep the original trees. The cutting will then be marketed.

Farmer’s Training Center

The Farmer’s Training Center (FTC) property in Kersa Illala, leased by MAI, has been used as an orchard and has been planted with many different types of trees.

June 2008 FTC Planting

Planting began at the FTC property in June of 2008. A variety of fruit trees and food crops were planted including mango, papaya, avocado, peach, apple, banana, orange, geshita (a local variety), grapes, false bananas, and coffee. Locals were also taught how to intercrop vegetables among the trees. This is a process in which vegetables and trees are grown on the same piece of land, to utilize all available space.

Banana trees planted in June of 2008 were absolutely huge in January of 2010, and they were already starting to produce bananas. Different species of trees planted at the same time have unfortunately not exhibited the same swift growth.

Lloyd Ward

Lloyd Ward is the employee of MAI who is primarily responsible for the fruit tree project in Ethiopia. Lloyd has been given the task to visit Ethiopia and to determine what could be grown there as additional and alternative food sources for the local people. This included looking at the growing seasons and climates of the temperate highlands, tropical lowlands, and deserts. While he was in the country, it was also Lloyd’s intention to demonstrate and train people at the MAI orchard and the Village of Hope in proper pruning techniques.

October to November 2009

Lloyd Ward first visited Ethiopia in October and November of 2009, along with agronomist Evan Maxfield. The purpose of this visit was to tour the government state farms and the Farmer’s Training Center in Kersa Illala. It was their aim to get a sense of the local peoples’ culture and their traditional way of growing grain.

Dr. Hamsilu, head of Oromia government research, was able to show Lloyd and Evan around parts of Ethiopia. He lead them on tours of the research sites at Machara and Fadis, which is near the city of Harar, on one visit, and Adami Tulu on another visit. MAI seed varieties have been planted and were tested at these sites.

Lloyd and Evan observed the growth of grain, coffee, maize, teff, barley, and other plants throughout the countryside. They were also given the opportunity to meet with local land managers in order to learn about the practices used to fertilize plants, till the ground, and harvest grain.

Traveling to the northeast, Lloyd and Evan were able to visit the Bilba State Farm.  Near Harar, in eastern Ethiopia, they were able to see a machinery facility where threshing and other farming products were manufactured. From there, it was on to Shenika, a failed state farm. Here soil tests were done and the land was evaluated. It was overgrazed and worn-out. For centuries in Ethiopia, nomadic peoples have driven their cattle over the face of the land with little understanding of sustainable grazing methods. These practices have continued into the present.

The purpose of traveling throughout Ethiopia, learning about local culture, and gaining understanding about local techniques was essentially to evaluate the grain in different regions of the country. This information would be beneficial in the Beltu State Farm, land made available to MAI for grain planting and harvesting.

The Beltu State Farm was acquired with the intention to grow seeds adapt at growing in the dry season, which is a foreign idea in Ethiopia. It is this very farm where thousands of hectares of land are in the process of being cleared and harvested by locals and by their traditional methods. It was of utmost importance to understand the country and the people in order to make real progress in this initiative. If local people and farming methods could successfully work the land at Beltu, then the chances of spreading this new farming technology to the rest of the country becomes much greater.

Traveling with Ethiopian government officials and Evan, Lloyd was able to meet with a local village elder in Beltu. On their first day there, they were treated to an afternoon feast of camel milk, a ground grain mixture, butchered goat, which is called tibs, and injera bread, an Ethiopian staple food. Their accommodations at night were simple tents.

Confrontation with Ethiopian Locals: an Anecdote

The farm in Beltu is located in a remote and relatively sparse populated area of Ethiopia. MAI did not want to uproot families in order to secure land in a more accessible area of the country. The landscape of Beltu was an improbably bushy and rough place for growing grain. Joe Morrell and his crew needed to hire locals to help them clear the land at Beltu and to prepare it sufficiently for planting.

A hair-raising experience occurred one day on a soil testing expedition in the Beltu area. Lloyd and his team had parked their car along the side of the road, next to a ten foot ravine. Wanting to get soil samples from the area, they began to cross the ravine on foot. Once on the other side, a group of people came out of the bushes and converged upon them, jumping and yelling. They carried machetes, axes, sticks, and even a few AK47s. The local nomadic group misunderstood the MAI team’s intentions and felt that the foreigners were after their land.

Unable to understand them, and wanting to peacefully talk to them, Lloyd looked about for his interpreters, but they were already back down in the ravine. Even his locally hired guards were already running back towards the vehicles. Backing slowly away, Lloyd was able to leave the area safely, albeit without his soil samples.

Government officials were later brought in to talk to the people, without the Americans. After explaining to the local people that the MAI team was not after their land, but was merely just there to hire them, things smoothed over and work in the area was allowed to continue on.

January 2010

Very little in a business, or in the socialist county of Ethiopia, can begin without the proper paperwork being completed. So, Lloyd Ward returned to Ethiopia in January of 2010, along with his two sons, with the purpose of obtaining import permits, so that trees could be brought into the country and planted.

Lloyd was presented with the privilege of meeting with Dr. Solomon, the Assistant Minister of Agriculture in Ethiopia. Dr. Solomon expressed how thankful he was for the work of the MAI team, and he believes that it will be a huge benefit to Ethiopia. He graciously took Lloyd and his sons out for a traditional dinner, complete with dancing and music.

February 2010

The MAI orchard initiative was developed to grow fruit tree varieties in Ethiopia. Part of this initiative was to grow these trees within a two year period of time, only irrigating during the first dry season. These trees went through their second dry season in early 2010. The trees that survived by June or July were to be promoted and planted throughout the region, as ones that would take little care as far as irrigation is concerned.

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