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    'Staff publications' is the digital repository of Wageningen University & Research

    'Staff publications' contains references to publications authored by Wageningen University staff from 1976 onward.

    Publications authored by the staff of the Research Institutes are available from 1995 onwards.

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Record number 507299
Title Crop intensification options and trade-offs with the water balance in the Central Rift Valley of Ethiopia
Author(s) Debas, Mezegebu
Source University. Promotor(en): Martin van Ittersum, co-promotor(en): Huib Hengsdijk; Katrien Descheemaeker. - Wageningen : Wageningen University - ISBN 9789462578616 - 178
Department(s) PPO/PRI AGRO Water- en Biobased Economy
Publication type Dissertation, internally prepared
Publication year 2016
Keyword(s) cropping systems - intensification - water balance - crop production - land use - climatic change - crop yield - water use - irrigation - ethiopia - teeltsystemen - intensivering - waterbalans - gewasproductie - landgebruik - klimaatverandering - gewasopbrengst - watergebruik - irrigatie - ethiopië
Categories Plant Production Systems

The Central Rift Valley (CRV) of Ethiopia is a closed basin for which claims on land and water have strongly increased over the past decade resulting in over-exploitation of the resources. A clear symptom is the declining trend in the water level of the terminal Lake Abyata. The actual productivity of most cereals in the CRV is less than 2 t ha-1 associated with low input use and poor crop management. Consequently, there are two major development objectives in the CRV, i.e. producing sufficient food for the increasing population, while at the same time ensuring efficient use of limited water and land resources under variable and changing climate conditions. The low productive cereal systems and a declining resource base call for options to increase crop productivity and improve resource use efficiency in order to meet the growing demand for food.

In this thesis, the recent impacts were quantified of climate change, land use change and irrigation water abstraction on water availability of Lake Abyata of the CRV. The trends in lake levels, river discharges, basin rainfall, temperature and irrigation development (ca. 1975-2008) were analysed and the additional evapotranspiration loss resulting from temperature change and irrigated land were computed. We also analysed land use change (1990-2007) and the associated changes in runoff. Results showed that temperature has increased over 34 years (p<0.001) whereas annual rainfall has not changed significantly. Consequently, increased evapotranspiration consumed 62 and 145 Mm3 of additional water from lakes and land surface, respectively, during 1990-2007. Furthermore, an estimated 285 Mm3yr-1 of water was abstracted for irrigation in 2009 of which approximately 170 Mm3yr-1 is irrecoverable evapotranspiration loss. In addition, surface runoff has increased in the upper, and decreased in lower sub-basins of the CRV associated with extensive land use change (1990-2007).

We analysed a large number of data from farmers’ fields (>10,000) and experimental data across the CRV from 2004-2009 to quantify the gaps (Yg) between actual (farm) and experimental (water-limited potential - Yw) yields of maize and wheat in homogenous farming zones. We found that the average (2004-2009) yield gap of maize and wheat ranged between 4.2-9.2 t ha-1, and 2.5-4.7 t ha-1, respectively, across farming zones. The actual N and P application in farmers’ fields was low, as about 46% of maize and 27% of wheat fields did not receive fertilisers. We calibrated, validated and used the Agricultural Production System Simulator (APSIM) model to explore intensification options and their trade-offs with water losses through evapotranspiration. Variety selection and N fertilization were more important for yield gap closure than crop residue management and planting density, and the magnitude of their effect depended on soil type and climate. There was a trade-off between intensification and water use through evapotranspiration, as increasing yield comes at the cost of increased transpiration. However, this trade-off can be minimized by choosing location-specific N levels at which both water use efficiency (WUE) and gross margin are maximised. These application rates varied between 75 and 250 kg N ha-1 across locations and soils, and allowed producing 80% of Yw of maize and wheat. Climate change was projected to lower Yw of maize and wheat by ca. 15-25% and 2-30%, respectively, compared to current climate conditions.

An automated gridded simulation framework was developed to scale up the promising intensification options from field scale to basin scale. We then aggregated basin scale production and identified trade-offs between production and water use for different land use scenarios. This procedure allowed designing land use scenarios based on a spatially explicit optimization of WUE and gross margin per grid cell. Consequences of land use scenarios for food production and water use at basin level were evaluated. Results of the different land use scenarios demonstrated that crop intensification options for which WUE and gross margin are maximised can meet the projected food demand (year 2050) of the growing population in the CRV while at the same time saving large areas of the currently cultivated land. In the intensification scenarios total water loss through evapotranspiration from agricultural land is reduced compared with water loss from current cultivated land and low crop productivity levels.

It is concluded that the current land use together with climate change and water abstraction for irrigation negatively affected the basin level water balance in CRV over the past decade. Furthermore, the scope for further expansion of farmland to increase food production is very limited. The focus should, therefore, be towards intensification also because the existing yield gaps are huge and hence the scope for intensification is large. Model-based exploration of intensification options can be used to prioritize promising options, to close the yield gap and for quantifying trade-offs. Scaling up of promising options allows to assess whether the food demand of the growing population can be met while at the same time saving the less productive land and water per unit agricultural product.

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