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Tef crop improvement

Tef (Eragrostis tef) is the most important cereal crop in the Horn of Africa. In Ethiopia, about 6.5 million smallholder farming households grow tef on three million hectares. Tef provides the staple food for about 70 million people. Despite its great importance in Ethiopia and Eritrea, tef has so far largely been neglected by the international research community.

Tef is a resilient plant, appreciated by Ethiopian farmers for its ability to grow both in dry and very wet conditions. Productivity, however, remains low so far. One of the major yield-limiting is ‘lodging’; the plants’ weak stalks easily fall over. Lodging markedly reduces the grain’s quality and quantity at harvest. Productivity is further limited by the use of landraces instead of improved varieties. Over the years, there has been very little investment in tef breeding, or in new accompanying technologies and agronomic practices. Planting is also still very because tef’s tiny seeds are too small for normal mechanical drilling.

In order to advance scientific research on this vital but largely neglected crop, we started the Tef Improvement Project (TIP) in 2006. We are partnering with the University of Bern and the Ethiopian Institute for Agricultural Research (EIAR) to develop and deliver improved tef varieties to smallholder farming communities in Ethiopia. (Here is a story about the first one). In addition, we develop protocols and practices to produce more uniform, larger planting material that will facilitate the crop’s early-stage farming management.