Experts in Bangor are working with farmers in Eritrea to help them choose the best crops for their environment. Cariad, the Centre for Advanced Research in International Agricultural Development, based at Bangor University, is beginning a three-year £453,000 project funded by the European Union.
They work with the farmers, drawing on their knowledge of local conditions and crops to develop new, sustainable varieties of staple foods and the best methods of growing them.
Eritrea in north east Africa is one of the driest parts of the continent and subject to frequent droughts which are likely to worsen as climate change leads to more erratic rainfall.
Cariad is among the world leaders in this field and has worked in Asia and other parts of Africa, but never before in Eritrea.
Project leader Dr Philip Hollington said: “We’ve always worked closely with the poor farmers themselves, concentrating on the marginal lands where the soil has little fertility.
“Their problems don’t get addressed by the national or international research effort.
“They tend to do all their testing on research stations where they irrigate and spray the crops, and so come up with varieties that aren’t relevant.”
With the help of other organisations on the ground, Cariad finds out what farmers want out of crops like sorghum, pearl millet or chickpea.
Flavour, cooking quality, yield and price in the market are all vital.
“One of the most important things is the time the crop takes to come to maturity,” explained Dr Hollington.
“They can usually predict when a drought is going to arrive, so if a variety matures before that, it’s fine.
“We help identify varieties that have all those characteristics.”