Bullock Ploughing (plowing) in Ethiopia


Leaning bullock plowing in Ethiopia

Learning bul­lock plough­ing in Ethiopia

I added a new skill to my CV last week. Most of the farm­land of Ethiopia is ploughed with bul­lock ploughs (plows). One man and two bul­locks can plough a quarter of a hec­tare, about 0.6 acre, per day. This area is known as a Timad and the area is used as a basis for meas­ure­ment of yield. The video shows two dif­fer­ent plough­ing teams, start­ing with one in very stony soil. Note the calls used to con­trol the bul­locks. The second series shows another team: they were moved to a flat­ter area so that I and other sci­ent­ists could try our hands at plough­ing. It is done with one hand on the wooden plough and one hold­ing (or, in my case, trip­ping over) the whip. My attempt is shown from 1.50 on the video, much to the amuse­ment of the local chil­dren. The cattle knew their job and were easy to turn, but were a bit unsettled by the num­ber of people around them. At the end I man­age to knock out the wooden mould-board, and the plough becomes uncon­trol­lable. As always, a fer­enji (for­eigner) accu­mu­lates a score of chil­dren around him, no mat­ter how remote the area seems to be. The British horse-ploughs I have used have two handles, mak­ing them slightly easier to con­trol (and also nearer sea level: the extra exer­tion needed at 2664m, 8700 feet alti­tude, is heard by my breath­less­ness in the video!), but the Ethiopian plough seemed to be less dis­turbed by hit­ting large stones.

Correction: 23/5/12: Timad is the term for the area ploughed by a pair of oxen in one day — when the land is soft. The area has been form­al­ized using 50m ropes.

Editor Pat Heslop-Harrison. ORCID 0000-0002-3105-2167

Pat Heslop-Harrison is Professor of Molecular Cytogenetics and Cell Biology at the University of Leicester. He is also Chief Editor of Annals of Botany.

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