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Lost Crops of Africa: Volume I, Grains
different conditions, can be created from Ethiopia's broad germplasm base.
It seems likely that demand will increase worldwide for nonweedy annual grasses that can serve as temporary ground covers. South Africans are now using tef as a "nurse crop" that quickly covers the ground and fosters the establishment of perennial grasses sown along with it. This should be tested elsewhere, too. In South Africa it is already used in mixtures to protect road cuts, open-cast mine workings, stream banks, and other erodible sites.23
Black Cotton Soils
Tef has evolved on the Ethiopian highlands on vertisol (black cotton) soils that frequently get waterlogged. Few other cereals can be grown there. In fact, tef is able to withstand wet conditions perhaps better than any cereal other than rice. It even grows in partly waterlogged plots, as well as on acidic soils.24
Vertisols are a problem in many parts of the tropics. They are cracking clays that regularly heave and sag and split.25 Few crop plants can withstand such soil abuse. Tef might be a savior for such sites. India, in particular, has vast areas of these "impossible" soils.
Eragrostis tef (Zucc.) Trotter
Poa abyssinica Jacq.; Eragrostis abyssinica (Jacq.) Link
It is often sown with its relative Eragrostis curvula. This perennial has been developed in South Africa into an almost incredible array of types for land protection and reclamation purposes. They are providing outstanding erosion control on toxic, dry, degraded, and infertile slag heaps and other problem sites where nothing previously would grow. (Information from J.J.P. van Wyk, see research contacts.)
Information from H. Kreiensiek.
Early in the growing season, these soils become waterlogged and go anaerobic; later they crack and dry out, breaking off the roots of plants that have survived the trauma. They also get so gooey during the rains that machinery and people cannot move across them.