Today, Ethiopian farmers are feeling the pressure to grow modern monoculture crops, thanks in part to a national push to become an agricultural powerhouse. “If you export grains, you want them to be uniform,” says McAlvay. “The global market wants a certain type of wheat for their Wonder Bread. A mixture of three varieties of wheat and four varieties of barley with some other things thrown in really doesn’t make the cut.”
Tesfanesh Feseha, a master’s student in botany who served as a field translator during McAlvay’s interviews with more than 100 farmers, says that with the national embrace of monocultures, new farmers aren’t learning the art of cultivating grain mixtures. “Young farmers didn’t even know the mixtures we were looking for,” she says.
Zemede, who collaborates with McAlvay but was not directly involved in the new paper, remains optimistic. “[The push for] modernization is strong. It comes with technology