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June 12, 2011

Pastoralists in Ethiopia grapple with harmful weed

by Andualem Sisay

Pastoralists in Afar Region of Ethiopia engaged in a fierce battle with prosopis, a harmful weed to both pastoralists and their animals which rapidly is invading grazing and agricultural land of the region.

According to some of the pastoralists in the region who spoke to journalists who visited the area last week during a program organized by a civil society organization named Pastoralist Forum Ethiopia, rapid expansion of prosopis is threatening their livelihoods by grabbing grazing land of their animals.

“The number of our livestock animals is decreasing, as our land is being invaded rapidly by Dergi Hara (meaning Derg Tree, a name given to prosopis in Afar language),” says Abdule Hero, Chairman of Bedul Ali Kebele of Amibara Wereda (district) and beneficiary of a prosopis management project being implemented by a civil society organization in the area.

“Any other indigenous plants are disappearing from the areas where Dergi Hara is invading. In addition, those animals which feed the weed will be sick. It is a very serious problem that is forcing us to look for other means of survival,” he says.

According to a study conducted by Farm Africa, a civil society organization, which introduced a pilot program of managing prosopis three years ago in Afar Region, the pods of the weed eaten by the animals is one of the major reasons for fast invasion of prosopis, which is also called Weyane Zafe in Amharic, before it gets the Afar version.

The pods, which the animals eat but could not be digested, will turn to a seed dropping out as a waste. Currently over one million and one hundred thousand hectares of land in Afar Region is covered by Prosopis. In addition, it is also expanding to the northern and south west of Ethiopian regions covering million of hectares, according to Farm Africa’s research.

Introducing Pastoralists with Farming

“After Farm Africa, as a pioneer interventionist, has launched a three and half year prosopis management program in Afar Region, we are able to convince the pastoralists in the area and engage them in the effort of controlling the spread of this dangerous weed,” says Alawis Ahmed, manager of the project.

The project, which covered 9 weredas of the 18 highly affected parts of Afar Region, has been able to clear 250 hectares of land from the weed and introduced farming to the pastoralist people in the area.

“It was very difficult to engaged pastoralist communities to farming activity,” says, Hirut Kassa, senior project officer of the project. “In most cases pastoralists prefer to hire other highlanders to do the farming for them. But, here the situation was different all the pastoralist were ready to train themselves on how to do the farming,” she says.

Last year some 60 pastoralists of Bedul Ali Kebele of Amibara Wereda began their first farming business producing 100 quintals of sesame, which each quintal is worth 1,500 birr.

“We first started on 25 hectares of land and this year we are developing a total of 100 hectares of land for cotton production,” says Abdule.

According to Alawis, prosopis management project of Farm Africa is not limited to clearing the land and covering it with crops. It among others includes introducing the pastoralists on how they can make money by producing charcoal from prosopis and producing animal feed by crushing prosopis pods.

Is Pastoralism Dying?

Even though the land size they are farming is growing Abdule stressed that he or his friends have no intention of completely turning to farming by abandoning pastoralism once and for all.

“Well the money we get from farming will support us but it is not satisfactory like the money we make from livestock. If we take for instance one bucket of milk which was 25 cents is now three or four birr. Therefore, livestock production is not something we will abandon. Hence, we rather do both farming and the pastoralist activity simultaneously,” he said.

Executive Director of Pastoralist Form Ethiopia, Tezera Getahun, agrees with the idea of Abdule. “Many of us including policy makers and the media have misconception about pastoralism and underestimate its benefits.

“Many of us think that farming is better for pastoralists. But it is not true, the fact that some farmers in highland area such as Gojam still do not even have shoes and we can’t see any pastoralist in Somali Region without a shoes shows can be a simple example to compare the two,” he asserted.

Describing that most of the southern African country, Botswana’s, meat export is produced by pastoralists, Tezera argues that Ethiopia, which is the top in Africa in livestock population, can benefit better if it gives proper attention to pastoralists.

“Pastoralists do not move from one place to another only in search of pasture and water. There are about a dozen reasons for them to move such as avoiding diseases, difficult weather and the like,” he says.

In an attempt of reducing the level of their vulnerability to disasters and help them improve their livelihoods, Ethiopian government has been introducing farming to the pastoralists through settlement program.

Meanwhile many people argue that mobility, which is a unique characteristic of pastoralists, need to continue. “Ranching (settling people in one area) will not always work,” says Taffesse Mesfin (PhD), Animal Health expert who spent over 30 years working in pastoralist areas.

“By the principle of mobility the pastoralists preserve the ecosystem. Instead of making them farmers, government needs to involve them on issues that affect negatively their livelihoods and the environment,” he advices.

In Ethiopia about 75 percent of national parks are found in pastoralist areas, which covers 60 percent of the total land mass of the country with a total of ten million pastoralists in Somali, Oromia, Afar, Gambella and Benishangul Regions of Ethiopia.

Dr. Taffesse believes that consulting with pastoralists on management and benefit sharing from the income of these parks could lead to the reduction of conflicts and preservation of the natural resources.

In addition experts in the area also suggest that preparing pastoralists’ focused extension program that will make easy the provision of basic service to the pastoralists and their animals as well as setting in place proper pastoralist land use policy, regulations and manuals could also improve the current poor livelihoods of Ethiopian pastoralists and the environment.

Even though Afar Region was the first to prepare land use policy, still some investors still complain that the policy is not implemented on the ground as it is mandatory for them to get green light from clan leaders to undertake commercial farming peacefully.

Globally it is estimated that there are over 200 million pastoralists. Now the question is, ‘Will Ethiopian pastoralists preserve their century old life style for the coming decades will their mobility stop and they become settled farmers?

New Business Ethiopia

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