Conserving Nature is Nurturing Livelihoods of Smallholder Farmers
“Deforestation and land degradation have been the most common challenges of the eastern and western slopes of the Central Rift Valley area of Ethiopia, thereby resulting in significant deposits of siltation in the water bodies.”
These are the words of Mr. Mohammed Kedir, a Natural Resources Management Expert with SOS Sahel Ethiopia, describing about the recent past environmental realities of the Central Rift Valley (CRV) area of Ethiopia.
The CRV is part of the Great African Rift Valley that encompasses four major lakes on the rift floor, such as Ziway, Shala, Langano and Abijata, and is surrounded by slopes on the east and west sides.
The area is popular with small-scale agricultural activities and is home to tens of thousands of smallholder farmers who rely mainly on seasonal rains. Agricultural practices, however, have thus far been challenged by rainfall uncertainty, land degradation, shrinking land holdings and lake water pollution.
Recognizing these problems, concerned local and international development organizations have devised a multi-stakeholder solution — the answer to redressing the deteriorating natural resources and meager agricultural productivity of the CRV.
Integrated Landscape Management as the Preferred Solution
The viable solution to the environmental degradation challenges was designed by IWMI, Farm Africa and other partners during 2017 and is known as the Growth for the Future (G4F) initiative, thanks to the generous financial support they enjoyed from the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA).
The initiative has the objective of supporting rural economic development, resilience building and biodiversity conservation in the CRV, by making use of integrated landscape management approaches and by aligning it effectively with Ethiopia’s Climate Resilient Green Economic Policy.
A landscape development approach fundamentally recognizes the linkage between people and the environment and strives to strike a balance between human needs and conservation objectives. It further integrates local societal needs and aspirations with the conservation of natural resources by establishing long-term collaboration among various actors.
Multi-stakeholder Engagement for Environmental Conservation and Agricultural Productivity
At the outset, the initiative applied multi-scale planning and implementation approaches to fully engage all stakeholders — local and international. “Stakeholders then prioritized soil and water conservation, area closure, participatory forest management, climate-smart agriculture and irrigation as key activities for quickly responding to the environmental degradation hurdles,” recounts Dr. Amare Hailesellasie, Principal Researcher with the International Water Management Institute (IWMI).
Supported by regional agricultural offices, IWMI and Farm Africa have embarked on collaboratively undertaking soil and water conservation activities in eight districts where soil erosion and gully formation were dire.
“In the eight districts, 1,102 cubic meters of gabion check dams were constructed to rehabilitate 15 hectares of degraded hotspot area to soil erosion,” said Mr. Abraham Walelign, a government Natural Resources Management Expert. In addition, biological soil and water conservation measures were implemented to establish physical soil and water conservation structures within the districts.
Elephant and vetiver grasses, amounting to 450,570, were then planted to stabilize the soil and water conservation structures that were constructed in the erosion hotspot areas. A year elapsed and a glimmer of hope started shining.
The success was really thrilling. The project champions were able to reduce the loss of soil and water on 270 hectares of land.
Inspired by the fruits of success, IWMI and Farm Africa further expanded their work to the area closure management of Lake Abijatta, one of the significant water bodies for livelihoods of smallholder farmers in the CRV.
Mr. Demelash Tesfaye, Field Project Coordinator with Farm Africa said, “An area closure was established on 103.7 hectares around Lake Abijatta and 23.7 hectares of buffer zone was fenced around the lake area to protect it from siltation and pollution from agrochemicals.”
To the surprise of everyone, the degraded lands started rehabilitating: vegetation cover of the area has restored and some migratory birds have come back. These changes have been achieved after four years of hard work by the project’s local and international development champions, including farmers.
“We will continue our collaborative actions to fully restore and protect all of the degraded natural resources and agricultural lands and empower smallholder farmers to feed their families and sustain their livelihoods,” stresses Dr. Amare.