By John Rossiter
Communal pastures in Ethiopia suffer from excessive land degradation. The sheer intensity of grazing can leave lands barren and devoid of vegetation, resulting in extensive soil erosion reducing the productivity of the land. This over use of common pasture land is a direct result of historic government control of land rights and the resulting lack of tenure security. Issues the current government is addressing through its Sustainable Land Management (SLM) programmes to combat desertification and reduce degradation.
In 2009 the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) funded the Community Based Integrated Natural Resources Management Project (CBINReMP). The project's primary objective is to combat land degradation and promote SLM to increase agricultural productivity, food security and income generation in rural communities. Through land registration and certification processes local communities are able to gain land tenure security instilling a sense of pride inducing a willingness to enhance SLM implementation.
An important aspect of stainable land management in Ethiopia is the implementation of 'Exclosure Zones'. These consist of communal lands where livestock grazing is prohibited and enforced through community by-laws. After a growing season cut and carry systems are implemented allowing beneficiaries to hand cut fodder for their livestock. This has the benefit of reducing the effect of trampling and overgrazing encouraging stall feeding leading to a reduction in grazing intensity on reduced open grazing grounds. The system utilizes a social fencing, where the community agrees the byelaws and fines for any infringements. This reduces the needs for physical fencing, making the practice cheap and highly appealing.
In the absence of intensive grazing pressures soil seed banks re-establish their dominance and the once barren lands begin to flourish. Out of lands reduced to dust and prickly straw comes initial bursts of luscious grasses and colourful highland flowers soon interspersed with the iconic African Acacias, Bruceania and Dodonea species. Anchoring soils and providing shade and wind resistance, the transformation soon attracts the colourful plethora of birdlife endemic to the region.
However, this enhancement in biodiversity has more than aesthetic value. For local smallholders utilizing an effective cut and carry system it means an increase in fodder for their livestock, increasing incomes and enhancing livelihoods in the area. At the same time soils regenerate themselves under the enhanced vegetation, with better infiltration of rainfall and a recharge of ground water. Long dead springs come back to life providing clean water sources to communities in isolated villages during the dry months.