Changing the lives of farmers via changing the degraded terrain

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Area-closure and other soil conservation methods are playing a  role in the recovery of various terrain in the state

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Written by Abraham Dereje

Ethiopia, like other sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries, is an agrarian economy, with a very small industrial sector. Agricultural production is highly dependent on the vagaries of nature with significant variability in production and actual production patterns. Rainfall in the arid and semi-arid areas is generally insufficient to meet the basic needs of crop production. In degraded areas with poor vegetation cover and infertile soil, rainfall is lost almost completely through direct evaporation or uncontrolled runoff. Thus, overcoming challenges faced in arid and semi-arid areas by way of making good use of the vast agricultural potential under the Ethiopian context, is a necessity rather than a choice. Thus, there is need for appropriate interventions to address the prevailing constraints using suitable technologies for improved and sustainable agricultural production.

Severe land degradation affects the livelihood of many farmers in the highlands of Tigray, northern Ethiopia. Various soil and water conservation practices have been proposed to reduce land degradation and to improve the quality of the natural resource base. Mulugeta Gebre-Sellassie, Natural Resource Development Unit Head of the Tigray Bureau of Agriculture, says the community mobilization campaign in all parts of the state is bearing fruit and many areas are regaining their productivity after decades of degradation. However, it was very challenging to change the mindset of the rural community on the value of the interventions at the outset, he reminded. The community in almost all kebeles of the state undertook various soil and water conservation tasks for four months a year at the beginning and it is now reduced to 20 days a year, he said.

According to Mulugeta, 35 per cent of the state is within the category of a young work force that if properly utilized could dramatically change the degraded landscape of the state significantly. “We have been undertaking the soil and water conservation works for the last 20 years. But, the results were not immediate. It took a few years to see the changes and tangibly convince the society,” he remarked. The bureau at the beginning implemented various techniques that could help to save the soil from continued erosion, including the construction of soil bunds. Gradually rain water harvesting technologies have been implemented for the accumulation and deposition of rainwater for reuse before it reaches the aquifer.

Anyone who travels from one area of the state to the other can witness close to village on both side of the road rainwater tanks installed to make use of rain water for later use. Now the state’s mountains, which occupy 70 of the total land are changing to productivity thanks to the rehabilitation efforts done during the last few years. This adds more agricultural land for the state’s farmers who were for years forced to limit their activities on only one million hectares of arable land in the state.

Mulugeta says the state now has six state forests with an area of six thousand hectares, of which about 960 thousand hectares is treated in various ways and the rest is regaining its vegetation cover via area closure- making free from any human and animal contact. After more than a decade of wide spread soil and water conservation campaigns, the state is even allocating more than 63 thousand hectares of land to more than 137 thousand landless youth. Mulugeta said the state has drawn lessons from countries like South Korea, having similar topography with the state, to create new arable land for the youth and wide ranging soil and water conservation activities have been underway since 2003 E.C. The youth engaged on the newly allocated plots have started to produce fruits and vegetables, cereal crops, work on animal fattening, and bee keeping, he indicated.

Mulugeta says youth in all woredas of the state have benefited from the scheme of preventing arable land shortage and migration from the state as a result and it would continue in the coming years. “we have been undertaking water and soil conservation activities on more than 148 thousand hectares of land on average each year. This has helped considerable amounts of eroded mountainous areas to recover. We have saved about 19 tonnes of soil from erosion on average. This tasks will be continued, strengthened and more youth will get land to engage in various agricultural sectors,” he added.

About 1.1 million people are engaged in this year’s soil and water conservation campaign in the state that is scheduled to last for 20 days. The soil and water conservation activities have significantly helped the state to expand irrigation side by side with rain-fed agriculture, he explained. The key factor in the region’s successful achievements of water and soil conservation is the strong commitment from the society and all stakeholders in the sector, Mulugeta exclaimed. Although there was resistance from the State and the society in implementing Rain Water Harvesting (RWH) technologies at the beginning, repeated consultations on the issue have helped to reach at a consensus that it could benefit the state and needs to be practiced.

Mulugata noted that areas that have been facing severe water shortage for many decades have now started to use irrigation as an alternative means of producing various crops and ensure their food security. The amount of irrigated land in the state has grown from 27 thousand in 1995 to 214 thousand as of 2005, almost doubling every year on average during the last decade. According to the data from the office about 280 thousand tonnes of soil has been conserved each year since the start of the soil and water conservation campaign in the state. Many mountainous areas are closed from the reach of animals and people for many years now that they are regaining their natural resources back.

Kifle Woldaregay (Ph.D), Soil engineering professional with Mekele University, commends that the state efforts to save the land from degradation via area-closure and other soil and water conservation techniques are bearing tangible results. In our visit to an area called agula’a, some 30 kilometres from the state’s capital Mekele recently, he showed to a crew of various stakeholders drawn from all states of the country to learn lessons from the state’s achievements, on mountain that had been barren 25 year ago but turned green after it is closed from any human and animal contact for the last six years.

Kifle says the research undertaken by the university on the area has indicated significant improvement in the recovery of the overall biodiversity and there are many such places in the state that the community is benefiting by starting to grow various products in the outskirts. Areas closed from the reach of humans and animals and freed from grazing are facing almost no erosion, he noted. What is more the grass growing on the closed mountains and other terrains is used for animal fodder in the areas, he added.

Sourced  here

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