The village Abraha Atsbeha is surrounded by lush trees. Cattle find pastures to graze on and there is enough water to irrigate the crops. This would be an ordinary story for rural life in the northern hemisphere or other fertile regions, but for a drought stricken country like Ethiopia it sounds astonishing.
The change that happened over the past 15 years, transforming previously barren lands, is a consequence of good governance and appropriate interventions of soil rehabilitation and water management. Another important factor was implementing restrictions to cattle grazing, so that the vegetation could recover. Only “controlled grazing” is allowed.
Watch: A tale of two villages, World Agroforestry Centre.
Community leader Gebre-Michael Giday tells the story of how the villagers were dependent on government donations all year through – from 1984 to almost 2002. These days are long gone for Abraha Atsbeha.
The soil rehabilitation program gradually stabilized water flow and in the wake natural regeneration of vegetation on the surrounding hills was enabled. This led to increased soil water infiltration and ground water recharge. “You treat the land with different structures such as check dams and terraces,” explains Giday. “Add small water catchments and then you get the water banks.”
This was so successful that the area of irrigated land more than doubled in only three years, between 2004 and 2007. Alongside this, the village also adopted agroforestry practices. As a result, today, 85% of the population have enough food to eat all year long.
Others lagging behind
Only 100 kilometers away, the village of Adi Godom bears witness to how Abraha Atsbeha must have looked before. The authorities have tried to implement the same measures here – but to no avail. The villagers cannot agree to limit free grazing of their cattle, nor do they know enough about this change to embrace it.
Although Adi Gudom has around 300 milliliters more rain and a more favorable agro-ecological environment, the earth looks scorched and treeless.
Farmer Kahsay Gebremedhin says, “the main reason we lag is lack of awareness, the poor capacity we have here and the low number of people.”
Recent research explains why agroforestry practices are successful in one village but uptake is slow in the other. It takes time to raise awareness and strong leadership among local people. And any intervention needs to be adapted to diverse local circumstances. “As ecological and socio-economic constraints vary from place to place, we need to be careful when using this location-specific knowledge to scale up interventions,” ICRAF scientists wrote in said research paper.
With villagers in Adi Gudom finally starting to protect fields from grazing cattle by planting prickly cactus, ICRAF’s Kiros Hadgu is confident that they can follow the example of Abraha Atsbeha – if they are given 15 years as well.
For more information see World Agroforestry Centre