Obbo Dhoketa Gadhafo, a pastoralist from the Borana zone in southern Ethiopia, recalls: “Twenty to forty years ago, this land was not like it is now. There was plenty of pasture and water, and the livestock were few in numbers.” He remembers a time when animals and pastures thrived there. Regular rains meant there was no shortage of milk, butter and other animal products. But, he says, things started to change around the end of the 1990s. Climate change has since made the rain scarcer and less reliable, and droughts have increased, as have the number of livestock and the population density. “As a result of all this, the pastureland has steadily deteriorated over the years, and now we can hardly find enough fodder for our cattle.”
The situation described by Obbo Dhoketa Gadhafo is being faced by many other pastoralists in the country. Their pastureland, which covers over 60 per cent of Ethiopia’s surface area, is severely affected by increasingly frequent droughts, conflicts between nomadic herders and sedentary farmers for the country's natural resources, and the degradation of pastureland – whether through overgrazing, bush encroachment or soil erosion. The consequences are dramatic: a decrease in productivity and an increase in poverty, hunger and water shortages. In the Borana zone alone, more than 200,000 people have too little to eat. In some seasons, up to 80 per cent of households are affected by famine.
In an effort to remedy this, in 2016, Swiss Development Cooperation (SDC) launched a long-term project named 'Sustainable natural resources management for enhanced pastoralist food security in the Borana zone', implemented by an NGO consortium led by Helvetas in cooperation with the Ethiopian authorities.
Through more sustainable management of natural resources, the project aims to improve the long-term food security of pastoralist communities in the Borana zone and strengthen their resilience to crisis situations such as drought and famine. Overall, these measures are set to benefit almost 12,000 households with some 71,000 people.
Measures are being taken at different levels simultaneously. For example, plans for the sustainable use of pastureland are being drawn up in association with the pastoralist communities concerned. Based on these plans, measures are being carried out to improve the quality of the land – such as clearing bushes and planting fodder crops instead of plants that cannot be used to feed cattle. A rotation system will ensure that pastures are no longer used unchecked in the future, giving the soil time to recover.
Access to drinking water for people and animals is at least just as important. A large number of water holes and reservoirs are therefore being cleared of mud and rehabilitated, with the local population actively contributing to this work. Filters and treatment plants are also being used to make the water drinkable. In addition, an information campaign is being run to discourage people from defecating in the open, which is the cause of numerous diseases.
The project places particular focus on the situation of women in the pastoralist community, traditionally dominated by men. For instance, it ensures that women's concerns are heard by official bodies and community institutions. Courses are held to teach women how to cultivate high-value foodstuffs and animal fodder. Other courses in subjects such as poultry rearing, beekeeping and business management enable women to create new sources of income for themselves and their families.
All of these measures are long-term in nature. However, the project, which has a duration of five years, from 2016 – 2021, also has a short-term component: a fund for emergency measures in crisis situations. This fund was already drawn on in 2017, shortly after the project had been launched, to cope with the devastating drought. It enabled hundreds of households to receive fodder and veterinary medicines as an emergency measure.
More information can be found on the SDC website