byDaniel Tesfu M&E and Communications Coord. via web
In northern Ethiopia, World Vision, other NGOs and the local government have mounted a massive effort over the last four decades to restore vegetation and bring the land back to a productive state. While much progress has been made, there have been many lessons learnt – and there is still more degraded land to restore. In Tsaeda Emba over-cutting and over-grazing reduced the forest cover, and exposed the soil to erosion. When I first visited in 2004, while site specific restoration efforts were underway, much of the district was a barren moonscape. The land appeared to be scraped clean of all vegetation and soil, and little remained to remind one of the soil’s original fertility, the immense forests, or the wildlife that thrived at the time of the mighty Aksumite empire. The Drylands Development programme (DryDev) is working in Tsaeda Emba, and 7 other districts throughout Ethiopia, to build on the restoration efforts to date, and draws together lessons from land restoration, agricultural production and market development interventions to accelerate and embed the pace of change. DryDev provides relevant, appropriate and integrated support to small holder farmers in dryland areas of Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Ethiopia, and Kenya, and to see them transition from emergency aid and subsistence to sustainable rural development. Commencing in early 2014 with 5-years funding from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and World Vision Australia, DryDev is led by the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) in partnership with World Vision Ethiopia as the country lead and two partner agencies, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and the Relief Society of Tigray (REST). DryDev Ethiopia has demonstrated very significant results in a short period. Implementing several key interventions in a timely, sequential manner, employing dedicated and skilled staff, and focussing on capacity building, empowerment and enabling of community members are key elements critical to success. The approach combines watershed rehabilitation with economic development. Watershed rehabilitation relies on physical and biological interventions. Physical measures slow and trap the runoff of rainwater through the construction of stone contour banks, soak-pits and contour ditches, and rock-filled gabions across eroded gullies. Biological interventions include planting of trees (now over a million), grasses and legumes, and the practice of Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR). These measures are helping to revegetate the hills and to encourage rainwater to soak into the ground instead of running off and causing flooding downstream. Small dams now trap rainwater where it emerges in the valley, and is passed along irrigation channels for supporting cash crops. Economic development activities enable communities to make economic use of the benefits generated by the recovering landscape: collected water may be used to irrigate marketable crops, flourishing trees can support honey production, and grass production can support sheep and poultry raising. Value chain analysis, marketing group formation, and development of specific products is being pursued. Additional activities depend on the specific needs of a watershed, but may include biogas production for lighting, cooking and fertilizer production, promoting fuel efficient stoves, roof water harvesting, collecting runoff from roads, and promoting fruit trees. One of DryDev’s operational areas is the Dimelo sub watershed in Tsaeda Emba, just 50 km from the Eritrean border. The primary focus of this intervention is to protect and rehabilitate the sub catchment and the secondary focus is on agricultural commodity production. Walking from the plateau down to the valley, one can see the extensive stone terrace work on the often-bare sandstone hills and wherever there was soil, deep contour trenches had been dug to trap water. Trees and grasses have been planted and FMNR is being practiced. Although not irrigated, the entire valley was green, and yet this is the driest month of the year. Moreover, it has not rained for 8 months due to the severe drought of 2016. Because of the physical barriers to water runoff and the increased vegetation cover, any rain that falls – albeit little – is infiltrating the ground on the slopes, and surfacing to the root zone of pastures in the valley. Even in a normal season, rainfall only averages 300-500 mm per year, and yet there is an abundant water supply! Springs have returned and irrigation water is now available. The collective action of the communities has ‘drought proofed’ their valley. As a young husband and father, community leader Alem Desta Gebre went to Saudi Arabia to help make ends meet. His degraded land could not support his growing family. However, life was unexpectedly hard and he got by through taking whatever labouring jobs were available. After realizing the many benefits from the Dry Dev project and reflecting on his earlier experiences, Alem says that now, his farm is his Saudi Arabia and he will not need to go back there to work. In the height of the 2016 drought, communities sold 813 tonnes of grass hay (271 light truck loads)! At the head of the valley, a dam now supplies water to a channel taking it to the lower end of the valley. Previously just two farmers harvested one poorly yielding crop per year on 3 hectares of irrigated land. Today, 132 farmers grow three crops per year using gravity irrigation on 18.5 hectares in the dry season and on 38 hectares in the rainy season.
By:Tony Rinaudo, Principal Natural Resources Advisor, World Vision Australia.