Securing food and a livelihood is inextricably linked to the exploitation of the natural resources base (land, water and forest) in Ethiopia, where over 85 percent of the population lives in rural areas and depend on smallholder agriculture. The pressure of intense human activity and improper farming and management practices pose serious threats to the sustainability of the natural resources and maintaining ecological balance. There is a widespread problem related to intensive cultivation, overgrazing and deforestation and soil erosion and soil fertility decline, water scarcity, livestock feed and fuelwood crisis. These factors often interact with one another resulting in a reenforcing cycle of the poverty, food insecurity and natural resources degradation trap. This problem manifests itself in recurrent drought and famine affecting millions of people, particularly in the Ethiopian highlands. In order to address this problem, the paper puts forward a community-based integrated natural resources management, which makes a systematic effort to improve soil and land productivity; agroforestry development and other rural energy sources; low-cost rainwater harvesting; livestock improvement, and expanding the livelihood base in the non-farm sector under the existing National Extension Programme. The current agricultural extension approach is focused on what is known as the intensified package approach, which puts heavy emphasis on accelerating production, using fertilizer and improved seed (mainly hybrid maize), without careful analysis of agro-ecological zones, markets, infrastructure, farmers choice and other sustainable development options.
Major concern was raised regarding the current resettlement policy that is aimed to arrest environmental degradation and attain food self-sufficiency in the densely populated and drought-prone areas. This policy is narrowly focused on moving around subsistence farmers (who are often dependent on food aid) to continue the same production in virgin lands, without considering other profitable and sustainable land use options. Resettlement, as a Government-led programme, presents an ominous danger of recreating the catastrophic environmental conditions in new areas that have necessitated such measures in the first place.
The community-based integrated natural resources management approach puts equal emphasis on stabilizing yields and reducing vulnerability (by broadening the livelihood base) among the large number of small-scale farmers who live in marginal, degraded and fragile ecosystems. It also provides a more flexible approach and a broad umbrella (not packages) under which extension-research-farmers and community organizations would develop activities/programmes to respond to various agro-ecological zones and local resource endowment and local resource endowment and farmers capacity to invest in low-cost and environmentally sound soil, water and forest management techniques and livestock improvement in an integrated manner. A key component to this approach is the presence of community-based organizations, which would play a central role in the empowerment of local people and provide greater incentives to manage and utilize their natural resources in a sustainable way.
Key Words: integrated natural resources management, community-based organizations, soil and water conservation, agroforestry, rainwater harvesting, livestock feed, population pressure, resettlement, agro-ecological zones, smallholders, intensified package approach, hybrid maize, alternative livelihood, rural energy, vulnerability, poverty, food insecurity and natural resources degradation