OVER 85 PERCENT OF ETHIOPIAS POPULATION, ESTIMATED AT 64 MILLION PEOPLE, LIVE IN RURAL AREAS AND DEPEND ON NATURAL RESOURCES (LAND, WATER, FORESTS AND TREES) FOR ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT, FOOD SECURITY AND OTHER BASIC NECESSITIES. The countrys population is estimated to reach 130 million by 2030. This has a serious implication on the sustainability of the natural resources base and the efforts to attain national food security given that nearly half of the current population is classified as undernourished.
The natural resources base is coming under increasing population pressure and inappropriate farming and management practices. Small-scale farmers, who depend on these resources, face serious threats from intensive cultivation, overgrazing and deforestation. There is a widespread problem of soil erosion and soil fertility decline, fuelwood crisis, water scarcity, shortage of pasture resulting in the poverty, food insecurity and natural resources degradation trap. This problem is most acute in the Ethiopian highlands (where over 85 percent of the countrys population lives), which is affected by recurrent drought and famine affecting millions of people. In order to address these highly interconnected problems, this paper has put forward the concept of a community-based integrated natural resources management approach to be tested and implemented under the existing National Extension programme.
The community-based integrated natural resources management approach makes a systematic effort to improve soil and land productivity; agroforestry development and other rural energy sources; low-cost rainwater harvesting; livestock improvement (including better crop and livestock integration), and expanding the livelihood base in the non-farm sector using the comparative advantages of local areas. This approach provides a broad umbrella (not packages) under which extension-research-farmers and community organizations would identify and develop the specific components that would be most appropriate and effective to increase crop and livestock productivity, reduce vulnerability, improve natural resources and lower the demand for large families at the community level. It will also integrate environmental sustainability issues, crop and plant diversity and indigenous knowledge and practices in the design of extension programmes. The current supply-driven agricultural extension approach is based on the intensified package approach, which puts heavy emphasis on accelerating production, using fertilizer and improved seed (mainly hybrid maize), without adequate consideration of agro-ecological zones, markets, infrastructure, farmers choice, and other comparative advantages in a systematic way. Maize, for example, is not a staple food and not linked to the milling enterprise in small towns and cities like teff and wheat and is very limited in generating livelihoods outside farming and reduces pressure on land.
Community-based organizations would play a central role in the empowerment of local people and in providing greater incentives to manage and utilize their natural resources in a sustainable way. Some of the fundamentals in a community-based approach are bringing groups of men, women and communities into all decision-making processes and upholding the principle of self-reliance and sustainability. Such community and local institutions if strengthened and empowered would be an important means in translating macro-policies into local actions, reducing risk aversion behaviour among farmers, facilitating training and human development (including rural women), and generating demand among farmers to adopt innovative practices and bring accountability to extension service and local government officials.
The community-based integrated natural resources management strives to broaden the scope of the current extension programme by putting equal emphasis on stabilizing yields and reducing vulnerability to famine since most of the smallholders live in marginal, degraded and drought-prone areas. It also broadens the traditional concept and practice of the soil and water conservation programme (which has been largely structural) by making an integral part of soil fertility management, good agronomic practices, rainwater harvesting, increasing fodder, vegetative cover and fuelwood products at the village and community level. Thus, the community-based integrated natural resources management provides a more flexible approach to respond to the various agroecological zones, local resource endowment and farmers capacity to invest in affordable soil, water and forest management techniques and livestock improvement in an integrated and sustainable manner while also looking into other alternative livelihood strategies and sustainable development options outside farming.