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THE NATURAL RESOURCES BASE (LAND, WATER AND FOREST) IS FUNDAMENTAL TO THE SURVIVAL AND LIVELIHOOD OF THE MAJORITY OF PEOPLE IN RURAL ETHIOPIA. AS INDICATED IN THE PREVIOUS SECTION, THESE RESOURCES ARE UNDER INTENSE PRESSURE FROM POPULATION GROWTH AND IN APPROPRIATE FARMING AND MANAGEMENT PRACTICES. SMALLSCALE FARMERS, WHO DEPEND ON THESE RESOURCES, FACE SEVERE CONSTRAINTS RELATED TO INTENSIVE CULTIVATION, OVERGRAZING AND DEFORESTATION, SOIL EROSION AND SOIL FERTILITY DECLINE, WATER SCARCITY, LIVESTOCK FEED, AND FUELWOOD CRISIS. These factors often interact with one another and bring a downward spiral of declining crop and livestock productivity, food insecurity, high population growth rate and environmental degradation, (referred to as the nexus problem, Cleaver and Schriber, 1994)[5]. The net result is that a re-enforcing cycle is set trapping more and more of the rural population in poverty, food insecurity and in the degradation of natural resources (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Poverty, Food Insecurity and Natural Resources Degradation Trap

A. Dejene, 2003

Thus, improving the natural resources base is central to any effort to arrest this “vicious cycle” and improve the productivity of small-scale farmers, who constitute the largest group of people below the poverty line. The current extension programme, however, relies on the “intensified package approach” and is primarily focused on accelerating production, using fertilizer and improved seed (mainly hybrid maize), irrespective of farmers capacity and agro-ecological zones. This has been unprofitable to farmers and inadequate to address the core of the problems faced by most resource-poor farmers as shown in Figure 1. In order to address this, it is vital to go beyond narrow technical treatment of specific sectoral areas and adopt a broader thematic framework (that cuts across various disciplines) that would bring the integration of key sectors to generate a positive synergy to reverse the downward spiral. Some of the key thematic and intersectoral linkage areas that are fundamental in addressing the “poverty, food insecurity and natural resource degradation trap” are highlighted below.


The overlapping and at times conflicting responsibility among the various agencies in the areas of agriculture and rural development, food security, and natural resources management has been the cause of serious constraint for effective coordination and implementation of programmes in these areas. As a result, there is a lack of clear direction on policies and priorities of each agency in contributing to this corporate objective. This newly created Ministry of Rural Development, headed by the Deputy Prime Minister, has potential to address this problem. Under the new institutional set up each agency is obliged to report its activities to MRD and this provides a potentially useful institutional safeguard in avoiding duplication and harmonization of policies and actions among these agencies at the Federal level.

One important agency that has many overlapping and complementary activities with the MRD (particularly the MoA) is the Ministry of Water Resources (MWR), which has the overall mandate for development of irrigation and water harvesting schemes for domestic and agriculture use. Although the MWR is to focus on medium and large irrigation schemes, it was observed that MWR staff is involved in small-scale irrigation and rainwater harvesting schemes and often collaborate with the MoA staff at the Woreda level. Most of the extension agents in the MoA do not have specific training on water-related interventions and would need collaboration in developing water-related packages for extension. Since small-scale water harvesting is one the pillars of the Government strategy to attain accelerated rural development, it would be most appropriate and effective if the MWR reports under the MRD. After all, a large section of the current MWR used to be under the MoA and was transferred to MWR in 1994. Furthermore, preliminary information obtained from regional level suggests that the agencies reporting under MRD at the Federal level are not necessarily the same at the Regional and Woreda levels. This creates a disconnection between Federal and Regional levels, making it difficult for MRD to coordinate its own efforts, much less the activities of agencies that are not within its mandates. Urgent attention is required to sort out these institutional issues so that there will be some congruence between the structure at the Federal and Regional levels.

One of the major constraints in Ethiopia is operationalizing and translating policies enunciated at the Federal level into action at the local and community levels, particularly in the areas of natural resources management. This is due to the lack of strong grassroots/ community organization that are established by local people and serving their interest. During the previous military Government, the Peasant Association (PA) and agricultural Service Cooperatives (SC) were introduced in a top-down manner and were mostly used by the Government to extract surplus from the peasantry. Yet, the SC provided credit, inputs, basic goods and mobilized resources to develop rural roads, warehouses, grain mills, and clinics, etc. With the phasing out of all previous organizations (including SC) by the current Government, Government and party-owned agencies dominate the distribution of seeds and fertilizer. They charge an interest rate of 15 percent to 20 percent depending on the region, contributing to the increased price for fertilizer. SC previously provided this service free. If the SC were allowed to develop genuinely by the previous or current Government, they would have been an important vehicle to attain rapid transformation in the rural sector.

Recently, there has been a strong revival of traditional and indigenous institutions to assume a selfhelp and development role in rural Ethiopia. Ethiopian rural society has many important traditional and indigenous institutions that can be strengthened and transformed to assume various development roles. Realizing the potential of these institutions (such as idir, iquab, debo), several NGOs have used these organizations for various development activities including input supply, water harvesting and land rehabilitation. Thus, the Government should make concerted efforts to support and strengthen these indigenous organizations as they have the potential to be an important vehicle for facilitating community-based approaches in natural resources management and self-help development activities. They could be scaled-up to take the role of cooperatives (which is encouraged by the current Rural Development Strategy) and be a reliable partner in natural resources and rural development.

Community-based organizations would play a central role not only in participation but also most importantly in the empowerment of local people as a stakeholder and in providing greater incentive to manage and utilize their natural resources in a sustainable way. The key principle here is that community-based and grassroots institutions must represent and protect local interest. In the past, the emphasis has been on technical fix and even when local institutions existed, they were used to enforce unpopular Government conservation measures (such as community forestry, hillside closure, and labour demanding conservation measures). This has resulted in non-compliance and further degradation of the landscape and the downward spiral. Strong local and community organizations can empower local people (particularly women and the poor), mobilize labour for conservation, rehabilitation and development of land, water and forest resources (reducing the burden on rural women), build infrastructure, provide fertilizer and improved seeds, assist extension and research experts in incorporating indigenous knowledge and practice into technical messages, bring accountability to extension, research and local government officials, create awareness about family planning, and generate positive synergy to address the “vicious cycle” noted earlier.


The Government’s Sustainable Development and Poverty Reduction Programme (SDPRP) calls for empowering local community and demand-driven approach to technology generation and dissemination. The Government seems committed to the devolution of authority from Federal to Regional governments. It has recently made Woreda as the centre of economic development. Two preconditions are essential if true empowerment is to take hold in rural Ethiopia. The first and most crucial is the emergency and establishment of local and community organizations discussed above. The second one is reducing the work burden of women in key tasks and improving their decision-making ability in natural resources management and overall status in rural society.

Women often face social, cultural and at times legal constraints that limit their decision-making capacity in farming and natural resources management. The traditional role of women puts gender specific constraints in fuelwood and water collection, post-harvest activities, livestock management which increases the pressure on their time and increases the demand for large families reinforcing the nexus problem. Empowering rural women is a multi-faceted task and must include several components such as access land, credit, extension, training in agriculture and natural resources management, low cost technologies and practices that ease their work burden and income generating activities outside agriculture. Reducing the pressure on women in fuelwood and water collection are the two critical components that would contribute to improving the status of women and efficient management of natural resources. Hence, one of the most important policy implications is the substantial development of fuelwood products at farm and homestead areas (through agroforestry) or through the development of environmentally-friendly alternative source of energy (such as biomass) and rainwater harvesting schemes with a specific gender objective to ensure that women are benefiting from these innovations. These efforts could be an important step in reducing women’s time from these demanding tasks that expose them to health hazards, and in reducing the demand for child labour. These efforts would also create opportunities to be involved in other productive or income-earning activities, lower the demand for large families, and assist in averting the poverty, food insecurity and environmental degradation trap.

Empowerment in creating and strengthening community organizations and improving the status of rural women will require institutional reforms that provide incentives and regulatory mechanisms to influence the behaviours of local people and protect their interests. Increasing rural women’s access to agricultural extension and training is one vital area in which the Government should make a concerted effort. Empowerment also requires making substantial investment in human resource development through the training of community leaders, women and local para-professionals, the provision of public and external investment to innovations and development initiatives.


Agro-ecological zones have homogeneous climate, precipitation, physiographic, soils, vegetation and animal species. They can be reasonably good indicators of natural resources endowment and agricultural potential and in the formulation of strategies in soil conservation and fertility management, water harvesting, forest management and livestock development (Desta, L., M. Kassie, S. Benin & J. Pender, 2000). Sustainable Development and Poverty Reduction Programme (SDPRP) sees identifying a development path compatible with different agro-ecological zones as one of the basic principles governing agricultural development. One of the major weaknesses of the extension programme and its intensified agricultural package approach is that it has not been flexible to respond to the various AEZs and local resources endowments. In order to attain rapid increase in production, the extension package and the agronomic research programmes have put heavy emphasis on the recommendation of external inputs (fertilizers) that are often suited to high potential areas. However, stabilizing yields (not just increasing) is also a major concern of many farm families who live in AEZs with low agricultural potential and high climatic risks.

As shown earlier, in soil fertility management, resource-poor farmers in marginal areas often rely on other local organic sources and indigenous practices to compensate for increased use of fertilizer, which is expensive. They often do their own assessment of risk and profitability and decide on the right amount of fertilizer for their situation instead adopting the recommended amount by Extension. Thus, in the design of extension packages for soil fertility management, it is vital for extension-research experts to focus on AEZs and sub-AEZs to undertake extensive farmer-field trials as well as to identify local organic sources and practices that can be used in combination with an external input. Thus, the development of low-input innovations at AEZs and sub- AEZs that incorporate biological fertilizers, indigenous practices and crop and plant diversity is vital if Extension is to be demand-driven.

Many NGOs are currently involved in rainwater harvesting as part of the relief, food security and poverty reduction programme. There are still no coherent guidelines applicable to local conditions. Preliminary observation suggests many of these agencies are designing such schemes through trail and error and the MoA is also limited in its own capacity to assist them. Rainfall data is very useful in designing run-off harvesting and storage tanks and AEZs could be a useful first step in getting some estimates of rainfall data, which is lacking. Information on rainfall data and cropwater requirement at AEZ could assist in the development of an appropriate water harvesting system.

As noted, agroforestry development is potentially the most promising approach to meet the enormous demands for fuelwood, construction and other basic needs of the rural communities as well as the conservation of land resources. In this effort, it is fundamental to select multi-purpose trees that are fast growing, fit into the mixed farming system and bring micro-climatic benefits in stabilizing soils and the environment. Hence, AEZs should be given an important consideration in the testing and selection of multi-purpose trees in agroforestery development. In AEZs, where there are serious moisture and soil constraints for agroforestry and where there is high livestock density and potential for livestock development, an alternative source of energy using manure should be considered. Such alternative sources of energy can also be a source of non-farm income. Similarly, livestock feed, the most important constraint in improving livestock productivity, was addressed by the Fourth Livestock Development Project through forage development strategies based on AEZs. This has proved successful in some areas covered under the project, but still substantial efforts are required to promote forage developments that are well suited to AEZs.

The Government Extension programme has now moved in the development of packages to moisturestress areas, livestock, post-harvest technologies and agroforestry, which are positive developments. Nevertheless, there is still a long way to go in making AEZ in the centre of extension package development. Greater effort at both the Federal and Regional levels is needed in identifying the constraints, opportunities and comparative advantages in different AEZs in order to design potential development strategies using the natural resources potential as well as the pursuit of alternative livelihood options.


Capacity-building is one of the pillars of the Government’s Rural Development Policy and SDPRP, which is applicable at all levels. It is partly related to the institutional issues discussed above. In this section, however, the focus is on issues that arise in translating some of the policies and plans into actions at local and community level and strengthening the local capacity to address the degradation of the natural resources base and low productivity of smallholders.

In a major effort to arrest natural resources degradation, the Government (Natural Resources Management and Regulatory Department, MoA) which has the overall mandate for soil and water conservation, has developed a Five-Year Plan (2000-2004) for various types of on-farm soil and water conservation measures, rainwater harvesting and afforestation activities, for both high rainfall and rain deficit areas[6]. In the high rainfall areas, the target calls for 2.2 million ha of land (on farmers-field) to be brought under various soil and water conservation measures to enhance productivity. The plan acknowledges that there are 643 experts of which 156 are in the Amhare region; 144 in Oromia; and 116 in Tigraye and Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples Regional State (SPNN) (MoA, 2000). Unless there is a dramatic way to increase the number of technical experts in the next few years, the current skilled work force available will be spread too thinly to properly introduce, guide and monitor the activities in close contact with farming communities. Whether they will be able to undertake the training of other paraprofessionals or farmers to meet this target is not clear.

In the rain deficit areas, the target set for soil and water conservation (SWC) and the estimated cost to the community and the Government are presented in Annex 1. A careful analysis of these targets and the cost involved (Tables 4 to 9) reveal the following issues that have implication for capacity - building and disseminating innovation the farming population. A key issue here is that how the target set at the national level (Table 5) is translated and implemented at the regional and community levels. Identical targets are set for the Tigraye, Amhare and Oromia regions for SWC activities (125 000 ha for each region); for ridge and furrow (62 000 ha for each region); for contour ploughing (375 000 ha); for flood diversion (3 000 ha each region); and for micro-basin (3 482 ha for each region) (see Tables 5-7). Given that the three regions have vast differences in population size, land area, landscape and farming system, it is perplexing what criteria could possibly have been used to come up with such identical targets. From the broader Government’s objective of attaining rapid agricultural development and rural transformation (not the short-term political consideration), it would seem most appropriate to bring soil and water conservation activities quickly to the vast areas of high agricultural land in Oromia and Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples Regional State (SPNN).

Similarly, the Government’s financial contribution to SWC activities as noted in Annex 1, Table 9 is again identical to the Tigraye, Amhare and Oromia regions (with 93.75 million Birr for the five-year period) while Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples Regional State (SPNN) were allotted 56.25 million Birr. This translates in per capita basis that allocation for Tigraye is about 4 to 6 times more than the other regions. Again, there was no indication in the document of any justification or criteria used in allocating public resources to the respective regions. However, there is an interface between regional/local and national objectives and public funds should be used to bring the most efficient match between regional and national objectives in order best serve national development and food security objectives.

The Government’s contribution would be used for capacity-building and generation and dissemination of appropriate SWC measures (both human and material) at local and community levels. These require collective action where strong community and grassroots organizations are fundamental to mobilizing labour, facilitating training and ensuring that these resources are appropriately used in attaining the community’s objectives. As stated earlier, such community organization is lacking at present, perhaps with the exception of Tigraye, where positive development has been reported of community action on soil and water conservation self-help activities. The recently formed Farmer’s Training Centres under the Extension Department have the potential to contribute to capacity-building at the community level. The Government’s effort to set targets in arresting natural resources degradation is worthwhile, but such targets must come in terms with local and community capacity to implement it, provide objective criteria in the allocation of public (Federal), and ensure that the overarching objective of capacity-building to attain national food security is not sacrificed by regional and local political interest.

The Ministry of Agriculture’s Five-Year Plan for soil and water conservation specifically mentions various rainwater harvesting schemes (such as roof water harvesting, flood and run-off diversions, construction of small and medium size ponds) as part of soil and water conservation activities (Tables 4 and 9). It rightly sees rainwater harvesting as an integral part of agronomic practices and farming systems of the community. However, it does not state this fact. A major constraint to this plan and target is that most of the extension agents have agricultural background and need further training if they are to be effective in disseminating water-related messages and interventions. Even at the Federal level, there are serious shortage of water specialists to assist the increasing number of NGOs, which are requesting MoA technical assistance and advice in the field. There had been no adequate guidelines on the design and management of rainwater harvesting system previously. The MoA is still currently working on such a manual, which is eagerly awaited by the NGO community. Thus, urgent consideration should be given to training new staff in rainwater harvesting for domestic and agricultural use as well as updating (through short-term courses) the capacity of existing extension agents.

The various soil and water conservation activities included under the MoA Five-Year Plan implicitly suggests that soil conservation is seen as complimentary and an integral part of measures to enhance soil fertility, good agronomic practices, and water retention and harvesting. However, previous extension and research programmes have often pursued these activities separately and this should be clearly stated in the extension manual and training. There is growing recognition among experts and policy-makers in finding an economically viable option of using fertilizer in combination with other organic sources. As stated earlier, soil fertility enhancement will require a broader perspective than the increased use of fertilizer. This includes improved and vegetative soil and water conservation measures, use of local organic sources in combination with fertilizer, good agronomic practices and finding alternative sources of rural energy in order to bring manure back to the soil, and site-specific research involving farmers in the development of soil conservation and nutrient enhancement practices suitable to various agro-ecological zones and socioeconomic conditions.


Lack of proper incentives and clearly defined property rights to land, forest and trees have often led to inefficient utilization of natural resources and degradation. The current Government is adamant in its belief that all land will remain in the public (Government) hand as in the previous regime. There is intense and ongoing debate on issue of land tenure and whether the public or freehold systems will be the best options to unleash the potential of smallholders and bring rural transformation. The challenge to the Government land policy comes not so much from outside, but within the country (opposition parties, intellectuals, civil society organizations, etc.) and cannot be dismissed for long without finding some acceptable solutions. These issues will not be discussed here, as they are a subject of a detailed examination under a separate working paper on Land Tenure. Nevertheless, the issue of land tenure security is at the core of any discussions on incentive and property rights that are directly or indirectly linked to natural resources management.

In the recent Rural Development Workshop that was jointly sponsored by the MRD and the World Bank and attended by very high Government officials, including the Prime Minister, there was a consensus that land tenure insecurity exists in smallholder agriculture. This is most likely to have an adverse impact on agricultural productivity and investment in land and natural resources management. Furthermore, there was a general recognition by the Government of this problem in various regions. The Prime Minister also acknowledges such insecurity of tenure could exist, but sees no relationship with the current land policy, which in his view is not open for discussion.

Regional administration seems to be actively taking it into their own hands to address the land tenure insecurity issues. The direction and action taken to address this problem differ in each region. However, effort at the Federal level to harmonize this would seem appropriate. In this regard, bringing AEZs could be helpful in assisting the identification of the type of tenure system that would be suitable to the comparative advantage of areas in terms of its natural resources endowment and development potential. For example, AEZs that are suited for intensification of cereals, high value and cash crops (requiring high inputs) and commercial production of perishable and nonperishable crops could respond better to an incentive structure that has a well-defined property right and tenure system. On the other hand, the current tenure regime may be more appropriate in the sparsely populated lowland and pastoral areas (where there is communal ownership) or some of the mountain and per-humid areas, which are suited for forest, wildlife and perennial products.

Appropriate policies and incentive mechanisms that would dramatically increase wood supply at farm and community level is central to addressing the fuelwood crisis. Agroforestery can help the need for fuelwood while at the same time serve as livestock feed, source of cash, and enhancing soil organic matter. There is now more security in tree ownership around the homestead than in the Derge’s time, but the Government still needs to ensure that the utilization of trees and forests is clearly established and respected at regional level. There should also be greater emphasis on on-farm tree planting and targeting rural women to be increasingly involved in tree planting and receiving fair benefits in extension messages. Clear guidelines for tree ownership by individuals and community-based organizations could help in the development of the wasteland and degraded areas in the community. Private sector involvement has been discouraged in forest development and the role of commercial forestry has been insignificant due to state owned monopolies on markets for wood and wood products. Through appropriate incentive mechanism such as the provision of land tenure and tree ownership, private sector could contribute to substantial increase of wood supply in urban and near urban areas.

There are also no clear guidelines and effective enforcing mechanisms in the management of forest and 25 woodlands. The previous Government relied on the Peasant Association and the MoA Extension agents to strictly implement (at times through coercion) any unauthorized cutting of trees and woodlands. Extension agents no longer interfere in such matters. In the absence of strong community organization and stumpage fee, there has been “free-access” to forest and woodlands in many regions resulting in the depletion of forest resources. This impact is particularly severe in the vast rift valley area of the Southern Oromia and Southern Nationality regions that are rich in biodiversity. Traders, intermediaries and charcoal producers are exploiting the few remaining natural forest resources along the major road and urban centre (extending about 300 km from Awassa to Addis Ababa) beyond its regeneration capacity. Urgent action and coordination of effort between Federal, Regional, and local levels is needed to reverse this trend.

The role food-for-work (grain and edible oils) has played and will continue to play in soil conservation, land rehabilitation and afforestation cannot be underestimated among most vulnerable households who live in highly degraded areas. However, in the past there have been many instances when food aid has been a disincentive in undertaking individual and community action in natural resource management. Caution has to be taken so that food aid will not be a disincentive from taking away other voluntary and selfhelp activities in the community. Here again the role of local and community organizations will be essential in creating awareness of the targeted role of food-for-work and distributing benefits from such programmes.

The need for a clear national land-use policy in guiding and regulating the country ‘s agricultural and rural land was underscored at the Rural Development Workshop in November 2002. This has contributed to inefficient utilization of natural resources and degradation. The “open-access” to natural woodlands noted above is partly the result of such an effective policy at the regional level. Thus, formulating a proper land-use policy and establishing its appropriate institutional set-up at the Federal level and coordinating it closely with regional level administration as recommended at the last November Rural Development Workshop, should be given serious consideration.


As noted earlier, Ethiopia’s population is expected to double to 130 million by 2030. The majority of this population will make their livelihood in lands that are currently classified as moderately to severely degraded areas (mainly in the Ethiopian Highlands). By 2030, most of the moderately degraded land could be severely degraded unless there is significant migration to other areas, less dependency on the agriculture sector and massive conservation activities, which so far has not happened. Thus, the Government will continue to confront this colossal task in its effort to achieve food security.

The movements of people (in millions) from the densely populated northern regions to the south and southwestern regions took place quietly under the Imperial Government as major roads and infrastructure were expanded in these well endowed areas (i.e. coffee growing regions) generating opportunities for the private sector. Government-directed resettlement as a policy began after the 1974 famine and then on a much larger scale after the 1984 famine which affected about 8 million people. Referring to the victims as “environmental refugees” the Derge unleashed its resettlement policy of moving over 1.5 million people from the famine-affected areas of the north to the southern and western regions. Objective criteria was also established for resettlement by the MoA (Land-use Policy Department) that was based on environmental consideration, which included: very rugged topography, farm slope exceeding 35 percent, severe deforestation and soil erosion; poor soils, frequency of drought in the community; population and livestock density and land size. Thus, in principle there was legitimate ground for resettlement, but in reality, it was carried out in a coercive manner and the “large-scale” schemes turned out to be catastrophic to the health of settlers as well as to the new environment where they settled (Dessalegn, 1989; Pankhurst, 1990; Dejene; 1990). Settlers were very dependent on food aid since production was quite low. The few exceptions where resettlement seems to have resulted in relative self-sufficiency is where farmers were given land to cultivate in a peasant association in the highland areas of Keffa and Ilubabor (now the Oromia region), which has relatively similar climatic conditions to area where settlers came from.[7]

As indicated in SDPRP, the current Government also attaches significance to the role of resettlement in reducing the enormous pressure exerted on land in drought-prone areas, which has severely limited its productive capacity. The Government has now officially acknowledged that it has and plans to undertake “intraregional voluntary settlement schemes” to sparsely populated and under utilized areas as one of the key instrument in attaining food security in a very short period of time (three to five years). The Government’s intention was spelt out in the recent Workshop held on Food Security and Resettlement at the Prime Minster office in Addis Ababa, 13-14 June 2003, which was attended by high-level Government officials and the donor community. A major assumption made by the current Government for resettlement is similar to that of the previous one - allocating land to the surplus rural labour force in the land abundant areas could dramatically increase food production at minimal cost.[8] The only major departure from the Derge policy is that it will be limited within the existing administrative regions, which is a severe constraint and not an asset as will be examined below. The issue voluntarism becomes secondary (the Derge directive also professed that its resettlement programme was based on voluntarism) when the Government intervenes in such a heavy-handed way mobilizing all its resources and bureaucracy to plan and executes a resettlement programme, without presenting other options to the most vulnerable segment of the population.

The Government resettlement programme will involve 440 000 heads of households (totalling 2.2 million people including their families) in four regions (namely, Amhare, Oromiya, Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples Regional State (SPNN), and the Tigraye Region) for a three-year period. The Amhare region will have the largest group of settlers with 200,000 households, followed by Oromiya and SPNN with 100 000 households each respectively and Tigraye with 40 000 households (MRD, 2003). The total cost of resettling the above population (that includes food ration before next harvest, cost of plough set and hand tools, cost of utensils, cost of improved seed, community infrastructure, transportation, etc.) is estimated at about US$155 million (MRD, 2003).

The claim by Government officials that cost is the major constraint facing resettlement does not seem to be a convincing one (although the Government faces severe financial constraints to undertake such a scheme on its own). The focus should be, however, whether the assumptions made for resettlement by the Government are valid and whether it is a viable and sustainable option to attain the stated objective, worthy of such a massive involvement by the Government. There is no systematic analysis of land use potential for smallholder farming in the last decade as the Land Use and Planning section (under MoA at Federal level and previously well staffed) is now barely functioning with only a few experienced staff. In the absence of such a reliable data, there is some question about the validity of the land being abundant in Ethiopia, particularly given the accelerating rural population growth in the past decades[9]. Oromia seems to be one of the few regions that have undertaken some systematic feasibility study on the potential resettlement sites and such a study is urgently needed in other regions.

Preliminary discussions with informed people suggest that the only large tract of barren land in the Amhare and Tigraye regions exist close to the Sudan border in lowland areas previously known as Humera, where resettlement is currently being undertaken. The dominant habitat in this area, however, is naturally grown incense and gum tree. There is growing concern among experienced staff in MoA at both Federal and local level if finding pockets of suitable land for subsistence farmers in this frontier area is the best option when the area is suited for large-scale commercial farming. This area is highly infested by malaria and livestock diseases and requires major health and infrastructure investment to make it suitable for settlements. All indication suggests that outside the previous Humera area (now covering areas in both the Tigraye and Amhare regions), it is not feasible to allocate land to new settlers within an existing farming community (Kebele) given the diminishing size of the cultivated area in both these regions (often less than half a hectare of land). Even if redistribution of land is allowed (which is against the current land policy), cultivating less than half a hectare, is unlikely to be economical or sustainable, unless it is irrigated.

By far the most comprehensive feasibility study on potential resettlement sites was undertaken in the Oromia region based on extensive fieldwork. Various stakeholders were asked about the availability of space, adequacy of moisture, the productive capacity and constraints, availability of infrastructure and capacity available for handling resettlement (Regional State of Oromia, 2002). The findings of the study dispel the claim that Oromia has vast unoccupied land in reliable rainfall areas that can accommodate a large influx of settlers. Out of the 31 potential resettlement sites identified suitable for resettlement only five sites were considered as having potential for immediate resettlement under rain-fed conditions. About ten sites were not worthy of consideration since there is limited availability of land and high climatic risks while six sites have potential for possible eventual resettlement if provision is made for wildlife buffer zones, grazing lands, anti-malaria and anti-tsetse measures. All areas in Bale were found to be risky for rain-fed agriculture except five sites with irrigation potential requiring considerable investment. Another five sites were identified for frontier expansion in the valleys of Gibe, Dedessa and Birbir rivers, which has considerable empty land with adequate rainfall. However, these areas in the valleys are home to one of the few remaining forests and wildlife resources and have rich flora and funa. The study advised against opening this virgin land and instead using land given to former state farm for resettlement purpose. In all, the study identified about 72 100 ha of suitable land for rainfed cultivation, 5 500 for irrigated agriculture in the priority resettlement area, which can support about 26 000 households in Oromia region (Regional State of Oromia, 2002).

Preliminary examination of unoccupied potential arable land in Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples Regional State (SPNN), suggests that the region does not have vast areas of land to accommodate large numbers of settlers as officially proclaimed by the Government. Using the existing database on soil, land use and vegetation map, it is estimated that only 2.6 million ha (about 20 percent) from the total area of 11.6 million ha, may be suitable partly for resettlement and partly for commercial farming. However, as the preliminary study suggested a more systematic field investigation is essential to validate the above indicative figure.[10] Significant amount of suitable land is located in Bench-Maji and the Debub Omo and Semen Omo zone and Konso, Amoro, and Burgi and especially Wereda that have distinct ethnic and indigenous people and a forest ecosystem rich in biodiversity resources. Thus, opening these areas for resettlement without a more detailed investigation could result in devastating environmental impact that should be avoided.

Perhaps a more pertinent policy issue in resettlement is whether it could significantly contribute to relieving the pressure in the densely populated and famine-prone areas as well as making settlers productive in their new environment. In this respect, the current Government target of moving 200 000 households (47 percent of total households to be resettled) from one part of Amhare region to another part of Amhare region and similarly 40 000 households (9 percent of the total households) will be insignificant to the enormous challenge it faces to avert natural resource degradation in these regions that are affected by successive drought and famine. In this regard the findings presented in Table 2 provide insights that resettlement within regions will not improve food security or rural income considerably in the long run. As indicated in Table 2, the “restricted” migration scenario (within administrative regions and no conservation) have the lowest food per capita and value added per capita for the rural population by 2030.[11] Even under “free” migration, with conservation measures and controlling malaria and livestock diseases, there will not be that much of an increase in food per capita or per capita revenue for the rural population by 2030 (Sonneveld, 2002). Thus, it would be more prudent for policy-makers to consider the resettlement impact on a long-term time horizon and examine other options that could make a significant difference in increasing food production and rural income while reducing the pressure on natural resources in drought-prone areas. One such option could be diversification of farming systems and enhancing alternative livelihood outside the agricultural sector, which is examined below.


Absorbing excess labour in the rural sector is a formidable challenge facing Ethiopia. Policies that go beyond food production and consist in the broadening of the livelihood base and expanding opportunities through employment generation and income diversification in the non-farm sector will be crucial. Such policies will increase access to food, reduce the need for resettlement and the ominous threat of the expanding rural population on the natural resources base. Such an approach could stimulate and stabilize the demand for food (without directly increasing food supply) as would production-oriented agricultural intensification policies. It could also be a significant linkage area to reduce the enormous pressure exerted by the impact of the population structure on the rural economy and natural resources (leading to the “vicious cycle”). The population structure consists of over 20 percent of youth (age 15-24) and is estimated to double from 13 million to 26 million by 2030. Similarly, the total number of women of childbearing age is also expected to double to 35 million by 2030, of which 75 percent will be rural women. (CSA, 1999).

Recently, international development agencies (notably the United Kingdom Department for International Development) and several local NGOs are using the sustainable livelihood approach through various activities at local level. In this context, however, an alternative livelihood system would focus on smallscale and labour intensive enterprises that use local resources and skills; that are equally accessible to women; that reduce the pressure on natural resources; that have forward and backward linkages to the farm and non-farm sector (in both production and consumption); and that are environmentally sustainable.

In pursuing the rural livelihood strategy, the following considerations are noteworthy. The first involves expanding and improving marketing of primary products to small towns and urban areas, for which a particular area has comparative advantage. This includes activities such as beekeeping, poultry raising, fish culture, fruit growing and cattle, sheep and goat fattening. The second entails small-scale processing enterprises (cottage industries) such as grain milling, oilseed pressing, dairy product marketing, leather tanning and pottery that can generate income to rural households. Thirdly, such enterprises and activities have to be suited to the local natural resources endowment and ecological conditions, build on local productive potential, and address social factors (ensuring the participation of women and youth). Fourthly, it would require enabling policies and support to provide access to markets, infrastructure, extension, and credit.

Many of these small-scale ventures are suited for the local private and informal sectors, but their involvement at present is very limited. Private sectors are often reluctant to invest freely in regions to which they do not belong since regional ethnic politics (a prime consideration in the formation of regional boundaries) could make it difficult for them (regional bureaucratic red tape and hostility in some cases as noticed in the Oromia region) to function if they are not native of that region. The “informal” sector is not well understood in rural Ethiopia. However, it has the potential to be a vehicle in promoting rural livelihood, particularly for women who rely on informal activity for some share of their income.

Thus, rural livelihood strategy is another important linkage area that brings a positive synergy to address the poverty and natural resources degradation trap. With appropriate policies and incentives it could be a viable option in generating employment in the nonfarm and informal sector, diversifying farming systems (reducing dependency in cereal crops), increasing access to food, improving the conditions of women, youth and the poor, and reducing the pressure on natural resources and demand for large families. These incentives also have great potential in creating small towns and in absorbing the surplus labour force in rural communities thereby reducing the need for resettlement or rural to urban exodus.

Table 4. Matrix Showing Key Policy Issues and Required Actions in Natural Resources Management

Key Intersectoral Linkage Area

Diagnosis of the Problem

Government’s Strategy and Actions

Responsible Institutions

1. Community and Grassroots Organization

  • Lack of strong community- based organizations to facilitate NRM and self- help activities

  • Limited involvement of local people and absence of institutions that protect their interest

  • Limited incorporation of indigenous practice in land, water and forest policies

· Introduce enabling policies and legislation at the Federal and Regional levels

· Support, strengthen and up-scale indigenous local organizations to assume cooperative and development roles

· Cooperative promotion Bureau under the PM office

· MRD and MoA

· Bureau of Agriculture at Regional and Woreda level

· Traditional and indigenous institutions, Cooperatives, NGOs and CSO

2. Empowerment

  • Lack of active participation in decision- making and technology generation by local people and farming communities

  • Limited access to women to training, extension, credit and gender-specific innovations that reduce time spent on chores

· Devolution of authority and empowerment of local and community organizations

· Focusing on simple and low cost technologies that ease women’s work burden (i.e. fuelwood and water collection)

· Bureau of Agriculture at Regional and Woreda level

· MRD and MoA

· Traditional and indigenous institutions, Cooperatives, NGOs and CSO

3. Natural Resources Endowment and AEZs

  • Need for objective criteria and indicator to assess comparative advantage of specific areas before formulating development strategies

  • Extension approach narrowly focused on increasing crop yields, with increased application of inputs irrespective of their potential

· Introduce and support community-based integrated natural resources management as an extension programme that would broaden the scope of traditional SWC and incorporate technology generation and dissemination in rainwater harvesting, livestock feed improvement, agroforestry development

· Ensure that Extension- research programmes develop low input technologies that are affordable to farmers, suitable to various AEZs and incorporates indigenous knowledge and practice

· Include farmer in all trials before formulating and disseminating technical packages

· MRD and MoA

· Bureau of Agriculture at Regional and Woreda level

· Ethiopian Agricultural Research Organization (EARO);

· Ministry of Water Resources;

· Traditional and indigenous institutions, NGOs and CSO

4. Capacity-building

  • Lack of skilled experts in areas of NRM at all levels

  • Need upgrading extension agents skills in NRM (mainly focused on crops and land)

  • Shortage of trained women extension agents, particularly at Regional and Woreda levels

· Set realistic and attainable targets adequately reflecting regional and local capacity

· Set objective criteria in allocation of Federal funds to Regional and Wereda levels in natural resources conservation and development

· Update and provide new guidelines to broaden the scope of traditional SWC measures

· Train community leaders, women and local para-professionals in NRM

· MRD and MoA

· Bureau of Agriculture at Regional and Woreda level

· Ministry of Water Resources


5. Incentives and Property Rights

  • Land tenure insecurity

  • Lack of clear guidelines and enforcing mechanisms in the management of forest and woodlands

  • Lack of clear and systematic national land- use policy at the Federal and Regional level

· Take appropriate measures to ensure tenure security at Federal and Regional levels taking into account regional, socio-economic, cultural and NR endowment of particular area/region

· Provide clear guidelines and well-defined property rights to tree ownership and forest and woodlands utilization

· Dialogue with all stakeholders regarding the current land-use policy and make necessary adjustments that are fully compatible with the poverty reduction

· Remove any policy or price distortion and strengthen enforcement mechanism for efficient utilization NR

· Introduce clear national land-use policy governing NR and agricultural land at the Federal levels

· Prime Minister’s Office

· MRD and MOA

· Bureau of Agriculture at Regional and Woreda level

· Land Use and Administration Authority at Regional level

6. Population Pressure/Resettlement

  • Population Expansion

  • Severe degradation of NR base

  • Improper farming and livestock practices and limited improvement in technology;

  • Limited access by rural women to education, health and agricultural technology;

  • Limited or no opportunity for alternative livelihood outside agriculture

· Improving the status of rural women through the provision of education, health and innovation that would reduce their burden in some difficult and time consuming tasks

· Emphasis in stabilizing yields and-integrated approach in NRM in famine and drought- prone areas

· Employment generation in non-farm sector

· Expanding infrastructure in the sparely populated regions

· MRD and MoA

· Regional Administrative Council

· Bureau of Agriculture at Regional and Woreda level

· Land Use and Administration Authority at Regional level

7. Broadening the Livelihood Base and Diversification

  • Excess rural labour force (particularly youth and women)

  • Limited or no opportunity for alternative livelihood system outside agriculture

  • Lack of investment by private and informal sector

· Expanding marketing of primary products (based on comparative advantage) to small towns and urban areas (i.e. beekeeping, poultry and fruits)

· Promote small-scale and labour intensive enterprise (i.e. grain milling, oil seed and fruit pressing; leather tanning and pottery, etc)

· Encourage and support private and informal sector to invest in small-scale ventures in the non-farm sector, particularly in small towns

· Provide enabling policies that lead to greater access to markets, all weather roads, and credits.

· Small and medium-scale enterprise development

· MRD and MoA

· Bureau of Agriculture at Regional and Woreda level

· Rural Credit and Development Bank

· Cooperative promotion Bureau under the PM office

[5] The nexus problem in sub-Saharan Africa has been a subject of investigation by a World Bank study of Cleaver and Schriber. The study was a conceptual study and focused more on population. It did not go further on how it can be implemented or operationalized at country level and as a result, no field programme/project emerged from the study.
[6] The MoA Five-Year Plan on soil and water conservation measures in presented in Annex 1, Tables 5-10. It is written in Amharic
[7] Author did extensive field research (1987-89) visiting resettlement area in Keffa, Iulbabor, Wellega and Gambella (now under Oromia and Gambella region) and areas in Wollo where many families settled.
[8] The Prime Minster of Ethiopia called upon to set aside past dogmas against resettlement, which he himself has been responsible and appealed to the international community for support for the voluntary resettlement programme. He stated that resettlement is one of the quickest and the cheapest option to attain agricultural-led growth and make a dent to the worsening food security situation and overcoming the dependency on food aid.
[9] Discussion with Dessalegn Rahmato, Forum for Social Studies, who has done extensive research on land tenure issues in Ethiopia.
[10] Discussion with Gizachew Abegaz, Senior Land Use expert in MoA who has done preliminary investigation of land use potential in SNNPS. According to Mr. Gizachew more systematic study based on fieldwork is needed to ascertain land potential in this region since there is limitation to this study which is based on airal map and scale that may not adequately capture the variation on land use.
[11] Sonneveld study (2002) which assumes no conservation measures under both "restricted" and "free" migration is more likely to be the case in Ethiopia unless the Government makes major investment in conservation and extension activities. Experience shows that farmers moving into a new area are less concerned to maintaining conservation and more preoccupied in securing food and other basic necessities for survival. This often results in very damaging way of clearing land for cultivation and fuelwood.

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