Harvesting water and environmental sustainability: the long term and lasting solution to land degradation the case of Tigray


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1. The option
2. The new approach
3. Sustainable agriculture and environmental rehabilitation in Tigray region


1. The option


Considerable parts of Africa have the potential to be highly productive and yields can be substantially raised from present levels with correct land use and good management especially of Africa's water resources. However the opposite is also true: inappropriate land use, poor management and the lack of inputs can quickly lead to decline of productivity and land degradation, a situation which prevails in many parts of Africa.

The various systems of land tenure currently in operation are frequently a major disincentive to the adoption of sound land husbandry. Communal and allocated lands are frequently abused because neither farmers nor graziers feel any responsibility for their conservation. To the farmer there is little to be gained from constructing conservation ditches if they are to be trampled by another's cattle when farms are open to communal grazing after harvest. In some rangeland areas it often pays the herder to over-use the forage; if he does not, someone else will and he will be the loser. Conservation work becomes practically impossible where holdings are fragmented. For these reasons, campaigns to survey, consolidate and register land are required to establish individual, (including women) collective or corporate ownership. Some 4,200 billion m of fresh water flows out of Africa into the ocean every year; 10 % of it would increase Africa's food production by 10 %!.

Public participation in conservation-based land husbandry requires access to information, physical resources, and financial and social services. Information needs may be met through extension programmes and various forms of communication media, e.g. newspapers, radio and signboards. Physical resources, other than land, that must be available include fertilizer, improved seed, tree cuttings and improved implements. The land user needs access to financial resources such as credit, grants, long-term loans and marketing assistance. Environmentally sound improvements in land husbandry require the support of social agencies that are too often confined to the cities. The key to many of these is access, i.e. an improved transportation system: roads, bridges, public transport. Good transportation facilities also make an array of communication, marketing and employment opportunities available and plans for improved use should consider inclusion of such measures.

Whilst considering the opportunities presented by the potential of the land resource base and the problem of land degradation in Africa, it must continually be borne in mind that issues of sustainable production and productivity especially in Low Income Food Deficit Countries (LIFDC), are closely linked to both economic and environmental factors. Without greater investment in infrastructure, proper incentives to farmers, adequate supplies of production inputs, effective marketing and credit facilities, land reserves will be left unitized and production from land at present cultivated, will remain below its potential. Using the land beyond its inherent suitability and at low levels of inputs will lead to further abuse and degradation.

Education is perhaps the main component of long-term solutions to the many land husbandry problems in Africa. Whether it is protecting crops from pests, cultivating crops for soil improvement, constructing water control structures, or the multitude of other land related practices, the extension worker is undoubtedly a key participant. His or her preparation and support must receive high priority in any land improvement and development strategy. Successful extension techniques need to be identified and disseminated; follow-up and evaluation of extension activities will provide a guide for improvement. Basic education of people is an important corner stone in improved resource use. Teaching a land ethic and the national objectives of a convenient for land husbandry, particularly conservation, begin early in public education. Technical and vocational training help build understanding and acceptance of environmentally sound land use practices. Education's greatest contribution to improve land husbandry is probably achieved through its attack on illiteracy. The village school teachers may well play a key role in solving Africa's land use problems.

Education must be something more than equipping a person with technical information. Knowledge is merely esoteric if it cannot contribute to turning potential resources into real wealth for the benefit of people.

Training and education must be aimed not only at technicians, but also at farmers and administrators. Past experience has shown that well educated African technicians backed by foreign experts have contributed little to conservation. Though Africa will still need to formally train technicians in environment related disciplines, the key element for success is going to be working with farmers. Since the farmer manages the land, he will ask specific, environmental questions and the expert or technician will try to answer them. Knowledge that has not incorporated local information and wisdom cannot possibly provide appropriate answers for such questions.

In Africa, research services have given little or no support to conservation activities. This may be due to the fact that conservation requires a multidisciplinary approach. It needs inputs from many different disciplines such as ecology, soil science, hydrology, soil and water engineering, agronomy, forestry, range science, farming systems, economics and sociology. Some work has been done on the nature of erosion problems. The problem, however, is that soil conservation is usually treated differently from water conservation. They should be handled together as soil and water conservation. In effect, they-should be related to farming systems in a systems' research approach. The application of knowledge to soil and water conservation will lead to research on conservation farming. The components of such a research programme are land degradation studies, conservation methods research, soil fertility/productivity research with emphasis on the effect of soil degradation on productivity, soil survey and land evaluation, economics of soil degradation, and socioeconomic analysis of costs and benefits and the integration of the cost of natural resources degradation into National Accounting.

Basic to this challenge is the fundamental need to recognize that Africa has an extremely wide range of land values and conditions. As described previously, lands range from deserts with stony, shallow soils and meagre life-sustaining capabilities to humid forest lands with old, deeply weathered soils which recycle great quantities of biomass. Through years of misuse and over exploitation, some lands are severely degraded. Though these degraded lands have understandably received much attention, it must be realized that in considerable areas of the continent, the lands are still in good condition and that opportunities for producing food and cash crops, forage and trees are great. This complex pattern of resources and land conditions is the framework for African development, but one fact is overwhelmingly clear, namely that the lands of Africa can no longer meet demand unaided. Overexploitation and misuse must stop and the optimization of land husbandry must be actively pursued. To this end, it is recommended that national authorities draw up the suggested land balance sheets, comparing demands with land potentials and quantifying the inputs necessary to meet the demands on a sound and degradation-free basis.

There are no easy solutions and no panaceas to the "land degradation " problem. Each country will have to develop its own package of land and water husbandry measures' with due emphasis on the central importance of land conservation, the capacity building in human, institution and infrastructure fields, equity, people's participation and accountability. Without attention to these factors, no plan or technical solution stands much chance of success. The necessity of "knowing what one is dealing with" is perhaps the most important conclusion policy makers could draw from this analysis of Africa's land degradation issue.

For more than thirty five years, UNECA has provided support to Africa Regional Economic and Social Cooperation and Integration within which food and agriculture development is of paramount importance. However, methods of formulating and implementing this assistance must now be re-assessed to ensure that: they reflect the comparative advantage of the Secretariat; global, multinational, regional and subregional, and macro-economic analysis continue to be priorities within the changing environment; approaches are coordinated and sustainable at all levels of the chain of the development process; optimal and sustainable use of the limited resources available is made; and, the partnerships and strategic alliances to be created within the system are indeed established and supported by policies translated into sustainable action with accountability including the integration of natural resources and environmental degradation in the National Accounting process.

UNECA and FAO's mandates respectively include among others, the support to Government's efforts to reduce hunger and poverty through improving agricultural productivity, especially in LIFDC.

Also, presently UNECA support to member countries in food and agriculture is financed from three main sources, the limited resources from the regular budget, the UN system (mainly UNDP) and bilateral trust funds including UNTFAD. The changing financial times require that these traditional sources be re-examined within the context of current thinking and the necessity to satisfy African countries', especially LlFDC's emerging needs.

Assisting governments to eliminate the hunger and poverty affecting the millions of people in developing countries, is one of the major concern of FAO and UNECA. Governments, particularly those of the LIFDC, cannot overcome these problems on their own. Some lack of resources and expertise, and most feel the need for cooperation in addressing these critical issues. FAO uses four main avenues to assist governments in tackling these issues: a) Undertaking programmes of technical advice and assistance for the agricultural community on behalf of governments and development funding agencies; b) Collection, analysis and dissemination of information; c) Provision of advice to governments on policy and planning; d) creation of a forum for governments to meet and to discuss food and agricultural problems and for finding lasting solutions.

With the present changing international economic and social environment, assistance to member countries must respond more sensitively to emerging new needs of countries. New actors are becoming involved in the partnership for development, necessitating reassessment of traditional roles. Consequently, the challenge facing African countries, donors, NGOs, and the UN System at large, is to create room for innovative actions to be developed and implemented, to turn around the food and agriculture sector's performance and to build the national human, institutional and infrastructural capacities to that effect, especially in Low Income and Food Deficit African Countries (LIFDC). The ultimate aim being to improve the national economies, ensure equitable distribution of the benefits accrued and, to improve the quality of life of the rural populations.


2. The new approach


One of the major consequences of natural and man-made disasters in Africa has been the massive increase of refugees and displaced persons. Although the status of refugees is well defined by the UN and UNHCR, the Department of Humanitarian Affairs and UNICEF which are rendering the required assistance, there are no comparable structures for assisting the continuously growing number of displaced persons. There is therefore an urgent need for additional legal and humanitarian safeguards to be put in place to assist and protect internally displaced populations. Such safeguards should be part of long term and sustainable solutions, especially in the objective of ensuring food security and a sustainable poverty alleviation.

Furthermore, post conflict rehabilitation, reconstruction and economic and social development also pose immense and daunting challenges, as impoverished refugees and displaced people return home to rebuild their lives with few - if any - resources. Nevertheless, where the destruction of the countries wealth is very often not caused by foreign "injunctions" or natural calamities, the bulk of reconstruction, social and economic development must remain the responsibility of nationals themselves and the international community can play only a catalytic role.

However, merely coping with emergency situations is not enough. Only a genuine development policy can, in the final analysis, make Africa a partner in the international scheme of things. Immediate assistance for long-term reconstruction, also requires security and political stability.

The Rehabilitation, Reconstruction, Development and Cooperation and integration at the sub-regional and regional context, are unavoidable stages, and form a logical sequel to humanitarian assistance to member countries, leading to the three continuum strategy: (1) continuum from rehabilitation to reconstruction and development or from short to medium to long term; (2) continuum from national to subregional and regional level or regional cooperation and integration; (3) continuum from national to regional. provincial and communities level or genuine decentralization. It was from this medium- and long-term perspective and in conformity with its mandate that the Economic Commission for Africa decided to advocate the adoption of the continuum approach based on a close linkage between rehabilitation, reconstruction and development; and between the short, the medium and the long term.

Within the framework of its "Agenda on Emergency, Humanitarian, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Affairs", and more specifically in consonance with ' its objective in Poverty Alleviation through Sustainable Development, UNECA, at the request of the Transitional Government of Ethiopia (TOE) has launched a major undertaking called "Sustainable Agriculture and Environmental, Rehabilitation in Tigray (SAERT), which is only the first of 8 Programmes being elaborated in cooperation with UNDP and FAO within the framework of what is known as "Sustainable Agriculture and Environmental Rehabilitation, Reconstruction and Development (SAERRD) for Ethiopia".

The UNECA has therefore articulated, at a conceptual level, the need to organize the various processes involved in post-conflict situations, all contained within a continuum processes of moving from conflict to rehabilitation, reconstruction and development, and from national to subregional and regional within the Abuja Treaty establishing the Panafrican Economic Community.

Within the Greater Horn of Africa, Ethiopia is a country where UNECA has concretely and seriously addressed, at a programme level, issues of rehabilitation, reconstruction and sustainable development, within the framework of a genuine decentralization and popular participation. In very close consultations with the highest authorities of Ethiopia and in cooperation with UNDP and FAO, a programme called, "Sustainable Agriculture and Environmental Rehabilitation, Reconstruction and Development Programme (SAERP)" has been developed to address not only the issue of food security in Ethiopia but the whole area of sustainable development in agriculture and natural resources. In view of the fact that this is a programme where we have concrete field experience, it is important to state the objectives of this programme. This important programme is being executed on a region-by-region basis with the regional governments in Ethiopia at the forefront of this exercise. It is important to note that UNECA has now completed the design processes of SAERP in one of Ethiopia's food deficit regions, Tigray. It may be recalled that Tigray, as part of Ethiopia's northern highlands has witnessed, within a matter of only two decades, major disasters in famines, as a result of which several hundred thousand people have perished or fled their region. The objectives of SAERP are described hereunder:

The first objective is capacity building. The conception of SAERP presupposes the use of local expertise in designing the SAER Programme. Accordingly, with the assistance of UNECA Secretariat, the design process was successfully conducted by Ethiopian professionals. In order to achieve this objective, the Commission organized intensive training programmes as well as consultation workshops to ensure grassroots planning and to carry this planning process at minimum cost. Such process not only contributed to strengthening local capacity in design processes, but also succeeded in ensuring that practically all of the design components are undertaken by local institutions and expertise.

The second objective, very much in line with the first one, relates to using participatory methods in addressing issues of design elements. The SAER Programme in Tigray was designed with the active participation of the beneficiaries of the Region. Like all the forthcoming SAER Programmes in Ethiopia, the Programme in Tigray has evolved into a farmer-managed programme involving decision-making processes by beneficiaries. The design process has also resulted in the creation of major institutions at all levels of the regional government, which institutions operate directly under the organization, management and supervision of beneficiaries. These institutions have built-in mechanisms for grassroots planning and monitoring and evaluation, all operating under the direct guidance of the beneficiaries.

The third objective of SAERP is to increase production as quickly as possible using extensive water harvesting systems for irrigation. The design process for the Tigray region anticipates the building of 500 irrigation schemes, principally using microdams within a period of ten years. This undertaking, ambitious as it may appear, has been carefully targeted taking into consideration the experiences of the region in irrigation as well as in participatory labour processes. The undertaking of the proposed schemes will involve extensive watershed management as well as adequate preparatory measures in organizing the agronomy components of irrigation schemes to an extent that the region can be self-sufficient in food resources and export food to other Ethiopian regions and to other countries in the Horn of Africa (such as the neighbouring Eritrea) within a matter of ten years.

The fourth objective involves, through measures outlined above, the massive rehabilitation of the environment. The watershed management programme will involve, by the end of the tenth year, a capacity to rehabilitate and reconstruct no less than 200,000 hectares of watershed areas in a single year. The massive accumulation of water in strategic locations will also radically alter the state of the environment. Two major effects are most likely to occur. The first one involves a change in the environment, meaning the water levels of the region will be higher, the fauna of the region will change as it has already occurred in the areas where a few micro dams exist, the land-population optimal factors will also improve since higher levels of yield and output will be achieved on limited plots of land because of irrigation. While these are the positive elements that are already emerging affecting the environment, unless extreme care is taken from the beginning, there can also be negative consequences: a rise in the incidence of malaria and bilharzia and other water-born diseases. Consultations have already been undertaken with WHO and are taking the appropriate measures to ensure that the irrigation schemes are free from health hazards. One of such measures being taken is designing the irrigation canals appropriately so that the water flow in these canals discourages the breeding of malaria, bilharzia and other waterborne diseases.

The SAER Programme is one of the unique programmes that the Commission is organizing to break the cycle of agrarian crisis in Ethiopia. This programme has received the full endorsement of the Government of Ethiopia and is now moving from region to region. The Commission is elaborating a programme similar to that of Tigray for the Amhara Region in Ethiopia which is the second out of eight Programmes to be elaborated for eight Ethiopian Regions as per the Transitional Government of Ethiopia (TOE) request.

The UNECA's new approach in providing sustainable assistance to countries affected by land and environmental degradation and desertification (partially as consequences of droughts, armed conflicts and civil wars) as a major disaster area for intervention is different from those used up to now. In fact the approach used up to present has been based on extensive coverage of services; it is a batching and peacemeal approach. This approach usually addresses short term issues because there will not be enough resources to cover large communities. The present approach as judged by the design processes of the Sustainable Agriculture and Environmental

Rehabilitation, Reconstruction and Development in Ethiopia (SAERRD), are based on targeted intensive operations starting in few drought/crisis areas, make these areas environmentally, economically and socially sustainable in agricultural production and then move further, in a similar fashion, to cover other areas. This may take time but in the end it is the most productive and rewarding approach if serious sustainable. system for preventing the menacing effects of droughts on human and animal populations is to be prevented. What is important is to recognize that the battle against the four continuums cannot start in several communities. It has to start in a few communities from where design/implementation processes can be learned and adjusted, covers a region, then extends to other regions of the country and then move the experience in other African countries facing similar problems.

The new approach introduced emphasizes adaptability, government or beneficiaries commitment, capacity building and effective monitoring. The new approach centers on the borrowers and the beneficiaries and not on the requirements of the assistance agencies; it incorporates the development of capacities at national and local levels and participation and listening to the beneficiaries right from the start; it provides explicitly, reduction, proper assessment, and prudent management of risks; it prepares the ground to reduce elapsed time and resources spent before initiating action on the ground with the donors contributions; it facilitates and strengthen coordination at the programme level; it ensures the sustainability (environmentally and through time) of the actions undertaken through a continuous learning process by all participants; it ensures less formalistic and more continuous contact with beneficiaries and the involvement of NGOs.

The traditional programme/project cycle which covers: identification, preparation, appraisal, negotiation, implementation & supervision, and evaluation; is no longer adapted to the participatory approach advocated by UNECA, to the risky, complex, uncertain environment, and very volatile framework within which the development with transformation is taking place today.

Experience thus far in Project/Programme Design Approach which advocates, multidisciplinarity, sub-regional and regional dimension, sustainability and participation, is encouraging and one is convinced that things are moving in the right direction! The new approach will definitely achieve a lasting impact on the country's policies, practices, technologies and skills. It would be important and appropriate to also build on the work of other organizations, and to build strategic alliances with other interested agencies including NGOs and bilateral agencies.

The main focus of the regional programmes is to ensure national ownership of both the problems and solutions to sector development. Therefore, top priority has been accorded to development of national capacities at all levels, especially at the community level, to further elaborate the framework developed; manage programme implementation; as well as to undertake monitoring and evaluation functions. In these specific cases, national execution of proposed interventions therefore appears to be the appropriate modality to reach these goals thus creating a better environment for sustained impact. Under those circumstances, UNDP, UNECA and FAO will be partners providing advisory services, jointly testing approaches and undertaking training activities at all levels in all aspects of sustainable food and agricultural development (policy identification, formulation and development of regulation on sectoral issues, information, collection analysis/dissemination network, planning and implementation capacities, verification and use of indigenous technical knowledge, participation technique and community ownership programmes to enhance sustainability, extension, research, marketing, credit, environment, food security, small-scale irrigation, conservation based food production, onand off-farm employment, etc. with focus on the community and their perceived needs). The required innovative approaches are likely to vary between Regions.

The new and comprehensive approach introduced by UNECA and FAO is based on integrated water harvesting. The participatory rural development programme design for Tigray is based on a comprehensive water-harvesting cum soil conservation scheme, embodying watershed management measures and the provision of well designed macrodam integrated systems for storing and ultimate utilization of the seasonal surface run-off water for irrigation, human and livestock use. The case of Tigray described in the next section present the architype framework to be adapted for each country taking into account its specificities.