Action Against Desertification

The beginning of a positive transformation in Ethiopia’s drylands

Local communities and government make headway in tackling land degradation


Arba, Ethiopia – “Not so long ago, the hills had fertile soils and were covered with trees,” says Teka Hayelom, a father of four from the village of Arba in the Tigray region, about 560 km north of Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa.

Recalling the past, Teka laments the harsh reality of today. The land is severely degraded, temperatures are high and rainfall is getting erratic. “Our livelihoods are at risk,” he says.

Land degradation and desertification greatly impair the food security of millions of rural dwellers like Teka, living in Ethiopia’s arid and semi-arid regions.

In Teka’s view, intensive livestock grazing and the need for land to plough are the major factors behind these threats to the environment. “Drought is becoming more intense and frequent. Our crops fail, we have less pasture and water, the cows produce less milk,” he says.

However, he is optimistic about recent action taken by his community to reverse the situation. “The government has mobilized us to reclaim our fertile lands,” Teka explains, adding that: “They taught us how to construct trenches, to plant trees and build small dams to restore our land so we can improve crops yields and the output of our animals.” 

The government intends to restore 22 million hectares of drylands in Ethiopia by 2030. It works in tandem with FAO and partners, supporting the Great Green Wall initiative, Africa’s flagship programme to combat the effects of climate change and desertification.

In 2016, FAO’s Action Against Desertification started operating in Ethiopia. It is active in the Gollina, Metema and Raya-Azebo districts of Ethiopia’s Afar, Amhara and Tigray regional states.

Nine trainings and workshops were organized so far, reaching over 200 farmers like Teka Hayelom. These trainings addressed topics such as land restoration using well-adapted local species, or the Market Analysis and Development approach applied to non-timber forest products.

Between 2016 and 2018, 1 600 hectares of degraded land were planted to initiate their restoration, mainly through enrichment of woodlands, assisted natural regeneration and sustainable land management practices.

“What we see here is the beginning of a positive transformation,” says Abebe Seifu, Ethiopia’s focal person for the Great Green Wall and Director of Ecosystem Rehabilitation and Desertification Protection at the National Commission for Environment, Forest and Climate Change. “Over the last two years, about 580 hectares of land have been planted and the land of 290 households has been covered with trees, shrubs and grasses. Furthermore, agreements were made to restrict access for livestock to another 600 hectares of land.”

According to Teka Hayelom, the communities are fully committed. “We want to rehabilitate our land,” he says. “That will make our lives better.”