3. Sustainable agriculture and environmental rehabilitation in Tigray region

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(a) Background

Tigray's agriculture is based on ox-plough cultivation of predominantly cereal crops. This technology has prevailed without modification for thousands of years, harvesting the same land over and over again. The level of subsistence, except for periods of good rains, has declined radically during the past decades, with almost everything produced being consumed at the farm household level. Quite apart from the erratic nature of rain water on which Tigray's agricultural production depends almost entirely, Tigray's agrarian system has, within it superimposed, a fast accelerating population growth, resulting in high density per arable land, causing, over time, the steady decline in soil and labour productivities. With such deterioration has come about the deterioration of the terms of trade of agriculture affecting all areas of economic management. The Tigray's characteristics is general for all countries in the Horn of Africa and appropriately reflect the prevailing situation in the Sahel as well as in other African countries suffering from drought desertification land and environmental degradation, sometimes compounded by armed ethnic, tribal and civil conflicts.

More than at any time of its history, Tigray finds itself in the threshold of two possible scenarios: for lack of timely response the region may either continue on the present direction of emerging serious environmental and ecological dangers of unheard proportions, or given the present favourable political stability and democratization process unknown to its peoples in modern times, it may decide to harness the enormous opportunities now widely open and, within a reasonable period of time, create a socioeconomic base that is strong, stable and self-reliant. The possible achievement of this opportunity is based especially on realistic assessment of the region's potential in agrarian and water resources, considering the fact that the volume of annual run-off that could be obtained from the basins draining Tigray is estimated to be 9 billion cubic metres. Almost all of this estimated volume of water is lost annually. If 50% of this volume of water is harvested, it would have been sufficient to irrigate more than 450,000 hectares of land or roughly 44 per cent of the present total cultivated areas of Tigray. In here lies the unlimited opportunities for transforming Tigray's backward agrarian system and production.

It is in consideration of these potentials, that the Transitional Government of Ethiopia requested the Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) to design a participatory rural development programme based on a comprehensive water-harvesting cum soil conservation scheme, embodying watershed management measures and the provision of well designed microdam integrated systems for the storage and ultimate utilization of the seasonal surface runoff water for irrigation and for human and livestock use. The development packages proposed for study and integration into an Action Plan include the consideration of a well thought out institution building process that would enable Tigray to evolve real and selfreliant development. The supplementary package proposed also include the construction of 500 micro-dams supported by appropriate irrigation infrastructures; a modern soil laboratory; appropriate labour power enhancing technologies, functioning at all levels of development; an efficient development support extension communication system; the evolvement of a capacity to terrace 200,000 hectares of land every year and the provision of several million seedlings of forestry and agronomy, supported by 81 newly established seedling nurseries.

Considering the magnitude and seriousness of the programme, ECA and FAO has formulated a project document whose objective is to design a project proposal incorporating all the programme elements. After the formulation of the project document, ECA and FAO sought the collaboration of the UNDP for funding the design process of a programme called, "Sustainable Agriculture and Environmental Rehabilitation in Tigray (SAERT)". The SAERT project's design process is now being funded jointly by the UNDP, ECA and FAO, with the Regional Government of Tigray sharing project financing in kind. SAERT fully satisfies 5 of the 6 conditions prescribed by the Transitional Government of Ethiopia for donor funding. In a remarkably short period of time, thanks to the enthusiasm of Ethiopian and ECA-FAO professionals who designed the project, a 1 3-volume study was produced. The fact that the project has been designed by Ethiopian professionals not only demonstrates the dynamism of Ethiopia's trained manpower, but it also demonstrates ECA-FAO's current effort to enhancing national capacity building in the designing implementation, monitoring and evaluation of African economies.

SAERT's unique design incorporates process attributes of projects and programmes. It is a project in a sense that the services are delivered on a phase by phase area specificity. It is a programme because SAERT has comprehensive coverage which touch base with almost all 'weredas' in Tigray. The SAERT project will ultimately integrate into one coherent entity activities relating to agriculture, natural resources and the environment.


(b) Basic Proposals Emerging from Design Process

(i) Production Benefits

The intensive technical discussions undertaken with beneficiaries' full participation led to one fundamental fact: that the design process could not be undertaken in a manner applicable for know-how rich full scale projects or programmes. The experience in Tigray in extensive micro-dams' construction was not only very limited, but the technical means for doing so, including the readiness of the human resources and technological base, as well as the supporting services were almost absent. Accordingly, the prevailing wisdom was to embark on the challenge, at least initially, with a slow but relevant pace of confidence building, accumulating experience, technical and institutional know-how. It was therefore important to first design a three year preparatory project which will help prepare the region for a more ambitious transformation process in future years. During the preparatory project, only 60 micro-dams will be built, but that during this period, not only the relevant experience will be obtained but that the material and human resources needed for building the remaining 440 micro-dams and their accessories will be constituted, enabling post-preparatory implementation phase to be undertaken at a faster rate and with minimum extra cost, which cost is expected to be borne by the beneficiaries themselves. The remaining 440 micro-dams will be built in seven years, roughly at 62 micro-dams per year. This means the 500 micro-dams proposed by the Government will be built in ten years using the human/technical base established for the preparatory period. In here lies the uniqueness of the forward planning exercise of SAERT.

In order to establish, scientifically, the benefits of supplementary irrigation to household incomes, a small survey was conducted in two villages just before the design process started. Both villages had farmers depending totally on rain-fed agriculture and others using supplementary irrigation. The results of survey clearly indicated that farmers depending totally on rain-fed agriculture experienced either total crop failure or had very low yields. Farmers using supplementary irrigation harvested relatively good crops. In general, average agricultural income differential between the farmers who used supplementary irrigation and those that did not was estimated to be 70% in one of the villages and 220% in the other. This survey established beyond doubt the critical importance of supplementary irrigation to the people of Tigray. This could reflect the reality in many other parts of Africa affected by land and environmental degradation.

During the preparatory three year period, as explained above, a total of 60 microdams will be built, each dam with an irrigation capacity of 100 hectares. Assuming an acreage per household of 0.5 hectares, this means, at a minimum, 12,000 families will be direct production beneficiaries of the 60 dams or a total of 60,000 people benefiting, assuming the existence of five persons per household. The remaining 440 micro-dams would entail an irrigation capacity of 44,000 hectares or provide production benefits to 88,000 families or 440,000 people, applying the same assumptions described above. This means, in totality, 500,000 people will be owner producers, whereas the food multiplier effect benefits from such a production base will be much higher as conservatively estimated hereunder.

As also demonstrated by the special survey on supplementary irrigation conducted by SAERT in 1993 and also confirmed by earlier studies (Huntings Technical Team, 1972), supplementary irrigation would enable production of 4.5 tons of wheat or 4.2 tons of maize and an additional 16-18 tons of potato per year from one hectare of irrigated field. Assuming a conservative potential production increase of grains of 4 tons only, and also assuming that the irrigated fields are all under grains (60,000 hectares during the preparatory period), the incremental production would be 24,000 tons. At a much higher supply than currently available of daily calorie supply per capita of 2,100, the incremental production of 24,000 tons would suffice to take care of the food needs of about 120,000 extra people. The proposed 500 micro dams entailing 50,000 hectares of irrigated fields would produce 200,000 tons of staple grains enough to feed an extra 930,000 people who, without the project would surely be depending on food aid. It should be noted here that the incremental production of 200,000 tons is almost twice the amount of food deficit estimated for the Tigray region in the 1992/93 crop year.

The potential production benefits of 50,000 hectares of irrigated fields to the food basket of Tigray would even be significant and one requiring closer policy attention. On the production assumptions explained in above, a total of 800,000 tons of potato would be produced every year, by the end of the tenth year. The aforementioned increment of potato production would satisfy the food energy needs of over 3 million people, by very conservative estimates. The full use of this potential would, of course, require the people of Tigray adjusting their food habits as consumers of non-cereal but vegetable root and fibre products. The total perspective emerging is that the irrigation potential of 500 microdams would support the food energy needs of about 4 million people, conservatively stated. Besides these, the project would bring other social and environmental benefits.

(ii) Technology/lnfrastructure Inputs

A careful assessment of the technology/infrastructure needs of SAERT has been made taking into serious consideration the procurement, deployment and maintenance needs and capacities of these inputs as well as the complementarily of these with indigenous inputs, especially with labour.

These inputs include, among several others, the equipment needed for the planning and construction of the proposed dams, the equipping of a soil, plant and water testing laboratory, the establishment and equipping of a technology maintenance/ manufacturing centre, the procuremenf of motorized transport, office and field equipment, camp facilities, processing equipment for Pear Cactus as well as/ the construction of SAERT infrastructures and premises at regional, zonal and wereda levels. These technologies will be organized and managed using the principles of internal cost accounting to determine the precise profitable use of individual inputs.

(iii) Budgetary Provisions

The initial budgetary provisions for the implementation of the preparatory phase of SAERT will be obtained from donor agencies and from government budgetary provisions. The structure of the proposed SAERT's budget reflects the need to continue programme activities beyond the preparatory phase with minimum inconvenience. Donor agencies' involvement is limited to the procurement of equipment, advisory services, training, infrastructural facilities as well as very limited food aid.

(iv) Institutional Arrangements

The design of SAERT reflects a serious grassroots structure and orientation. Many allegedly participatory rural development programmes have failed for a variety of reasons, two of which deserve mentioning: lack of clarity in design elements and lack of commitment on the part of Governance. These problems have been considered in designing the institution building processes (see Volume III of the SAERT studies) of SAERT and, unlike other programmes of a similar intent, the SAERT project will be organized, led and managed by the beneficiaries themselves. The task of SAERT's technical and intellectual staff is to support and concretize the new reality of peasant empowerment and decision-making in managing the day to day affairs of SAERT. Given this technical support, there is enough experience attained during the Liberation Struggle which confirm, validate and justify the need to pursue the objective of real empowerment as a historic and necessary task. Such a direction is not only cost effective but is also a vital component of the coming Second Revolution of peoples for self-reliant development. The specific aspects of this direction are explained subsequently.

SAERT is structured from the region all the way to the Kushet Level. At the region level, SAERT receives its policy/technical guidance from a 20 person Board of Directors which meets twice a year. The Board has its own monitoring and evaluation system. The composition of the Board reflects the dominance of representatives of peasant beneficiaries and includes representatives of Peasant Associations (4), Women's Associations (4), Rural Youth Association (4), representatives of labour 11), Chamber of Commerce (1), Government (1), Defence Forces (1), Urban Dwellers' Association (1), Independent Professional (1), representatives of NGOs (2). At region level the Board's directives are implemented by a Project Management Directorate which among other technical units has six major functional divisions; planning and programming, resource mobilization, education and training, monitoring and evaluation, private sector development and development support extension communication. There will be three semi-autonomous units which will provide their services to SAERT at cost and at profit to others. These are: soil laboratory service, a consultancy service, and the service for technology choice and maintenance.

Quite apart from the internal monitoring and evaluation system of project management at all levels, there will also be, every two years, Congresses of beneficiaries at all levels, assessing the performance of their institution - SAERT. This process will ensure the direct participation of beneficiaries in all affairs of SAERT. In this important direction of participatory development, training will play a crucial role.

(c) Some Highlights on the Technical Components of SAERT

The design of SAERT reflects an inter-disciplinary technical integration involving water harvesting, soil conservation, forestry husbandry and hydrology, irrigation agronomy, soil chemistry, fodder production and others supported by specific institutional measures. An understanding of the salient points of the proposed technical measures is in order, hence a cursory review of these salient points.

A detailed proposition has been made regarding institution-building for SAERT. Institutions are difficult terrains of struggle in development work. The treatment of vast watershed areas will involve an interdisciplinary technical approach incorporating forest and agronomic hydrology, soil and water conservation, land use planning etc., ordering these disciplines into consistent logical programming frameworks that take into account, the economic, social and institutional factors. The physical changes involving will require decentralized planning and implementation, facilitated through intensive training programmes of beneficiaries by using institutions of SAERT and intermediate rural organizations. The planning process also needs to be augmented by a parallel process of monitoring and evaluation by beneficiaries. The participatory technical planning will be organized and managed on a highly decentralized framework, involving decentralized planning, resource control and management. In order to implement the transformation process being spearheaded by SAERT, a total of 780 technical staff and peasant coordinators will be required during the preparatory period. This number does not include personnel required in the other technical disciplines of SAERT.

The microdams so far constructed are flexible earth embankment dam types. These microdams were constructed using the labour of the community. The major limitations of the small dam structures exhibited include over topping, seepage and inaccessibility. Nearly 75% of the dams constructed prior to 1991 have been overtopped and as a result destroyed. These types of pitfalls will be completely avoided through SAERT. As part of this process of proper planning, two study design teams will be created and established in strategic locations, one at Axum and the other at Mekelle. Each design/study team consists of civil engineer, irrigation engineer, geologist, pedologist, hydrologist, surveyors and socio-economists supported by technical and clerical staff. There will also be construction teams in ail the four zones, each team consisting of a construction engineer, construction foreman, surveyors, machine operators, mechanics, truck and vehicle operators and other technical and clerical staff needed.

In the construction operations, all supporting technological and institutional requisites will be readily available. These include the equipment, machinery and material for planning and construction of the micro-dams, a supporting material laboratory which will support the investigation and feasibility studies, the training of all types of staff at all levels, including the training of beneficiaries in construction and maintenance works. In all the construction operations, a 50% mix ratio strategy between labour and machine has been worked out. Prior to the commencement of the construction of a dam, it is compulsory to carry out intensive soil conservation and afforestation activities in the catchment. The beneficiaries will be involved in the planning process from the beginning. On the average, a reservoir dam with a gross storage capacity of 2 million cubic metre would be sufficient to supplement more than 300 hectares of rainfed agriculture and/or 100 hectares of dry season irrigation. This is equivalent to the landholding of two or three villages or 300-400 families. With this much of stored water, prevailing socio-economic problems of the region would be alleviated. There are other positive end results of the water storage process which could not be expressed in monetary terms. Degraded lands would be rehabilitated, there will be an increase in the rate of recharge of the ground water resulting from the impoundment of a large body of water on the surface. Therefore, the yield of springs and wells would increase substantially. A total of US$7.8 million and Eth. Birr 3.8 million will be required during the preparatory period. The technology to be procured and the infrastructure to be established would serve the construction of the proposed 500 microdams.

The proper establishment of irrigation infrastructures is one of the fundamental (if not the most fundamental) problems at present in Tigray. This activity will be greatly strengthened through the SAERT programme. Activities to be undertaken during the three year preparatory period include the undertaking of reconnaissance, pre-feasibility and feasibility studies to determine that the size of irrigable land is proportional to the size and capacity of the dam; topographical surveying, pedological and agronomic studies; environmental impact assessment and socio-economic studies will be conducted leading to a detail design, hydrological and irrigation system layout and on-farm structures. In addition to these necessary studies, operation and maintenance guideline will be prepared. In all these activities, the beneficiaries will be involved. These activities prepare the ground for construction of the infrastructures. Training and capacity building also receive important priority.

During the preparatory phase, a major attempt will be made to introduce radical changes in the farming systems around the areas of the 60 micro dams. There will be an increase in the production of cereals and vegetable crops, newly introduced forage species and fruit species. Modern inputs such as fertilizers, improved seeds, pesticides will be introduced. As in the other components of SAERT, training will receive an important priority. In the 6,000 hectares to be developed during the preparatory periods, cereals would occupy 60% of the area, fruits, pulses and vegetables would occupy 15%, 15% and 10%, respectively. Annual incremental production would be in the order of 130,380 quintals of cereals, 8,550 quintals of pulses and 630,000 quintals of vegetables. Net annual farm profit for the project in three years would be 194 million Birr. Net annual farm incomes from crop production would increase on average from the current level of Eth. Birr 2126/Ha to Eth Birr 10,780/ha. Other complementary programmes of irrigation include forage production, apiculture and the improvement of the genetic potential of the local cattle through cross breeding.

The prickly pear cactus is an important resource of Tigray for food security, fodder and conservation, and it will receive programme support. The prickly pear cactus covers an area of 355,242 hectares throughout Tigray, 55% of which is man-planted. Total production of the fruit amounts to 2.7 million annually. Most of this fruit gets consumed at the farm level and only 3.37% of the fruit gets marketed. Higher marketable surplus could be achieved with active market promotion, especially in processed form. It must be emphasized that the fruit plays an important role in food security in the critical three months when food supplies are low {July, August and September) in Tigray. A fresh prickly pear cactus of dry matter contains fat, fibre, protein, calcium carbohydrates, phosphorous and sodium in sufficient quantities for daily requirements. Further studies of the plant will be required and small processing facilities will be established during the preparatory period of SAERT.

Three important services will be organized during the preparatory period. These are: Development support extension communication which handles the task of conveying proven knowledge to farmers and sensitizing farmers for the adoption of new knowledge and technologies. The other service will be the task of choosing, procuring, using and maintaining all the technologies needed by SAERT. The third service will be a soil, plant and water testing laboratory to operate principally from Mekelle. These services will be organized as semiautonomous institutions providing their services to SAERT at cost, and at profit to other institutions.

Women receive explicit programmes support in SAERT. During the preparatory period, programme support will be given to achieve the objectives of reducing women's domestic work burden, increasing their access to and control over resources, assisting them to engage in income generating activities which increase their income etc. In these respects, 24 grain mills will be installed and credit programmes for a variety of income generating activities will be organized. Extensive training programmes will also be provided.

The programme component for natural resources within SAERT is extensive. The major objective under this component is to minimize soil erosion and run-off, to protect and enhance the environment of the region using biological and physical measures and to meet the region's requirements for fuelwood, poles, fodder and timber. In this respect 60 nurseries with an annual capacity each of 250,000 seedlings a year will be established; extensive construction of physical structures such as bands, terraces, micro basins, check dams, etc. will be undertaken. As part of the watershed management measures, extensive revegetation of the physical structures with appropriate species will be undertaken, including the improvement of grazing lands with fodder trees, shrubs and grasses. Extensive tree plantings on private woodlots, communal lands etc.. will also be made. Research trials and training of staff are also important programme components. These activities will be organized using the labour of communities with minimal support from SAERT in a form of food aid. It must be emphasized that food aid has been minimized in the SAERT programme on the assumption that whatever tree the communities plant will belong to them. This form of ownership (individual, group and communities) will be contained within a special policy framework to be developed by SAERT.

The social dimension programme of SAERT is an important component and looks at the whole spectrum of poverty reduction in Tigray in general and examines the social consequences of extensive water harvesting in the region. Popular adult education, the prevention of water borne diseases, the generation of productive employment are issues tackled as programme components.