By Lulseged Tamene

When farmers in Ethiopia’s Tigray province made a desert bloom again, their efforts inspired hundreds of farmers to do the same, attracting global attention. The experience successful farmers have gained in restoring degraded land is impressive.

But keeping the knowledge-sharing up – about improved land management practices including water harvesting techniques – is vital. The Africa RISING program is focused on building that capacity, through arranging exchange visits so that participants can see the successes and learn for each other.

This time, a group of farmers, agricultural extension staff, district level administration officials and university researchers, were invited to visits sites and see the progress in the implementation and organization of integrated land and watershed management work in their respective communities since their visit in Tigray – about a year and half ago.

The group from Hossana area and surroundings visited Gudoberet and Adisghe watersheds in Debre Birhan area. Both show-cased their successful interventions, explained processes and discussed challenges as well as opportunities. Among the successful farmers, two women’s interventions: ‘W/ro’ – which in Ethiopian Amharic stands for ‘married woman’ – Bekelech in Jawe and W/ro Desta in Basona; mainly because of the integrated nature of their practices and their level of personal commitment. Through hard work, these two women have improved the soils on their farms and made impressive gains in in their harvest.

As a community, farmers in Ethiopia are preventing soil erosion. Credit Georgina Smith/CIAT

Farmers in Ethiopia are preventing soil erosion as a community. Credit Georgina Smith/CIAT

An impressive drought-beater

After her exchange visit in December in 2014, W/ro Bekelech has implemented several interventions involving soil fertility management, water harvesting by building ponds and trenches; planting feed or forages, fruit trees, vegetables and others. If you look at her garden, it is very easy to confuse it with a carefully planned and designed ‘demonstration’ site. Visitors, especially those from Basona district, were impressed by the long ditches she dug almost encircling her compound to prevent wild animals damaging her plants and fruits. This is a ‘traditional’ approach intended to deter intruding wild animals.

To support her garden during the dry season, W/ro Bekelech constructed pond, ditches, percolation pits and trenches up to three meters deep, to capture flowing water. She led all the water from her compound and her roof towards these structures to increase infiltration and raise water levels in her pond. “Maybe in your place, you run to your houses when it starts to rain. Here, it is the opposite, I hurry to the field when it rains to make sure that the water doesn’t run away,” she said.

Participants showcasing their plots in Hosanna noted that some technologies had significantly improved the resilience of the land, allowing their plots to withstand possible drought shocks for two to three years without visible damage. One example is the use of the plant Enset, or Ethiopian banana, which supports the community and livestock even during drought. The plant can provide food, feed, it conserves soil; it can be made into mattresses or rope. The Hosana farmers demonstrated how the plant can be managed and prepared and the Basona farmers requested specific training on the use and management of Enset.

Bekelech watering her garden. Credit: Georgina Smith/CIAT

Bekelech watering her garden. Credit: Georgina Smith/CIAT

Integrating different management techniques

The importance of ‘zero-grazing’ was stressed by all participants. Moving livestock long distances will damage more resources, and use up valuable time and energy, they noted. Mr. Habtemariam, a farmer and chairman of Adsighe Kebele in Basoana stated: “If you let livestock roam around, they will spend energy and reduce their weight and importance because the time they spent is not worth the feed they can pick. It is thus necessary to keep them around your home and give them quality feed.”

Participants stressed the importance of integrating physical conservation measures – biological conservation measures, such as integrating forages with other crops. This will help improve overall system productivity and sustainability. The farmers even used an analogy: “A sick person will not recover fast and fully if only he or she takes medicine, without complementing it with appropriate food and additional nutrients.”

What’s next?

Farmers raised the need for more advice on crop disease and site-specific recommended fertilizer use, which might be applicable on their specific plots. The farmers also expressed interest in planting trees that can adapt to relatively cold climates, for cooler areas at higher elevations.

To move the project’s activities forward, farmers said they are willing and ready to pay for tested and proven technologies that Africa RISING interventions bring. They are aware that the project will end, and are keen to ensure the hard work they have already put in will pay off in the long-term.

Farmers appreciate that the impact of the project is not just socio-economically but also culturally important. “We sincerely appreciate the project because it linked people from two different cultures which otherwise would never happen,” one farmer said.

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