December 5, 2014

Can large-scale landscape restoration initiatives fulfill their promises: a resounding “YES” from northern Ethiopia

Kifle Woldearegay, Mekelle University Frank Van Steenbergen, Meta Meta Lulseged Tamene, International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT)

The arid to semi-arid environments of Ethiopia, particularly the Tigray region in northern part of the country, is a typical example which demonstrates that large-scale interventions can fulfill their promises in enhancing food security, ensuring environmental sustainability and creating landscapes resilient to climate and weather variability. Before the years 1994/1995, land degradation, low agricultural productivity, chronic shortage of water for water supply and agricultural production, and high sensitivity to climate variability were the peculiar features of the Tigray region. As a result, the region used to be one of the most food insecure regions in Ethiopia; agricultural productivity was not more than 5 quintals (500kg)/hectare in the years 1994/1995.

This post is part of an online discussion on large-scale land interventions that runs through December 14th. Do you think these initiatives can fulfill their promise? Comment below. See all posts in the series.
Groundwater well in Tigray, Ethiopia

New groundwater created due to natural resources management interventions at upstream areas, Tigray, Northern Ethiopia.

Mosaics of Interventions

Since 1994/1995 extensive ‘mosaics’ of interventions have been under implementation at various levels of the landscapes which include: (a) construction of different soil and water conservation measures such as trenches, terraces, percolation pits and afforestation activities at upper watersheds, (b) gully rehabilitation/stabilization works through construction of check-dams, gully reshaping as well as construction of subsurface dams and percolation ponds at the middle levels of watersheds, and (c) soil moisture enhancement (trenches, soil bunds) as well as soil improvement like mulching. In many areas, area closures and afforestation are also being implemented in the region.

Typical example of different interventions at different levels in Tigray, Ethiopia.

Typical example of different interventions at different levels of the landscapes in Tigray, northern Ethiopia: upstream soil and water conservation (deep trenches, afforestation etc), sand storage dams and percolation ponds at lower reach of the slopes, and shallow groundwater wells at downstream side of the percolation ponds.

Remarkable Achievements

The implementation of an integrated and participatory catchment based intervention at various levels of catchments have resulted in a number of benefits: (a) created new water sources and improved existing ones which include groundwater, springs, and stream flows which helped irrigation development, (b) improved moisture of soils and improved productivity of rainfed agriculture which enhanced sustainable intensification, (c) reduced land degradation and associated on-site soil erosion and off-site sedimentation, and (d) created an environment which is resilient to rainfall variability.

Though this was a region with little modern irrigation practices, there are remarkable achievements in enhancing productivity of rainfed and irrigated agriculture in recent years: rainfed agriculture has improved its yield from 5 quintal/ha in 1994/1995 to 24 quintal/ha in 2013/2014. Moreover, out of the 1.2 million hectares of cultivable land in the region, irrigation has increased from less about 50 ha in the year 1994 to over 240,000 ha in 2014. Naturally, community awareness of the benefits of natural resources management, moisture conservation and water harvesting has improved as well. This awareness facilitated steadily increasing participation  and continues to generate environmental and economic returns.

Despite the high rainfall variability over the years, through landscape restorations and introduction of appropriate water harvesting and moisture conservation technologies it was possible to enhance productivity of rainfed agriculture as well as irrigated agriculture and avoid climate related disasters.

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  • Pat Heslop-Harrison
    December 5, 2014 at 12:06pm

    I posted a video a couple of years ago showing effective erosion control in Aksum / Axum, Northern Ethiopia, with the Austrailian Grevillea robusta –

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