March 3, 2017

The ingredients of integrated landscape management: The case of Aba Gerima

I arrived in Aba Gerima just days before planting season began, during an unusual week of rest for the farming community.

While my fortunate timing was unintentional, this afforded me the opportunity to speak with over 70 community members over the course of five days. I was in Aba Gerima to conduct research for my master’s degree, which aimed to understand the practice of Integrated Landscape Management (ILM) in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia: A Leader in ILM

Ethiopia is a leading proponent and implementer of landscape-level approaches. The national government and organizations working within the country have made significant investment in and progress towards innovative approaches to ILM. These initiatives have been pioneered to reduce the impacts of severe land degradation and deforestation throughout the country, which has negatively impacted the livelihoods of Ethiopia’s farmers, approximately 82% of their population of 96 million. The most common landscape-level approach used in Ethiopia is Integrated Watershed Management (IWM). The implementation of IWM historically began in the mid-1970s in response to the 1973 famine. There continues to be an enabling policy environment for IWM implementation, as it is the primary natural resource management approach supported by the government.

My goal was to understand what these landscape-level approaches looked like in practice and to accelerate learning about the ingredients of successful integrated landscape management approaches as well as challenges in implementing and scaling up the approach both within Ethiopia and for the global community. Through a connection with a local research organization, the Water and Land Resource Center (WLRC), I was directed to one of their most successful learning watersheds – Aba Gerima.

March 6-9, 2017 leaders in integrated landscape management from across Africa are gathering in Addis Ababa for the African Landscapes Dialogue, co-organized by the Water and Land Resource Center. Leaders from the Aba Gerima landscape featured in this post will be in attendance. This post is part 1 in a series. 

First Impressions

Walking through Aba Gerima, guided by my co-facilitators from WLRC, I was struck by the level of conservation that had been implemented throughout the landscape. Having served in the Peace Corps in Ethiopia for three years, I was familiar with the typical agricultural landscape. It was clear from the get-go that the community of Aba Gerima has actively worked to restore their lands. While the yearly rains had not yet begun, a season that transforms the Ethiopian landscape from dusty brown to verdant fields, the watershed was visibly lusher than neighboring communities.

Conversations with community members illustrated the changes that have occurred since restoration of the severely degraded land began. The landscape has changed visually, with increased vegetation and forest cover, which many community members described as a “greening” of the landscape. There was a noticeable lack of free-grazing cattle, as community bylaws had been established to eliminate the destructive practice. The land had been treated with bunds, upon which legume species were planted for livestock fodder, to prevent soil erosion in the hilly community. A variety of trees had been planted, many of which would soon start generating income, as they began to produce fruit.

A farmer plows his field. C. Smith/Cornell

A farmer plowing his field in Aba Gerima. C. Smith/Cornell

The Research Approach

I was interested in learning about and documenting the factors that have made Aba Gerima such a success from a variety of perspectives, as well as remaining challenges. The restoration of Aba Gerima watershed had involved several actors, particularly a collaboration between the WLRC, local government offices and community members. The implementation of Aba Gerima watershed project was spearheaded and funded by the WLRC, a critical actor, as the research organization has promoted the adoption of the ILM approach in Ethiopia. However, day-to-day management as well as construction of conservation mechanisms falls to the community members with guidance and support from local government offices, particularly the agriculture office. Therefore, the research conducted involved focus group discussions with community members and key informant interviews with landscape leaders. To ensure cultural sensitivity and encourage honesty, the interviews were co-facilitated with WLRC staff who were familiar with the watershed and community members.

To learn more about the impact of watershed restoration in Aba Gerima, stay tuned for part 2 of this post, coming next week. 

Featured image by Courtney Smith/Cornell. 

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