Improving Organic Resource Use in Rural Ethiopia
This project will increase our understanding of the interactions between food-energy-water associated with organic resource use in specific geographical and social contexts, and to help identify appropriately adapted local solutions to improve community sustainability and resilience.
This will provide a model for application of transdisciplinary Nexus thinking to improve policy design. The project will also show how integrated biophysical, economic and social science
data collection can be used to better capture household adaptation; a challenge that has been recognized by the World Bank.
Project partners include
Lead: Professor Euan Phimister, University of Aberdeen, UK
- Anteneh Fekadu, Kembata-Tambaro Zone Chief Administrator, Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Region State, Ethiopia
- Simon Langan, Principal Researcher and Head of Office, International Water Management Institute, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
- Wolde Mekuria Bori, Researcher, Land Resources Management, International, Water Management Institute, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
- Tewodros Tefera, Lecturer, Hawassa University, Ethiopia
- Getahun Yakob, Director and Researcher, Natural Resources Research, Southern Agricultural Research Institution, Hawassa, Ethiopia
- Anke Fischer, Senior research scientist, Social, Economic & Geographical Sciences Group, James Hutton Institute, UK
- Paul Hallett, Professor of Soil Science, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, UK
- Jo Smith, Professor of Environmental Modelling, University of Aberdeen, UK.
The shortage of organic resources in rural Sub-Saharan Africa for improving long term energy, food and water provision is one of the region’s greatest challenges.
The Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Region in Ethiopia (SNNPR) provides an excellent case study for transdisciplinary research on how community sustainability and resilience might be improved by better use of organic resources. Organic resources are scarce, with seasonality causing significant variation in available water across the year, while diverse cultural norms and institutional arrangements, framing access to land, water and energy, emphasise that the success and impact of interventions depends on
complex interactions between what science makes possible and how decisions are made by individuals and communities.
In the Organic Resources networking grant, engagement with farmers, householders and policy makers from Halaba District and the wider SNNPR identified key Nexus challenges as complex, multi-dimensional and inter-connected.
Key questions which emerged include
- how to increase the amount of biomass produced and organic matter incorporated into the soil to improve soil fertility, water conservation and production for food, fibre and fuel;
- how to improve water availability, its use and governance;
- how to improve our understanding of the impact of economic constraints, and cultural and social norms on the adoption of relevant new technologies by individuals and communities;
- how to help individuals and communities adapt to the changing environment that results from climate change and population growth.
The interaction between the use of organic resources for energy, water and food in the region is dynamic, extremely complex and highly spatially variable. As elsewhere in SSA, most of the rural population use solid biomass for cooking and heating, with wood, dung and crop residues the main energy sources.
However, these resources are also crucial to long term sustainable food production and water provision. Dung and crop residues provide organic fertilisers that improve water holding capacity of the soil. Demands on organic wastes for fuel and livestock feed reduce the use of dung and crop residues as soil amendments, which reduces biomass production and organic inputs to the soil.
Soil carbon loss and deforestation have also been a cause of significant soil erosion in Ethiopia, while many households have responded to diminishing biomass availability by planting fast growing and water hungry tree species on home plots, such as Eucalyptus, negatively impacting food production and potentially reducing groundwater availability.
Governance arrangements which frame access to resources are also key. For example, traditional open animal grazing practices can determine the amount of crop residues retained in fields and undermine the maintenance of water harvesting structures.
Shortage of organic resources also results from the difficulties faced by farmers in responding to changing (and increasingly erratic) seasonality and water availability. Water scarcity in the typical extensive livestock system means that farmers spend significant periods away from the homestead, taking their livestock to water, reducing time available for other activities. Lack of proximate water in the dry season (or throughout the year due to absence or breakdown of community pumps), impacts the time spent by household members (typically women and children) collecting water, and also affects school attendance.
We will collect data on water availability, soil characteristics, and household data, including time use and data on how communities adapt their governance approaches to emerging environmental and demographic challenges, in two different districts of Southern Ethiopia, in both the wet and dry seasons.
The data collected will allow detailed environmental modelling of changes in water availability, soil organic matter and nutrients, and the mapping of local resources. This will be combined with the socio-economic data to determine the economic attractiveness of alternative options from an individual household perspective, the impact of water availability on organic resource use and timeuse across the seasons, and differences in the impacts on individuals and households within the community, depending on indicators of status, such as
Qualitative analysis of the governance of common resources, such as grazing and water, will provide insights into the conditions under which different technologies might be successful, and how changes in technologies, climate or livelihoods might require institutional adaptation.
The process of data collection and analysis will be shaped by our engagement with policy makers and other stakeholders, through a number of workshops. The inclusion of partners and stakeholders with a wider national and international perspective on these issues will help us understand how the lessons learned might be transferred more broadly to other contexts.
Image credit: With thanks to Professor Paul Hallett from the University of Aberdeen.