Improving Organic Resource use in rural Ethiopia (IPORE)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Aberdeen
Department Name: University of Aberdeen Business School

Abstract

The shortage of organic resources in rural Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) 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 a Nexus Network 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. 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 use. 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, which negatively impact food production and potentially reduce 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) seasons. Water scarcity in the typical extensive livestock system means that farmers spend significant periods away from the homestead, taking their livestock to water; this reduces 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.

The spatial variability in organic resources, and formal and informal cultural norms and social institutions means that successful policy interventions need to be adapted to the specific local context. This requires appropriate locally specific scientific and socio-economic data, and engagement with policy makers and other stakeholders so that proposed solutions are jointly owned.

This project will increase our understanding of the interactions between food, energy and water associated with organic resource use in this specific geographical and social context, and will help identify appropriate locally adapted solutions to improve community sustainability and resilience. This will provide a model for application of transdisciplinary Nexus thinking to improve policy design.

Planned Impact

The academic impacts of this project provide a clear pathway to sustainable development impacts. A greater understanding of the interactions between food, energy and water associated with organic resource use in specific geographical and social contexts will enable improved policy design, hence helping ensure that that policy interventions to improve organic resource use are adopted and sustained by the communities involved.

Our Pathways to Impact fulfills the following objectives; (1) Policy - to integrate and package research outputs for immediate uptake by government agencies, (2) Public - to conduct knowledge exchange activities and provide publicly accessible findings of our research and its relevance.

The proposal emerged directly from activities within a Nexus networking grant, where the academic team engaged with a range of non-academic stakeholders to develop the proposal. The academic research will continue to be shaped by continuing engagement with regional and local policy makers, NGOs, farmers and other householders, and by interactions between disciplines. This process of local stakeholder engagement via workshops and focus groups throughout will maximize relevance of the research and ensure its implications can be embedded in policy design and practice by local government and NGOs.

In an initial stakeholder workshop with local and regional policy makers, a set of options will be developed that are of interest to policy makers to improve local organic resource use, identifying (bundles of) technologies and approaches, and considering governance and economic issues. In addition, a set of scenarios will be identified that characterize the backdrop for evaluation of potential options in terms of climate, demographic, and (macro) economic change. These options and the wider outcomes of the workshop will shape subsequent data collection and analysis.

Drawing on the analyses undertaken, a final stakeholder workshop will critically evaluate the options within the selected scenarios and assess their implications. Lessons that are translatable to the national context will be presented to appropriate government departments in Ethiopia by Southern Agricultural Research Institute and Hawassa University; those that are internationally relevant will be highlighted by the International Water Management Institute and presented to relevant UK agencies by University of Aberdeen and the James Hutton Institute (DFID and Scottish Government International Development Unit).

Communication to policy and wider non-academic audiences will be facilitated by the production of non-technical policy briefs associated with academic reports and papers produced. In addition, the team will also produce a quarterly blog on emerging issues relevant to the project, which will be disseminated by Twitter by University of Aberdeen and the James Hutton Institute. A report will be produced for each workshop and provided to stakeholders.

As part of the process of engagement with stakeholders in the project we will identify current national and international policy debates around organic resource use which the research outcomes could influence practice and help inform policy formation. Key policy stakeholders will be contacted 12 months after the end of the project to provide an evaluation of the longer term impact of the research on the policy formation process.
The effectiveness of communication to wider public will be evaluated by number of page views and retweets of blogs and policy briefs.

Publications

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Hallett P (2016) Thematic Issue on the Hydrological Effects of the Vegetation-Soil Complex in Journal of Hydrology and Hydromechanics

 
Description First, the project has developed a comprehensive but simple framework which integrates environmental and farm household modelling. This is designed to capture the problems faced by farm households in the Alaba district in the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Region of Ethiopia, where the shortage of organic resources are acute.
The model draws on a range of biophysical and socio-economic data collected in the two study areas, including data on soils and their characteristics, how households use organic resources such as crop residues and dung throughout the year, the time spent on related activities such as wood collection and cooking, and can determine the impact of different household decisions on long term soil fertility, farm productivity and revenue.
This allows the quantification of the trades-offs between competing uses of organic resources, which help policy makers and farmers in their decision making. For example, what are the benefits if farms use more dung for soil improvements versus its use in cooking? How much revenue would the household gain or lose if more dung was used on soil? What would the costs be in terms of increased wood purchases or collection time? The data shows that the soils in the areas are extremely degraded and therefore at risk. The results emphasise how packages of measures are important. To maintain and improve them requires both investment in soil conservation measures by farmers, and improvements in the type and efficiency of available organic resources.
The model provides a new resource which can be developed to help answer policy questions within the region, e.g. whether livestock can be considered a benefit or a burden to sustainable organic resource use. The model can be the basis of data collection and interpretation in other developing countries.
Second, reflecting the transdisciplinary nature of the project, the project has successfully explored how the community and individuals in the community feel the governance of local exclosure areas might be improved to increase the local availability of grasses for livestock. Exclosure areas, where people and livestock are excluded, are widely used in Ethiopia to help the regeneration of degraded common land. Discussions at the stakeholder workshop in Awassa in November 2016 and further stakeholder and focus group discussions in April 2017, identified that the governance of these areas could be improved. Reflecting this the final socio-economic survey was designed to collect data on this question. The results show that individuals would be willing to undertake additional work in the areas to improve their productivity and sustainable use, and that there is support for increased community solidarity to allow poorer households access to more benefits from the areas and to provide recompense for households who suffer damage associated with the wild animals living in the areas.
Finally, the project and the associated strengthening of the links between Ethiopian partners and the University of Aberdeen has facilitated specialist training. During visits associated with the project and its development, Phimister (Aberdeen) provided Stata training workshops in 2016 and 2017 to a range of staff and graduate students at Hawassa University, while Hallett (Aberdeen) provided instruction to staff in the Southern Agricultural Research Institute on a variety of laboratory techniques.
Exploitation Route Academic
The modelling framework provides a resource which could be applied by other researchers at different spatial scales and in situations in other developing counties to identify and understand how the trade-off between various organic resources changes in other contexts. The modelling framework could also usefully be developed in a number of ways, including allowing for processes of soil erosion, and extending the farm household component to allow for behavioural responses, such as off-farm labour decisions by family members.
Non-Academic
In the short term the project aimed to help improve policy and public awareness of the management of organic resources. The research has provided a number of results which could support local policy makers wishing to adapt policy e.g. in the governance of local exclosure areas, and for farmers in helping them understand the nature of the decisions they face in how they use their dung, crop residues, fuel resources. The final formal stakeholder workshop help in Halaba in October 2018 provided a preview of the main project results for these groups. Drawing on support from cognate research, post-project interactions with the key local stakeholders will continue to ensure they are informed of the key messages and their implications.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice

 
Description The stakeholder workshop and the discussion of key issues in organic resource use from the different stakeholders perspectives (local and regional government, farmer and women groups representatives) provided a forum which improved the shared understanding of the issues e.g. policy makers understanding the perspective of farmer and women groups. In the short term the project has improved policy and public awareness of the management of organic resources. The research has provided a number of results which could support local policy makers wishing to adapt policy e.g. in the governance of local exclosure areas, and for farmers in helping them understand the nature of the decisions they face in how they use their dung, crop residues, fuel resources. The final formal stakeholder workshop help in Halaba in October 2018 provided a preview of the main project results for these groups.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink
Impact Types Economic,Policy & public services

 
Description UK Parliament - Environmental Audit Committee, Soil Health Enquiry
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
 
Description Postgraduate Scholarship
Amount £90,000 (GBP)
Organisation James Hutton Institute 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2017 
End 09/2020
 
Title Operational Research Assessment Tool for Organic Resources 
Description The project has developed a comprehensive but simple framework which integrates environmental and farm household modelling. This is designed to capture the problems faced by farm households in the Alaba district in the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Region of Ethiopia, where the shortage of organic resources are acute. The model draws on a range of biophysical and socio-economic data collected in the two study areas, including data on soils and their characteristics, how households use organic resources such as crop residues and dung throughout the year, the time spent on related activities such as wood collection and cooking, and can determine the impact of different household decisions on long term soil fertility, farm productivity and revenue. This allows the quantification of the trades-offs between competing uses of organic resources, which help policy makers and farmers in their decision making. For example, what are the benefits if farms use more dung for soil improvements versus its use in cooking? How much revenue would the household gain or lose if more dung was used on soil? What would the costs be in terms of increased wood purchases or collection time? The data shows that the soils in the areas are extremely degraded and therefore at risk. The results emphasise how packages of measures are important. To maintain and improve them requires both investment in soil conservation measures by farmers, and improvements in the type and efficiency of available organic resources. The model provides a new resource which can be developed to help answer policy questions within the region, e.g. whether livestock can be considered a benefit or a burden to sustainable organic resource use. 
Type Of Material Model of mechanisms or symptoms - human 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact The model can be the basis of data collection and interpretation in other developing countries. 
 
Title Socio-economic Data on Organic Resource Use 
Description Data on household use of organic resources including dung, wood and crop residues and their time use from Halaba district, Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples' Region in Ethiopia. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact None known at present 
URL https://reshare.ukdataservice.ac.uk
 
Description NERC Planet Earth Article 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Article in the NERC Planet Earth magazine, written by journalist Julia Horton. This covered a range of projects conducted by University of Aberdeen scientists on tropical agriculture. The work draws on both our direct research in tropical countries and strategic research on plant-soil interactions, so it cuts across P. Hallett's funding portfolio.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.nerc.ac.uk/planetearth/stories/1879/
 
Description NERC UnEarthed 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact NERC UnEarthed was a large event that attracted over 3000 people. There were two days dedicated to school visits and 2 days when there was free entry to the general public. During our free interactive showcase - UnEarthed - at Dynamic Earth, Edinburgh (17-19 November), families and adults could explore the tools used to make science happen and see the extraordinary work of our scientists. Our exhibit focussed on a range of research projects in tropical ecosystems, specifically on the impacts of agriculture and strategies that could be taken to minimize environmental impacts. The text we used to attract visitors was: Emerging from a Scottish forest you stumble across an orangutan in her nest, with drone footage of her natural habitat. What can this have to do with Scotland? Your food choices affect her habitat, other tropical regions, and the livelihoods of local people. A grocery basket will show you how much of what you eat is tropical. Guess the water used and greenhouse gases emitted producing this food, and then measure it yourself with a gas meter and carbon calculator.

Our research is finding solutions to make this food more sustainable and to protect the livelihoods of people living in vulnerable tropical regions. The most important tropical food is rice. You will see how rice can be selected to grow better with less water by reaching deeper soil with its roots. The other major solution is improving tropical soils. By adding carbon, we will show how they can be restored. Our man dressed as an orangutan was a highlight with kids.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.nerc.ac.uk/latest/events/archive/unearthed/
 
Description Stakeholder Workshop (Halaba, Ethiopia) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact 3 October 2017, Halaba, Ethiopia
Halaba is the main town in the study region in Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples' Region in Ethiopia. This was part of a 2 day joint workshop drawing on outcomes of IPORE, BREAD, and ALTER (DfiD) projects). It was conducted in Amharic and included as participants the Woreda (Area) Administration, Head from the Woreda Agricultural and Natural resources office, and the Head of Water, energy and electricity, Head of Environment, Forestry and climate change and Head of Livestock and Fishery, Kebele (district) development agents:, administration managers and Kebele chairpersons, community members (women, youth, men), plus representatives from the project team from Hawassa University, Southern Agricultural Research Institute (SARI) and International Water Management Institute plus members of senior management from Hawassa University and SARI. The workshop reported on the emerging results of the projects, with participants helping to critically evaluate the results and their implications.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Stakeholder_workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Stakeholder Workshop. 29 November 2016, Hawassa University, Ethiopia.

The workshop involved local and regional government, farmer and women group representatives, plus all project partners. It was held jointly with NERC-DfiD funded BREAD project and was conducted in Amharic. The workshop helped identify the most important potential of methods of improving organic resource use for stakeholders, the barriers to use and how they might be overcome, and framed the discussion by the academics during the subsequent set of meetings of the project partners.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description nexus_conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Presentation of the project as part of a poster session for all projects funded by the ESRC Nexus Network at the one day conference "Sustainability in Turbulent Times" 16 March,London. The primary purpose is to showcase the work being funded by the ESRC Nexus Network to the audience of professionals from policy, business, civil society and academia.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.thenexusnetwork.org/events/sustainability-in-turbulent-times-how-can-research-policy-and-...