Reducing land degradation and carbon loss from Ethiopia's soils to strengthen livelihoods and resilience (RALENTIR)

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


Land degradation is a major problem in Ethiopia. Recent estimates put the size of degraded land in Ethiopia at more than one-quarter of the entire country, which affects nearly a third of the population. Land degradation takes many forms and has many different effects, with the most adverse impacts on poor people, who depend heavily on natural resources. Forests, soils, water, biodiversity, and economic and social services derived from the ecosystems are all affected. Climate change and extreme weather events, such as the recent El Niño effect, significantly increase the risk of soil erosion, and losses of soil nutrients.

The impact of degradation and measures to restore land are inherently unequally distributed across the population in time and space. Restoring degraded common lands through the establishment of "exclosure" areas where traditional community access is restricted is widely used in Ethiopia. These restrictions particularly affect those without access to other sources of firewood and grazing. Such inequalities and local perceptions of justice need to be taken into account if soil restoration is to be sustainable in the long run.

This project aims to improve the design of measures to combat land degradation while considering equity and justice, strengthening risk management and benefits for communities, particularly poor and marginal groups, increasing the capacity of local people to adapt and improve their lives.

The project draws on an interdisciplinary approach covering anthropology, agricultural and forestry science, economics, environmental modelling, hydrology, sociology, and soil science. In case study areas within the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples' Region in Ethiopia (SNNPR) covering different agricultural and climatic zones, the project will design interventions with the Ethiopian Bureau of Agriculture to
- Train and provide access to exclosures to selected eligible landless youth and women to enable them to undertake new productive activities in 1) beekeeping or 2) livestock management.
- Demonstrate and train local farmers in simple measures to address gully formation

The research aims to find out the impact of the new interventions on the participants, how the interventions were communicated and promoted within the communities, how they were experienced by different groups, and their impact on preferences and attitudes to natural resource management within the community.

The project will collect soil, hydrology and socio-economic data. This will be used with environmental and economic modelling to measure the impacts of the interventions on the direct participants, and preferences for natural resource management in the wider community, and the potential long-term effects on land degradation, thus helping to improve the design local natural resource management.

With local and regional practitioners, development agents and representatives of local communities, the project will draw together all the results of the research to develop recommendations for improving frameworks to planning land degradation measures aligned to communities' aspirations, values and notions of justice.

Planned Impact

The project will have a range of societal and economic impacts on non-academic users in Ethiopia. There will be direct impacts for groups of farmers and local communities, and members of certain marginal groups such as landless youth and women. There will be more indirect impacts on a wider range of individuals within local communities, and on policy makers and practitioners involved in promoting, designing and implementing the Ethiopian government policy on rural natural resource management.

In the short term groups of landless youth and women will increase their capacity and access to resources required to successfully to undertake new productive activities within exclosures. In the medium and longer term, these activities will increase their incomes and improve livelihoods.

In the short run, groups of farmers and the local community members will gain understanding of simple and cheap techniques for gully restoration, and from this how to improve soil conservation within their localities increasing human capital and the capacity of individuals and communities to address future land degradation risk e.g. associated with increased flooding due to climate change. In the longer term, where individuals and communities use these techniques to enact the gully restoration measures, these will reduce soil erosion and land degradation risk, increasing ecological resilience.

Within communities, the project will impact on attitudes to and understanding of natural resource management and its interactions with the locality. In the long term this will increase the chances that community institutions will promote the importance of community level and individual action to support soil conservation, improving the capacity and willingness of the community to initiate measures which reduce future soil erosion and land degradation risk.

In the short run communities, policy makers and practitioners will have a better understanding of how local resource management plans can be adjusted to enhance the local benefits in way which is seen as equitable by the community. In the long term, by successfully scaling up these lessons, this will improve the chances that new exclosures area will be supported by local communities making the likelihood that the Ethiopian government hits its ambitious targets for new areas of this type more likely, reducing land degradation risk in Ethiopia and hence strengthening resilience and sustainability of livelihoods. Land and soil degradation is a major problem in many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. The lessons are therefore expected to have relevance for policy makers across a range of countries.

Key local practitioners (district level NRM experts, Development agents, model farmers, local level administrative bodies) will also improve their understanding of methods to gather standard biophysical (soil, vegetation, etc) via training, increasing local capacity to evaluate future proposed land degradation measures, increasing the chances of the success of future community investments in soil and land conservation measures.

The exclosure experiments will create possible demonstration sites which would allow long term monitoring of the impact of exclosures allowing the Ethiopian government to improve its evaluation of the long run impact of these areas.


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