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Pastures new

In the lowlands of Ethiopia’s Bale Eco-region, Sheik Abdo Ali, a 40-year-old farmer, wanders amongst his cattle as they graze amongst the wooded shrubs and grasses growing around them.

Now, Sheik Abdo’s cattle are healthy and eat their fill from the pasture - but it wasn’t always like this. Overgrazing and dry weather can easily cause the grass to die, leaving the herd with little to eat, especially during the dry season.

Farm Africa has been working as part of a consortium in Bale to help Sheik Abdo and his fellow farmers manage the rangeland as a community and prevent the degradation of their grasslands.

The creation of rangeland management cooperatives enables farmers to work with local government officials and formulate long-term resource management plans, so that cattle are healthier and farmers like Sheik Abdo can feel more positive about their futures.

Sheik Abdo told us about the impact the rangeland management cooperative has had:

“I have been in this cooperative since it was set up four years ago. Before the establishment of the cooperative the rangeland was not well managed. The population here is increasing, the climate is changing and we were suffering from shortages of pasture and water. Most of the residents moved to the highlands in search of grass and water for their livestock every dry season.

"Before, I used to go to the highlands every year for three months during the dry season in January, February and March. My whole family would go. It would take two days to walk there. My children would miss school for three months a year. My children went back to school for the rest of the year, but some other children in this area have not been allowed to go back to school as the directors say they have missed too much school and they are not allowed to re-enter.”

The cooperative introduced practices such as rotational grazing, so that the grass could regenerate in the rainy season, and clearance of thorny weeds that stop grass from growing. Sheik Abdo has seen his local area transformed.

“Since the cooperative was established, everything has changed… Our cooperative manages 23,722 hectares of rangeland, and the land is not being converted into agricultural land any more. The number of households moving to the highlands has reduced and we are using the time for other activities.

“With the improved grasslands we have seen the productivity of livestock increase. The appearance of our cattle has improved and we can now sell them for more money. Previously, the price of one ox was 3,000-4,000 birr – and now it’s 8,000-9,000 birr. I have camels, cattle and goats – more now than I had before. They are reproducing: God makes that happen.

“My family has had changes with the extra income we are now earning. I can now feed my family the whole year and I can send my children to school all year and can buy clothes for my family. We have sufficient milk now for the family, for the children.”

However, Sheik Abdo is concerned that unless other communities follow suit, the resources they’ve worked so hard to protect may become overstretched once more. Rangeland management needs to be practiced in the wider area to make sure that pastoralists from the whole region can thrive:

“We are worried we are not benefitting as much as we could do from the rangeland management: we are worried the carrying capacity of our grasslands is being stretched. We are trying to encourage other kebeles to manage their own resources instead of using ours. It’s our culture to share resources, it’s our tradition, but we fear that if too many external users come here, the benefits will be limited. It would be better if all the kebeles managed their resources better rather than coming here to use ours.”

This three-year project is funded through the European Union’s Supporting Horn of Africa Resilience (SHARE) initiative and the Jersey Overseas Aid Commission.