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Making conservation profitable

17 March 2017

Making conservation profitable

By Asaye Asnake, Coordinator of Farm Africa’s SHARE Bale Eco-region Project and Libby Plumb, Head of Communications & Advocacy

Encompassing mountains, lush rainforests and arid lowlands, the Bale Eco-region of Ethiopia is both stunningly beautiful and incredibly diverse – home to unique species of threatened animals and plants that cannot be found anywhere else on earth.

At Farm Africa, we are deeply concerned with environmental protection. We want to make sure that we’re reducing poverty for the communities we work with for the long term – and that means helping farmers to secure bigger profits, while also protecting unique ecosystems and natural resources for generations to come.

So in Bale, a region which is not only home to thousands of farmers, but also provides water for an estimated 12 million people living downstream, we aim to make conservation profitable.

Currently, many farming practices are unsustainable, as farmers cut down trees and overgraze land as they try to make a living and feed their families. But a profitable farm doesn’t have to come at the cost of the environment.

Community land management

In the lowlands of Bale, pastoralists are reliant on their livestock to make a living – mainly cattle but also camels, goats and sheep. So it’s vital that there is enough water and grass available for them to keep their livestock healthy.

But population growth is putting pressure on communal grazing land, meaning that during the dry season there is often no grass left. This is a problem that will only be compounded by climate uncertainty. That’s why we’ve been helping to set up both forest and rangeland management cooperatives, which bring local communities together to make a long-term plan for the protection of their land.

And by providing training, supporting with office construction and brokering links with local government, we’re making sure that pastoralist communities will be able to continue with these activities long after Farm Africa leaves.

By cutting back on thorny weeds that prevent grass from growing, and agreeing which parts of the land can be used for grazing and at which times, farmers can work together to improve the quality of the pasture. The end goal is to make sure that cattle have pasture available all year round, so that their health improves and farmers aren’t forced to relocate for three months of the year in search of grassland – long journeys which endanger the health and safety of both herd and herder.

We also work with communities living in the forests in the highlands – good water management in the highlands benefits everybody living downstream. So we’re delivering training to help local communities to increase their ability to protect the forest. They have formed participatory forest management groups, and based on these plans, are developing coffee, honey and frankincense businesses.

Building businesses

Natural resource management is only sustainable if communities are prospering. The other central focus of our work in Bale is building livelihoods and access to markets. For example we’re helping women to produce milk products that they can sell at market – butter for the time being, and we plan to introduce cheese later. Equipped with milk churners, cream separators, jars and related tools for milking tools, local women are now on their way to setting up their own successful dairy businesses. 

A new livestock market will prevent pastoralists from having to travel miles to sell their cattle, while the introduction of other varieties of bull will mean that the breeds of the cattle can be improved. For example, local cattle may produce just one litre of milk per day, whereas improved varieties can deliver up to 15-16 litres per day. It takes time, and the farmers will need to wait a few years for the calves to grow and start producing milk, but this will hopefully help to reduce the number of cows in the long term, which, in turn, will improve pasture quality even more.

Protecting forests without helping people make the links between their decisions on family size and the environment would not ensure the sustainability of natural resource management. To this effect, we’re also working with the Population, Health, and Environment Consortium to promote family planning. One of the major accomplishments in this regard is the attitudinal change that has been achieved by breaking the long-standing socio-cultural taboos - identified as the main barrier to use of family planning services. As a result, the Contraceptive Prevalence Rate (CPR) has increased from 24% to 36%, which is a 12% increase from the baseline. More than 5,000 women have started taking long- and short-term contraceptives. Moreover, due to continuous and extensive awareness education given to communities and religious leaders through Village Health Committees (VHCs) significant change has been seen in communities’ perceptions, attitudes and action in family planning.

We believe that taking a more holistic approach to development is vital if our interventions are to have a lasting impact. By prioritising both natural resource management and livelihood development we can successfully enhance the drought resilience, food and nutrition security of an estimates 878,000 people living in the Bale Eco-region, as well as up to 12 million people living downstream, whose water resources will be improved by the conservation of trees and forests in the highlands.

Proper management of resources in the Bale Eco-region has wide-ranging benefits – and by generating a better understanding of the links between sustainable environmental management in the highlands and lowlands we can better support local communities and fight poverty effectively for the long term.

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

Photos: FZS / Daniel Rosengren and Farm Africa / Nathan Siegel