Building resilience in a drought-prone district of Ethiopia

[Individual articles from the Summer 2017 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

Boricha woreda (district) is located in the Sidama zone of the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Region of Ethiopia. One of the most drought-prone districts of Ethiopia, Boricha is almost completely dependent on rain-fed agriculture. Boricha has been heavily affected by climate change, experiencing recurrent drought and rainfall variability. Land degradation has caused the formation of gullies that are invading farmlands and creating significant soil erosion, washing away seeds, fertilizer and seedlings from farmlands, reducing production capacity, damaging soil health and productivity and impacting household income. Climate change impacts and land degradation, along with high population growth, small land holdings and illiteracy, are the major causes of food insecurity in the area and have resulted in a low community capacity to adapt to climate change impacts. This article discusses the efforts of Meserete Kristos Church Relief and Development Association (MKC-RDA) to build climate change resilience in Boricha and analyzes key findings that indicate that MKC-RDA’s efforts in Boricha have contributed to soil and water conservation, improved livelihoods and increased food security, in turn reducing vulnerability to climate change impacts.

For over a decade up through 2014, MKC-RDA carried out a community- and environmentally-oriented disaster risk reduction and food security program in Boricha with the aims of addressing short- and long-term causes of food insecurity and of building resilience to climate change. The program adopted the strategy of “developmental relief,” in which relief and development interventions are implemented simultaneously to provide vulnerable communities with efficient safety nets during hunger periods together with strategies for long-term food security to help communities meet their food needs in the future and have the capacity to cope with hazards such as drought. This approach emphasized disaster preparedness and building community resilience to future disasters by reducing vulnerability, rather than focusing only on immediate support to disaster victims.

One component of the Boricha program was the provision of predictable food and cash transfers through food for work (FFW) and cash for work (CFW) initiatives designed to contribute to achieving the overall objective of climate change adaptation and resilience. This safety net programming provided cash payments or edible maize and food oil to vulnerable households, fulfilling their food needs during months when the majority of the population was food insecure. These FFW and CCW schemes also ensured that households possessed the means to successfully rebuild and sustain their livelihoods after chronic drought. Participants received food or cash for work that included the rehabilitation of roads and bridges to allow community members to transport their commodities to market and the implementation of soil and water conservation strategies, such as the construction of terraces and water harvesting ponds. Other initiatives included producing seedlings for agroforestry in nurseries and on communal and private land and constructing seed banks to ensure farmers’ easy access to crop varieties adapted to local conditions.

Another focus of the Boricha program was the implementation of climate-smart agriculture (CSA), including conservation agriculture technologies. CSA is defined as “agriculture that sustainably increases productivity, enhances resilience (adaptation), reduces/removes greenhouse gases (mitigation) where possible” (FAO). Project activities under CSA included optimizing the use of land resources, the introduction of anti-erosion measures and water harvesting and saving technologies, the promotion of forage and agroforestry development and training in conservation agriculture techniques such as mulching, minimum soil disturbance, crop rotation and the adoption of appropriate cropping patterns such as intercropping. In addition, the Boricha project established and strengthened farmer’s groups, savings groups, self-help groups and other community organizations to support promotion of sustainable agricultural practices, increase capacity in soil and water conservation, support income generation initiatives and increase literacy.

An independent team evaluated the Boricha program two years after it ended to determine program impacts. The evaluation found that, given the environmental degradation in Boricha, sustainable management of natural resources was critical to the pursuit of food security and economic development within the community. Soil and water conservation activities resulted in the rehabilitation of land and natural resources: more than seven hundred hectares were protected, contributing to improved vegetative cover. Benefits included a greater availability of organic manure through foliage from reforested or maintained plants, improved availability of firewood, minimization of wind erosion and the availability of trees for traditional medicines. Project activities also assisted in soil restoration and prevention of salinization and the loss of arable land, including through the reforestation of previously unusable lands. Terraces, soil bunds, check dams and other flood and erosion control and water harvesting activities improved soil fertility and restored ground and surface water sources. Conservation agriculture techniques, including soil cover, mulch and the addition of compost, also contributed to reduced soil erosion, improved water holding capacity of farmlands and increased soil productivity. Even in years with delayed, sporadic or poor rainfall, farmers practicing conservation agriculture benefited from higher residual moisture levels, which enabled seeds to germinate and sustained crop maturity. As a result of project activities, communities have reduced risk of disaster from flooding, increased agricultural productivity and improved access to water for irrigation and household use, contributing to resilience to climate change impacts.

The Boricha project resulted in poverty reduction and improved food security for the majority of participating households, increasing their ability to cope with and manage the effects of hazards. Seventy-three percent of all participating households stated that they successfully transitioned out of extreme poverty during the program’s duration; only six percent of households participating in the project reported still being in extreme poverty. Reforestation of watershed land and the resulting bio-diversity contributed to the expansion of animal fattening, cattle rearing and beekeeping activities for income generation. Tree plantations, as well as vegetation which emerged because of soil and water conservation activities, created employment and improved incomes through forest harvesting and sales of by-products. Because of the supplementary income obtained through the sale of surplus produce from the project gardens, honey products and fruit harvested from agroforestry, women experienced improved livelihoods and incomes. These women reported greater self-esteem and increased financial independence. Additionally, the overall food security situation of the target community improved over the program period. For example, the frequency of daily food intake of three meals a day increased from 12.9 percent at the start of the project to 77 percent by the end, while those consuming two or fewer meals a day decreased from 87.1 percent to 21 percent. Overall, the evaluation found that the project provided households with opportunities for more successful and diverse livelihoods, contributing to increased incomes and food security. As a result of diverse income sources, increased ability to save money and improved food security, households in Boricha are more resilient, able to adapt to changing condition and to with cope with the effects of hazards.

Results from the MKC-RDA program in Boricha demonstrate that food and cash transfer programming to address seasonal food insecurity, climate-smart agriculture interventions and sustainable natural resource management all play important roles in protecting the assets and income of poor families, mitigating disaster risk and building resilience to climate change impacts in drought-affected communities.

Frew Beriso is conservation agriculture technical specialist with the Canadian Foodgrains Bank in Ethiopia. He previously worked for MKC-RDA as the Boricha Program Manager.

Learn more

Pugeni, Vurayayi. “Sub-Dejel Watershed Rehabilitation Project, Ethiopia.” Canadian Coalition on Climate Change and Development. 2013. Available at http://c4d.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/2013-CaseStudy-MCC-Ethiopia.pdf.

Nyasimi, M., Amwata, D., Hove, L., Kinyangi, J., and Wamukoya, G. “Evidence of Impact: Climate-Smart Agriculture in Africa.” 2014. Available at https://ccafs.cgiar.org/publications/evidence-impact-climate-smart-agriculture-africa-0#.WO_oNkdda72.

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