Bulbula river near Bulbula village

Competing claims on natural resources in the Central Rift Valley of Ethiopia

The Central Rift Valley in Ethiopia is a closed river basin where poverty and natural resource degradation are firmly intertwined. The rapidly growing population increasingly over-exploits the scarce natural resources in their struggle for survival.

Symptoms of resource over-exploitation are the falling water levels of lakes, the gradual erosion of wood stocks, the over-grazing of common pastures and the lack of proper soil management resulting in decreased land productivity and expansion of cultivated land to marginal areas.

Recent private investments in irrigated horticulture and floriculture for local and international markets, respectively, stimulate economic growth and development but claim their share of the limited resource base, especially water. Since the Central Rift Valley is a closed river basin, i.e. there is no inflow and outflow of freshwater, relatively small changes in water use have a great impact on downstream areas.

Climate change may further intensify problems. In the downstream part of the Central Rift Valley is the Lake Shala-Abijata National Park located, which is already seriously threatened mainly by upstream water extraction for irrigated agriculture.

There is an urgent need for integrated resource planning and management at different levels, and the identification of options for more sustainable land use practices, especially in the rain fed agriculture on which the majority of the population depends.

Need for improved resource management

The situation in the Central Rift Valley can be best described as the competition for natural resources between different stakeholders and within stakeholder groups. Stakeholders seem to have no adequate response to the negative impacts of the ongoing natural resources degradation on the livelihood of communities and on the ecosystem.


There is a lack of proper management of natural resources, and there is an urgent need for improved resource base analysis and integrated land and water management, taking in to account the goals and aspirations of the various stakeholders and the availability and quality of the natural resources.

Isolated initiatives of civil society organizations aim at diversification of the local economy, but a systematic analysis, exploration and assessment is lacking of available livelihood options and required changes in policy and institutional environment to improve livelihoods and resource management.