Improving livelihoods and resource management in the Central Rift Valley of Ethiopia (ILCE)

This proposal addresses the competing claims for scarce natural resources in the Central Rift Valley (CRV) in Ethiopia (1 Mln ha), which is one of those regions in Sub-Saharan Africa where poverty and natural resource degradation are firmly intertwined: On the one hand severe poverty forces people to overexploit natural resources in their struggle for survival, on the other hand degraded soils and unfavorable, highly variable climatic conditions contribute to poverty, particularly of the predominant rain-fed farming community.

The base of the spiral of un-sustainability are the limited available natural resources in relation to the high population pressure (±1.5 Million) and livestock population (±0.9 Million) contributing to strong competing claims for land, water, and biomass. Climate change puts extra pressure on the sustainability of socio-ecological systems, and, in particular threatens the livelihoods of resource-poor rain-fed farmers, who constitute the largest population group.

To mitigate these competing claims and to improve the livelihoods of the rural population, development options should aim at increasing the physical and economic productivity per unit of land, (rain) water and labour. On the basis of previous studies it is concluded that improving the performance of rain-fed farming systems will have the biggest impact on reducing poverty and competing claims for natural resources in the CRV. However, it was also concluded that the existing rain-dependent farming systems are very vulnerable to climatic variability and change and that no adequate strategies have yet been identified to cope with these climate phenomena.

These conclusions are shared by the multi-stakeholder platform ‘CRV Working Group’, which was established in 2006, consisting of professionals from the private and public sector involved in the development of the CRV. This Working Group also recognizes the need to improve the performance of rural rain-fed economy, instead of focusing on irrigated agriculture only to reduce poverty. The CRV Working Group has prioritized the identification and development of alternative livelihood options for the predominant rain-fed dependent population. Also the national and regional strategies within the Plan for Accelerated and Sustained Development to End Poverty (PASDEP) focus among others on strengthening of private initiatives of farmers to diversify production, and stimulating the production of high value agricultural products. These issues have been taken up as major priorities in the proposal, which has further been based on a consultation workshop with members of the CRV Working Group and local researchers.

Entry points in the proposal for mitigating competing claims on natural resources and improving livelihoods of the rural population are identifying, designing and testing of land use alternatives, adaptive resource management options and the transition of traditional agriculture from food security to income security through strengthening the capacity of farmers to add value to their products.

The project objective is to strengthen the capacity of local authorities, development organizations and private sector in the field of natural resource management with the aim to mitigate competing claims for natural resources, and to improve resource use management and the livelihoods of the rural population in the CRV. More specifically, the project aims to:

  1. Identify and explore options for more sustainable farming systems and integrated resource management to alleviate the pressure on available land, water resources, and biodiversity.
  2. Improve the capacity of farmers’ abilities to add value to their production and to build partnerships for more market-oriented local supply chains.
  3. Contribute to the governance of sustainable resource management through strengthening the capacity for collaboration between different institutional decision-making levels.
  4. Assess the risk and variation in crop production under current and changing climatic conditions, and identify appropriate risk adaptive management strategies.

To attain these objectives, the approach addresses and integrates analyses at different scales and knowledge from different disciplines. The approach consists of six work packages comprising three thematic (WP1-3) and three cross-cutting work packages (WP4-6).

WP 1 focuses on the design and ex-ante evaluation of land use alternatives and adaptive management options aimed at increasing resource use efficiencies. Based on a demand-driven stakeholder approach involving civil society organizations and local research partners promising options will be identified, designed and evaluated. In WP 2, technically feasible options are tested and assessed at the farm level in terms of impact on resource use and livelihoods. Sustained impact of new options can only be guaranteed if the institutional economic capacity (e.g. producer organisations, supply chains) is in place, which is addressed in WP 3.

The three cross-cutting WPs comprise an agro-ecological and socio-economic characterization of the CRV enabling the identification of recommendation domains for scaling up of land use alternatives and adaptive management options (WP 4). WP 5 focuses on the contribution of the public and private sector in the development and dissemination of land use alternatives and adaptive management. WP 6, finally, assesses the risk and variation in crop production under current and changing climate conditions, and identifies appropriate risk-coping strategies.

Major project outputs are:

  1. Options that can alleviate the pressure on natural resources, that reduce or mitigate the competing claims for natural resources and improve the livelihoods of the local population, with a focus on better use of rainfall, improving soil fertility, and increasing productivity of labor and other inputs.
  2. Improved capacity of stakeholders’ abilities to add value to their production and to build partnerships for gaining access to market-oriented local supply chains.
  3. Strengthening of national and local institutional capacities for sustainable natural resource management through recommendations for improved policy-making and institutional collaboration.
  4. Improved insight in the variation of agricultural production associated with current and future climate conditions and recommendations for appropriate risk coping mechanisms.

Beneficiaries of the project are:

  1. Farmers and local communities that will benefit from tested land use alternatives and adaptive management options, and from recommendations for improving the institutional capacity for value adding on their produce.
  2. Local research and extension will be strengthened in their capacity to effectively develop innovations in collaboration with stakeholders.
  3. Civil society organizations, national and regional policy makers, private investors and donors will be supported in setting the right development priorities for the CRV.

The research consortium comprises four Sciences Groups (Plant, Animal, Environmental and Social Sciences) and includes DLO institutes as well as University Chair Groups. The Ethiopian counterparts include the leading national agricultural research organization and local civil society organizations with expertise in the CRV. The participation of different disciplines in the consortium guarantees that both technical and socio-economic aspects for mitigating competing claims on natural resources and for improving livelihoods of the rural poor are addressed in a well-balanced way.