November 24, 2022
My name is Tewodros G. Asresehegn, an external Ph.D. at Wageningen University. I also work for Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH in Ethiopia as a Component Manager of the Climate Sensitive Innovations for Land Management (CLM) project. In 2006, I joined the GIZ project as a Senior Watershed Development Advisor at the Bureau of Agriculture in Tigray, Northern Ethiopia. This is when I started working with the Atsbi Catchment Community, the Ethiopian Lighthouse Farm.
At the time, the community in Atsbi Catchment, specifically the Geregera watershed, had come together to tackle land degradation. Decades of mismanagement and exploitative use of resources in the catchment combined with torrential rain, rugged topography, and fragile soil, had depleted their soils. Various government-led food security programmes were in place but could not sustainably meet the demand of the community to feed their families. Plagues led to shortages of fuel, water and food, and the farmers couldn’t envision a way to feed themselves other than looking for external food assistance for several months of the year, but even the food aid was insufficient, due to the limited and unsustainable supply. Eventually, community members were forced to leave the village for nearby towns in search of food and alternative income sources.
However, some community members did not give up, and remained in the village. They organized themselves into Natural Resource Development Groups and mobilized their collective labor and resources. Together, they worked towards the conservation and sustainable management of land and water through the construction of soil and water conservation structures and the plantation of trees and grasses in the: hillsides, pasture lands, and along farm boundaries. Furthermore, the community adopted local bylaws on the governance of the land, water, and forest resources, including livestock grazing management, benefit sharing, and management of fragile lands.
After five years of consistent collective action, the community achieved the regeneration of the vegetation in the hillsides, reduced flooding into the farm fields and pasture lands, and increased stream flows and natural springs. As a result, the community had better access to irrigation water, feed for their livestock, bees forage, and reduced the risk of crop failure related to flooding and drought. Ultimately, their resilience to climate change has significantly increased.
"After five years of consistent collective action, the community achieved the regeneration of the vegetation in the hillsides, reduced flooding into the farm fields and pasture lands, and increased stream flows and natural springs."
These community-based land management initiatives and the resulting positive environmental and economic benefits have become a lighthouse of sustainable rural livelihood development in Ethiopia. This initiative has inspired, not only neighboring communities, but also influenced the design of other government programmes to support land management across the country.
Over the years, the regional and federal governments organized study-visits to the Geregera village in the Atsbi Catchment, for other communities, extension workers, researchers, and policymakers, to learn from the local experiences and scale up the good practices to other areas of Ethiopia. The Sustainable Land Management Programme (SLMP) is among the Ethiopian national flagship programmes designed to reduce land degradation and increase agricultural production through community-based participatory watershed management approaches based on the local experiences of the Astbi community and others in the country. With the SLMP, the federal government has reached out to more than 2,300 community watersheds located in different agro-ecosystems across the highland areas (see location map).
However, not all communities have had the same level of success as the Atsbi Catchment, and the level of restoration and sustainable management of the agro-ecosystems varies from community to community.
Therefore, my PhD research aims at developing pathways towards the sustainable restoration of agro-ecosystems based on case studies in the communities participating in the Sustainable Land Management Programme in the Ethiopian highlands. My research focuses on understanding the unique features (biophysical, socio-economic, and institutional ) of the communities opting for sustainable land management, the underlying factors determining communities’ collective action for the restoration of agro-ecosystems, and the implication of policy reforms in land use and management of the government on the restoration performance of the communities.
"Therefore, my PhD research aims at developing pathways towards the sustainable restoration of agro-ecosystems based on case studies in the communities participating in the Sustainable Land Management Programme in the Ethiopian highlands."
Due to the armed conflict over the last two years in Northern Ethiopia, communication with the community has become extremely difficult and their status is unknown. Nevertheless, the light they shone continues to inspire sustainable land management initiatives across Ethiopia and the world.
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