My trip to Ethiopia was to understand how food systems are transforming in different agricultural, forest and agro-pastoral contexts and what the implication of this transformation is for social and ecological resilience. The research also aligns with the focus of AFSA on changing food systems in Africa and also informs MELCA – Ethiopia’s program on agroecology. The research is being carried out in MELCA’s project areas.
I am sitting and reflecting from my temporary home, Sweden, about my recent trip to Ethiopia. This morning was super cold, a huge contrast from the blazing sun in Ethiopia. You have to take Vitamin D tablets here to compensate for the sun and I was joking that I came back with a reserve. I am here in Sweden as part of the two-year contract with the Stockholm University. 7 months have already gone by. How time flies! I am a researcher at the Stockholm Resilience Center (SRC).
It was the driest time of the year in Ethiopia so the landscapes were not looking that great. More so in Bale, the magnificent Mountains of Bale. There the landscape looked literally burnt.
My trip this time was very painful. In fact, more than that it was deeply troubling. What happened? In a way, study of food systems is really too broad but it’s certainly eye opening. This is mainly because there are no aspects of rural life that you do not look at. The food production landscape, the farm, the harvest and storage, the household and the market are all in the mix. Endless stories and endless insights!
The story from Gambella, Majang, is different and that will come later. First I want to focus on Bale and Telecho, which are almost similar, even though there are some differences. What shocked me was:
- The farmers that I talked to are very supportive of well-managed eucalyptus woodlots, as a necessity for their energy and cash requirements. They say that the few remaining indigenous patches of forest would have gone a long time ago if it was not for fast-growing trees like eucalyptus. As discussion on farm materials revealed, farmers are also using it for a range of farm materials as the indigenous tree alternatives are largely gone or are protected. There is a fierce debate in Ethiopia among foresters about eucalyptus. Some say it is a necessity if it is well managed and others saying it should be banned as it destroys the ecosystem by draining water, the roots exposing the land for erosion and the leafs and polluting making other growth impossible. What is shocking is the extent of its spread. Increasing areas of farmland are being converted into eucalyptus plantations. It has accelerated significantly in the last 5 years. As more and more people are leaving rural areas and as the remaining population is aging, previous farm lands are being converted to eucalyptus plantations. The price of eucalyptus timber is increasing every year so it is a very attractive plant. Farmers who own bigger areas of land and are tired of fighting with those who rent it and therefore are increasingly opting for eucalyptus. There are also cases where fathers divide family land amongst the children who are already living in urban areas. The children then plant eucalyptus on the land given to them by their fathers. The problem is much more serious in Bale. I was working at the Meo Kebele, which is a big area for a Kebele, where over 32 rivers and streams start from the mountains. One of them is a big river used as a source of drinking water for the Robe town, estimated to have a population of around 200,000. What is going to happen to this water source and to the food sovereignty of the people in the Kebele and beyond when the coverage of eucalyptus reaches a point of no return and the eucalyptus sucking the water out of ground and letting it transpire?