Monday, November 28, 2011

the importance of Spatial Analysis and Modelling (from the Water Forum)

Lately i have been travelling a lot. Among others, I participated in the 3rd Water forum held in South Africa and organised by the Challenge Program on Water and Food. The meeting brought together scientists who works on similar projects and issues than me but from 6 different basins. During this conference, with my colleges, I co-organised a session on spatial analysis and modelling. We are convinced that there is lot of scope in understanding better what works were, how water flows and its downstream effects as well as linking bio-physical models to socio-economic models. 
I got the chance to explain the Ethiopian case and why it is so important to be able to model it spatially on the following postcast :
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more about the challenge program on food and water can be found under

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Bahir Dar reporting series : Did you think that you have understood how land tenure influences farmers' decision making?

Land tenure has undoubtedly an influence on farmers' decision to invest on their land. Literature and common sense suggests that if a farmer owns the land and has certainty that he can use the land in future will be more likely to invest in capital or labour intensive technologies such as terraces or wells or plant trees. Also it is suggested that privately own land is better managed than collective land, because a farmer will optimize his own profit and not be able to free ride on the other (also referred to as the tragedy of the common).
untreated gully
I though that I had understood how land tenure is influence farmer's decision making. On my last trip to Adet (near to Bahir Dar), when I interviewed some farmers I discovered that I got it all wrong... 
One farmer rented land, that mean his has only the certainty to use this land for one season. So my theory would say that he would never build a terrace as it is very labor intensive. But this farmer was building it. He explained to me that he was allowed to rent the land only if he would build the terrace. The owner does not have enough labor to build the terrace and gave his land for very low cost to anyone who would invest labor on the land.
I also visited  a gully (erosion) that has been stabilized with an area exclosure (area where the livestock cannot access) with improved fodder, such as grass with long roots and multipurpose trees. It looked very good, the farmers are proud of it, and all see the benefit of this techniques. Despite of this 300m further there was an other gully, without stabilization, every year some centimetre from the field is lost, grass productivity is very low. So my first though was : a smart farmer improved his gully where as the non treated gully is communal land. And here wrong again : the treated gully was on communal land where as the non treated one belonged to a group of farmer privately. 

treated gully
What happened? Farmers are willing to give equal labour to rehabilitate communal land, as they understand that they are collectively responsible for this area. But on the privately owned land, farmers do not manage to coordinate, mainly because their field size are unequal, and so the smaller farmer would have to provide more labour to the bigger farmer, than the bigger farmer to the small one. As no one has money, one cannot pay for labour...
I had always believed that land tenure is a very important driver of farmers' decision making, but my field trip to Adet showed me that labour dynamics are the most important driver, at least in the Adet watershed. 

Monday, November 7, 2011

Unconventional way to fight against famine : Insurances

Many of my posts discussed what to do in area with famine. The problem in emergency situation is that it generally takes time to get the finances to start any emergency relief. But smallholders in drought prone zone know very well about the about the risk they are facing and if given the opportunity are more than willing to reduce this risk.
Drought insurance is one answer to this problem : it allows a smallholders to pay a small amount of money, and if she/he becomes a victim of the drought, she/he immediately get compensation which will allow him to adapt.
See more about the Ethiopian drought insurances schemes :
More about the Kenyan schemes

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

is it really about land grabbing?

Aljazeera once again is taking up the topic of land grabbing. I guess my precedent posts cover most of the relevant arguments.
It is the first debate I come across, that is well differentiated and discusses the role of African politics. Countries like Ethiopia suddenly become quite powerful but are not used to make use of this power to come up with smarter contracts with foreign investors.
This is also the first time I hear the "water grabs", which is directly linked with land grab. Indeed, for commercial farming not only fertile soils are needed but also water to grow during the dry season. Many  "land grabbing" contracts also secure water rights to the investor. "Water grabs" is I guess even a more complex topic than land grabbing, as water has downstream impact : a topic worth digging into further...

Have a look at the whole debate :