Sunday, May 20, 2012

Understanding landscape dynamics : the Zefie watershed (near Debre Tabor)

For the project I am working on, namely the Nile Basin Challenge Program (, project n3, we have the task to understand why farmers do not adopt some rainwater management strategies despite of their potential benefits. Under rainwater management strategies, we understand a combination of rainwater management practices that increases water infiltration in the upland a landscape, soil and water conservation in the midland and that increase water productivity in the lowlands. Rainwater management practice has to be understood in very broad terms and include beyond water harvesting a whole range of practices affecting crops, livestock and trees.
A typical house in Zefie watershed
In order to understand adoption and non adoption of rainwater management strategies, we take a multi-scale approach. To capture the farm scale, we  interview 600 farmers in 7 different watersheds of the Ethiopian Blue Nile, making sure that we cover the high, mid and lowland of each landscape. In the 4 watersheds that have to yet been studied by other projects, we also run focus group discussion to capture the landscape scale. We bring together key informant from the community and ask them to imagine the best possible rainwater management strategy for their watershed. Then we will discuss with them what hampers the implementation of that strategy.
I will use this blog to share with you the most astonishing, the most impressing or the most informative stories or lesson learnt from the fields, in the form of a field report series.

This week I visited the Zefie watershed in Amhara region (Northern Ethiopia) near Debre Tabor. It is a relatively small watershed of about 350 ha with an important slope, allowing to cover the different zones of the landscape in a relatively short distance.

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It is shaped by a bi-modal rainy season allowing to harvest twice a year. The major crops planted are potatoes, wheat, barley and to a smaller extend legumes. All this crops are rain fed, with some very little exceptions
Ground water levels are high, allowing some of the farmers to have hand dug shallow wells, where water is accessible within 3-10m. As the ground water is relatively salty, it is mainly therefore used for supplemental irrigation and for watering the 4 squared meter of pepper production (both for home consumption and selling). Drinking water is usually carried from the stream.
Midland of the Zefie watershed

The watershed is well managed also thanks to the intervention of the NGO Tana Beles (  and GIZ. In the midland, almost the whole area has bunds. As the soil is very shallow and stony, the midlands are mainly shaped by stone bunds and terraces. On flatter areas with deeper soils, a lot of recent soil bunds can be observed. Farmers intend to plant some grasses and trees on these bunds in a near future. In the highlands, some farmers have started to plant apple trees. The oldest apple tree is 3 years old and gave its first apples this year. As planting apple tree require irrigation at least until the tree roots grow deep, only farmers with a well have adopted this practice mainly around the soil bunds. In the lowlands, some farmer have agriculture, but it is mostly communal grazing land.

The government gave some of this grazing land to the NGO Tana Beles, that has set up a tree nursery near to the perennial river. The nursery employs 3 persons to grow the tree seedlings that are irrigated manually (walking to the river with a jericane). They grow mainly multi-purpose trees, namely Saligna tree, Lucerne tree and Sesbania. These seedlings can be picked up by the farmers for free. This must be a very recent initiative as a quick look in our farm surveys suggest only very few of the interviewed farmers has multi-purpose trees, and no one mentioned the nursery.
Gullies shape the landscape from the upland to the lowland. They often also mark the farm boundaries. As they are often privately owned, they are often managed. The most common way of stabilization is planning eucalyptus trees into the gullies, sometimes also some grasses. Also area enclosure, that is putting fences (mainly with eucalyptus leaves), can be observed on farm boundaries that are not gullies. This allows farmers to protect their private land from free grazing livestock. Often their own livestock is grazing freely within the farm boundaries.
The chart hanging in the agricultural development worker's office showing the last year achievements for the area, Zefie watershed is presented in the first column 

From the agricultural development worker we discovered that there is a marketing cooperative that helps farmers to bring their potatoes to the market. It seems that the cooperative collects the potatoes from different farmers and then sell them in one transaction to a middleman that then transports them to the big cities. It seems that this cooperative is open to anyone in the watershed. In a quick review in the farm household survey, no farmer has mentioned this cooperative… another mystery of the Ethiopian highlands…
Also the way from Debre Tabor to Zefie is very interesting. One can see very large grazing land with huge gullies, that are well controlled with stone check dam, build by GIZ (I was told).
Stone check-dams build by GIZ

Also on the way, lies Addis Alem where can find the seed multiplication and marketing cooperative. This cooperative holds two impoved potatoe seeds, which are sold to farmers for reproduction. It seems that this cooperative is mainly run by the govement and supported by Oxfam and the European union. I could not really figure out from the people living around it, it it really makes a change to them or if it is the cooperative about which we heart from the agricultural development worker. The language and cultural barrier was to big to really figure out how it works.
Sign indicating the seed and marketing cooperative
It is a very interesting area, and i am looking forward to see what the farm household surveys and the focus group discussion are going to teach us about the landscape dynamics of this watershed...

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