Sunday, July 1, 2012

Fruit trees: hopes, illusions and disillusions

For a well functioning watersheds that provides all the necessary ecosystem services, there should be forests on the upslope of the watersheds. But in the Ethiopian Blue Nile context, these areas have been deforested and cultivated, mainly due to increasing population densities.

The infiltration properties of the upslope has changed : less water infiltrates, there is more run-off and therefore more erosion and ground water does not recharge. The lack of trees on the slope can explain to a large extend why watersheds are getting dryer.
a typical Ethiopian landscape with only very little forest

Motivating farmers on the upslopes to plant trees is difficult as there are only very little benefit from the trees for the farmers who plants them, but there are benefits for downstream farmers. Basically there are two options to approach the problem. Or one develops a benefit sharing mechanism where the downstream farmer compensate the farmers upstream for loosing its crop land for trees, which is very difficult in the Ethiopian context, or one finds solutions that are profitable for the upstream farmers.
Apple in Laku watershed (Shambu)
Some trees at least in the mid terms can give benefits to upstream farmers. This is the case of the multipurpose trees and for fruit trees.

Multipurpose trees can provide high quality fodder during the dry season (when there is shortage of fodder) allowing upstream farmers to intensify there livestock production. (for more information see :
The second option is fruit trees, like apple and peaches in the highlands or mango and papaya in the lowlands. These are interesting options because fruits allows farmer to diversify their diets as well as their income.
This second option has been recognized by NGOs and has been pushed in different locations in Ethiopia, and farmers are more and more aware of fruit trees as a diversfication option.

During the field work in the four watersheds ( , all the farmers wanted to have some fruit trees, some had it and could harvest, some just planted trees and cannot harvest yet, others only wished they could access seedlings.

Let's look at these different stages, hopes, illusions and disillusions in each of the fruit tree implementations stages.
In the Gorosole watershed (Ambo), farmers do not have fruit trees but have heart of it. They would like to have apples and peaches because they believe it could be a new source of income. Unfortunately they don't know how to access seedlings nor have sufficient knowledge to grow the trees.
The apple tree planted this year in Zefie watershed
In Zefie watershed, some farmers started to plant apple tree three years ago. The strategy is to plant the trees on the soil bunds to not loose crop land. Also every year they plant some additional seedling.
The 3 years old apple tree in Zefie (does not give apples yet)
None of the farmers has yet harvested any apple in Zefie. Nonetheless, more and more apples tree are planted and more farmers are considering of planting apples because they believe that they can sell apples and diversify their income.
Papaya trees in Maksenit watershed
In Maksenit watershed, apples are not an option as it is low lands. Some farmers have planted papaya trees in so called "home gardens". Very few households have access to water during the dry season to get the papayas growing. Those who have it mainly consume the papaya themselves. Income in this area mainly comes from garlic wich is a good business ( and therefore do not really need papaya to get more cash.

Finally Shambu watershed produces apples. Seedlings have been introduced 10 years ago by an NGO and some farmers today have an apple orchard on their farms. The farmer i have talked to runs his own apple tree nursery and sells some of the seedling to other farmers in the area. Each year he extends his orchards with new trees. In this way he can level his loss of land. He can get incomes from older apple trees, and therefore can afford to loose some cropland for new apple trees that will take 5-7 years to give apple.
the apple orchard in Shambu
He has apple but finds it very difficult to sell them. The lack of market linkage is the main reason why he cannot make the expected benefits from apple. Therefore he is also trying to intensify his livestock production as well as in poultry production.
Whereas for many farmers who do not yet harvest yet, fruits are a symbol of hope. But the reality in Shambu shows that it is actually an illusion. The only farmer that really could harvest apples was disillusioned.
the apple tree nursery 
Fruit trees are a promising option  to restore ecosystem services in watersheds, but are only likely to work if farmers are linked to markets when they can start harvesting. Not later than yesterday i bought some apples for 50 birr per kilo (about 2.5 dollars a kg). It might not sounds too much to you, but for comparison 1 kg tomatoes is about 12 birrs, onions about 8 birrs, improved (huge and juicy) mangos 25 birrs. There is definitely huge potential for apples, it is a matter of unlocking the potential and linking farmers to markets.

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