Institute of Economic and Cultural Geography Research Research projects
Livelihoods and Natural Resource Management in Arid and Semi-Arid Environments of Ethiopia

Livelihoods and Natural Resource Management in Arid and Semi-Arid Environments of Ethiopia

Led by:  PD Dr. Matthias Schmidt
Team:  PD Dr. Matthias Schmidt, MA Olivia Pearson
Year:  2015
Funding:  Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ)
Duration:  2014 – 2015
Is Finished:  yes

Project Outline

Ethiopia is a land-locked country with large highland areas, home to the majority of its population. But around 60% of the country are characterised by arid or semi-arid conditions, scarce vegetation cover and a low population density. These drylands, forming the regional states of Afar and Somali, and large parts of Oromiya and the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People's Region (SNNPR), are the least developed and poorest regions of Ethiopia. It is a food insecure region with more than half of its population living below the absolute poverty line. In spite of the climatic and ecological conditions, the population follows a semi-nomadic pastoral system. Recurrent droughts, unreliable rainy seasons, degraded soils and intense erosion processes make the livelihoods of the local population highly vulnerable. The originally well adapted and drought resilient livelihood system is coming under increasing pressure due to population growth, climate change impacts, disease outbreaks, market failures, violent conflicts and external interventions by governmental programmes or large investors in the form of land acquisition.

Climate change effects are significant in the arid and semi-arid regions of Ethiopia and have worsened the living conditions for the pastoralists. The recurrent rainy seasons became less reliable and droughts more frequent, so that rangelands receive only sporadic rainfall and decrease in quality. Consequently, formally good rangelands are over utilised and deteriorated leading to undernourished livestock and decreasing herds.

Traditionally the natural resources such as land and water were managed as commons by the local clan communities. But governmental interventions such as the establishment of irrigation schemes in connection with the formalisation of property rights mean de jure and  de facto the limitation of access to rangelands for pastoralists. With limited access rights and an increasing human population in combination with climate change impacts livestock grazing is forced into ever smaller areas available as rangeland.

Ecological degradation, further economic deprivation and social exclusion of large numbers of pastoralists are to be expected. There is an urgent need to find approaches and support to strengthen capacities of the local population and institutions to cope with such new challenges and risks and to better adapt to changing conditions is a meaningful endeavour to reduce poverty and increase resilience of local livelihood systems.

A sound and comprehensive knowledge base of the current conditions, challenges and potentials is required in order to formulate recommendations for governmental and non-governmental stakeholders to develop and implement sustainable and effective development measures that are well adapted to the local conditions. Many of the above mentioned threats and challenges and their impact on people in the poorest areas of Ethiopia have not been analysed so far in detail. This research study will provide a thorough analysis of natural resource management and current livelihood strategies.