Promoting Sustainable Livelihoods of Pastoral Communities in Southern Ethiopia


SourDough News | March 22, 2012


Girl from Kare Gutu helped in collecting plants in the kallo.
A girl from Kare Gutu helped in collecting plants in the kallo.

Save the Children technicians measure plant diversity within a 1 meter quadrat.
Save the Children technicians measure plant diversity within a 1 meter quadrat.

Southern Ethiopia is almost completely occupied by pastoral communities living within a communal resource system for livestock production. These communities also use traditional grazing enclosures as reserves (local name-kallo) for times of drought and other uncertainties.  Through the support of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the USDA Forest Service International Program (IP) provides technical assistance to the Pastoralist Livelihoods Initiative (PLI) in Ethiopia. The PLI project is designed to increase the resiliency of specific pastoralist communities and assists them to lead sustainable livelihoods through proper rangeland management techniques. I spent six weeks in Ethiopia working on the PLI along with partner organization Save the Children-Ethiopia on a new phase of the project that focuses on biodiversity of the kallos.  Other phases of the project include prescribed fire for enhancing grass production, GIS technology for mapping purposes, invasive species management and soil carbon and biomass estimation for future carbon credit markets.

This region of Ethiopia near the Somalia border is very remote (10 hours from the main highway on a bumpy, unpaved road). The biodiversity of the rangelands, as well as inside a kallo (roughly 100 acres) is not well documented.  However, the importance of biodiversity for the livelihoods of the communities cannot be underestimated. Ethiopia’s pastoral population is faced with increasing food and water insecurity brought on by overpopulation, severe drought and other unpredictable climate change impacts. An increase and maintenance of the biodiversity within a community kallo will help in securing benefits such as enhanced soil productivity that in turn increases forage production, an increase in important pollinators, and the recognition and protection of plants used as traditional foods and medicines.  

In some ways the kallo can be thought of as a community garden where people work together to protect what is inside so that everyone who is a member can use it as a safety net when their need is the greatest, for grass, incense, wild roots etc. The kallos are mostly surrounded by thorny brush laid down like a fence so wandering livestock cannot enter. They are easily seen from afar by people of the community as they are a short walk from their homes.  Children tending grazing goats from the nearby community use the outside perimeter nearest to their homes.  They climb on the tall termite mounds to see what’s going on in the surrounding, relatively flat lands.

The field work focused on developing a baseline of the biodiversity of the kallos and to train rangeland specialists from Save the Children-Ethiopia and other government organizations in data collection procedures for future monitoring efforts. Another project goal was to determine if the prescribed burned areas within the kallos had greater plant diversity than areas inside and outside the kallos where no burning is done. Our work in the kallos was pre-approved by the community elders working with local rangeland technicians from Save the Children-Ethiopia so we were not considered intruders. Quite often we had a friendly audience of teenagers and elders offering their assistance and knowledge of the land. 

The normally short rainy season continued well into December this past year, making field work and other aspects of life challenging. It often rained so torrentially that some livestock and homes were lost to flash floods in several nearby communities. To help us continue to work and avoid getting soaked during the hour-long cloudbursts in the open rangelands, I bought a UN refugee camp tarp and rope at the local market. Each day we would find a central location where we planned on working and strung the tarp up between the thorny vegetation so we had a dry place to wait out the storms.  My Alaska rubber boots and raingear I left at home would have come in handy after all! After the rains stopped, local pastoral women silently appeared, knowing that the men would be cold and hungry, to sell fresh milk from hand carved, wooden vessels.

For proper identification and to document the presence of local endemics, we made over 100 plant collections that represented only a small percentage of the local flora present. It was exciting as a botanist to see such rich diversity in plants. The plant collection has been identified by an Ethiopian botanist and is stored at the National Herbarium in Addis Ababa, with duplicates in Wendo Genet College of Forestry (the closest herbarium to the field site). The range technicians learned how to collect and properly preserve plant specimens for their work in future inventories as well as how to set up permanent plots for future monitoring of plant diversity in different kallos.  Appearing equally as diverse but not inventoried were the butterflies, birds, and insects in the kallos.  We also discovered lichens, mushrooms, frogs, tortoises, and hyena dens in the kallos. Because of the diverse biota in the kallos, time was also spent seeking out Ethiopian partners with different expertise who will be important for continuing the work with this USAID project. The Yabello Research Station (rangeland technicians, about 5 hours away from the field site) the University of Addis Abeba National Herbarium (botanists, ornithologists and entomologists) and the Wendo Genet College of Forestry (dendrologists, soil scientists, botanists)all have educated scientists that are very interested in being partners in this project for future collaboration. The elders and youth of the predominantly Borona communities are also very interested in preserving the kallos for fodder, food, and medicine. Their participation in the monitoring and management of the kallos for biodiversity is crucial for the future success and longevity of the PLI.

By Karen Dillman, Ecologist, Tongass National Forest