On World Soil Day: Small farmers and communities plan green future
04.12.2015 – Parts of the Ethiopian highlands have been transformed from drought regions into oases. This example shows how clever planning of joint land use boosts yields and secures food supplies for the long term.
World Soil Day is 5 December. The message behind this event is that soil is a valuable but endangered resource, and a basis for life. In Ethiopia alone, some 30,000 hectares of soil are lost each year through overexploitation. As the area of land under cultivation is not enough to meet the food needs of the growing population, people look to create new fields on steep hillsides. Forests on the slopes are felled to make way for cropland. Without protection from trees and shrubs, the soil is quickly eroded by wind and rain. Climate change is exacerbating this trend. Land used for pasture is becoming exhausted because of excessive concentrations of livestock. As a result, soil fertility falls and harvests become smaller.
In cooperation with the Ethiopian Government, the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, working on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), is supporting small farmers in six regions of Ethiopia. Thanks to clever land-use planning, soil degradation is being prevented and yields will be increased over the long term. 200,000 hectares of previously barely fertile land are now being farmed sustainably.
In over 600 villages, small farmers are involved in drawing up usage plans covering all the land within the whole village community. The plans include rules on pasture use, growing food and fodder crops, and stabilising the soil with terraces. All the villagers play their part in putting the plans into practice, for example joining together to build irrigation systems to divert clean water into the valley. This enables many farmers to work their fields all year, even in the dry season. The fertile soil helps to create fields and gardens where not only grain is grown but also crops such as papayas, oranges and coffee, and where beekeeping can flourish.
Thanks to their joint planning the communities have been able to increase their yields by as much as 85%. The small farmers can feed their families, and by selling surplus crops can generate additional profits. Altogether the scheme has reached almost 200,000 Ethiopian households – around one million people.