Human Ecology

, Volume 36, Issue 2, pp 201–215 | Cite as

Herder Perceptions on Impacts of Range Enclosures, Crop Farming, Fire Ban and Bush Encroachment on the Rangelands of Borana, Southern Ethiopia

  • Ayana Angassa
  • Gufu ObaEmail author


This study focuses on community-based knowledge to analyze the impacts of range enclosures, crop farming, fire suppression and bush encroachment on the communal rangelands of Borana, southern Ethiopia. The knowledge of local herders is the basis for decision making in the utilization and management of grazing lands. We used Borana oral history associated with the period of the gada system to reconstruct environmental change that spans a period of 48 years. Our results show that the use of communities’ perceptions as a basis for evaluating the impacts of land use change on the environment makes an important methodological contribution. Communities’ responses to changing land use resulted in the development of range enclosures, the expansion of crop farming and the fragmentation of the communal rangelands, while the suppression of fire contributed to the expansion of bush encroachment. The overall impact was forage scarcity and greater vulnerability of stock during drought years. We conclude that policymakers could use communities’ knowledge of environmental change to improve the use of the rangelands. We propose that sustainable use of the southern rangelands in the future will require a greater focus on regulating the expansion of enclosures, crop farming and ranching, as well as reintroducing fire where necessary, to control the expansion of bush cover.


Bush encroachment Community perception Environmental history Fire ban Land use Policy Rangeland development 



This study represents a long-term interest in the impact of land use on the rangelands of southern Ethiopia. The present work was based on PhD research by Ayana Angassa. Professor Gufu Oba served as the principal supervisor. Both authors are currently based at NORAGRIC, Department of International Environment and Development Studies, Norwegian University of Life Sciences. Ayana Angassa thanks the Borana community and enumerators from SORDU for their help at various stages of the study. Borbor Bulle, an oral historian, is acknowledged for his encyclopedic knowledge of the Borana environment that spans several centuries. The first and the second phases of the research were funded through a NUFU-PhD scholarship grant and the Research Council of Norway project 16139/S30 to Gufu Oba for the supervision of this work. Constructive comments by four referees on an earlier version of the paper are appreciated by the authors.


  1. AGROTEC/CRG/SEDES Ass. (1974). Southern rangelands livestock development project. Vols. 1–2: Imperial Ethiopian Government Livestock and Meat Board. Rome.Google Scholar
  2. Angassa, A., and Beyene, F. (2003). Current Range Condition in Southern Ethiopia in Relation to Traditional Management Strategies: The Perceptions of Borana Pastoralists. Tropical Grasslands 37: 53–59.Google Scholar
  3. Angassa, A., and Oba, G. (2007). Relating Long-Term Rainfall Variability to Cattle Population Dynamics in Communal Rangelands and a Government Ranch in Southern Ethiopia. Agricultural Systems 94: 715–725.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Ashenafi, Z. T., and Leader-Williams, N. (2005). Indigenous Common Property Resource Management in the Central Highlands of Ethiopia. Human Ecology 33(4): 539–563.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Behnke, R. H., and Kerven, C. (1994). Redesigning For Risk: Tracking and Buffering Environmental Variability in Africa’s Rangelands. Natural Resource Perspectives No. 1. Overseas Development Institute, London.Google Scholar
  6. Berkes, F. (1998). Sacred Ecology: Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Resource Management. Taylor and Francis, Philadelphia.Google Scholar
  7. Berkes, F., Kislalioglu, M., Folke, C., and Gadail, M. (1998). Exploring the Basic Ecological Unit: Ecosystem-like Concepts in Tropical Societies. Ecosystems 1(5): 409–415.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bille, J. C., and Eshete, A. (1983). Rangeland Management and Range Condition: A Study in the Medhecho And Dida-Hara Areas of the Effects of Rangeland Utilization. JEPSS (Joint Ethiopian Pastoral Systems Study) Research Report 7. ILCA (International Livestock Centre for Africa), Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.Google Scholar
  9. Bloesch, U. (1999). Fire as a Tool in the Management of a Savanna/Dry Forest Reserve in Madagascar. Applied Vegetation Science 2: 117–124.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bollig, M., and Schulte, A. (1999). Environmental Change and Pastoral Perceptions: Degradation and Indigenous Knowledge in Two African Pastoral Communities. Human Ecology 27(3): 493–514.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Calheiros, D. F., Seidl, A. F., and Ferreira, C. J. A. (2000). Participatory Research Methods in Environmental Science: Local and Scientific Knowledge of a Limnological Phenomenon in the Pantanal Wetland of Brazil. Journal of Applied Ecology 37(4): 684–696.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Coppock, D. L. (1994). The Borana Plateau of Southern Ethiopia: Synthesis of Pastoral Research Development and Changes, 1980–90. ILCA (International Livestock Centre for Africa), Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.Google Scholar
  13. Cossins, N. J., and Upton, M. (1987). The Borana Pastoral System of Southern Ethiopia. Agricultural Systems 25: 199–218.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Cossins, N. J., and Upton, M. (1988). Options for Improvement of the Borana Pastoral System. Agricultural Systems 27: 251–278.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Davis, D. K. (2005). Indigenous Knowledge and the Desertification Debate: Problematising Expert Knowledge in North Africa. Geoforum 36(4): 509–524.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Dessalegn, R. (ed.) Agrarian Reform in Ethiopia. Scandinavian Institute of African studies, Motala, Uppsala, Uppsala.Google Scholar
  17. Desta, S. (1999). Diversification of livestock assets for risk management in the Borana pastoral system of Southern Ethiopia. Ph.D. Dissertation, Utah State University, Logan.Google Scholar
  18. Desta, S., and Coppock, D. L. (2002). Cattle Population Dynamics in the southern Ethiopian Rangelands, 1980–97. Journal of Range Management 55: 439–451.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Desta, S., and Coppock, D. L. (2004). Pastoralism Under Pressure: Tracking System Change in Southern Ethiopia. Human Ecology 32: 465–487.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Desta, Z. H., and Oba, G. (2004). Feed Scarcity and Livestock Mortality in Enset Farming Systems in the Bale Highlands of Southern Ethiopia. Outlook on Agriculture 33: 277–280.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Eshete, A., Bille, J. C., and Corra, M. (1986). Ecological Map of Southern Sidamo. JEPSS (Joint Ethiopian Pastoral System Study). Research Report 19. ILCA (International Livestock Centre for Africa), Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.Google Scholar
  22. Fernnandez-Gimenez, M. E. (2000). The role of Mongolian Nomadic Pastoralists’ Ecological Knowledge in Rangeland Management. Ecological Applications 10(5): 1318–1326.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Gadgil, M., Rao, P. R. S., Utkarsh, G., Pramod, P., and Chhatre, A. (2000). New Meanings for Old Knowledge: The Peoples’ Biodiversity Registers Program. Ecological Applications 10(5): 1307–1317.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Gemedo-Dalle, T. (2004) Vegetation ecology, rangeland condition and forage resources evaluation in the Borana Lowlands, southern Oromia, Ethiopia. PhD Dissertation, Georg-August-University, Gottingen, Germany.Google Scholar
  25. GRM (1989). Economic development options for the existing SORDU ranches, and the Boran Service Co-operatives. Fourth Livestock Development Project Peoples Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, Ministry of Agriculture.Google Scholar
  26. Helland, J. (1980). African savanna studies: Pastoralists and the development of pastoralism. Department of Social Anthropology University of Bergen, Occasional paper No. 20.Google Scholar
  27. Helland, J. (1997a). Development intervention and pastoral dynamics in Southern Ethiopia. In Hogg, R. (ed.), Pastoralists, ethnicity and the state in Ethiopia. HAAN Publishing, London.Google Scholar
  28. Helland, J. (1997b). Development issues and challenges for the future in Borana. Report prepared for Norwegian Church Aid. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.Google Scholar
  29. Helland, J. (1999). Land alienation in Borana: Somme land tenure issues in a pastoral context in Ethiopia. Eastern African Social Science research Review, Vol. XIV No. 2 Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.Google Scholar
  30. Hogg, R. (1990). An Institutional Approach to Pastoral Development: An Example from Ethiopia. Pastoral Development Network Paper 30d. Overseas Development, London.Google Scholar
  31. Hogg, R. (1997). Pastoralists, Ethnicity and the State in Ethiopia. HAAN Publishing, London.Google Scholar
  32. Holden, S. J., and Coppock, D. L. (1992). Effects of Distance to Market, Season and Family Wealth on Pastoral Dairy Marketing in Ethiopia. Journal of Arid Environments 23: 321–334.Google Scholar
  33. Homann, S. (2004). Indigenous knowledge of Borana pastoralists in natural resource management: A case study from southern Ethiopia. PhD Dissertation, Justus Liebig University Giessen, Germany.Google Scholar
  34. Hudak, A. T. (1999). Rangeland Mismanagement in South Africa: Failure to Apply Ecological Knowledge. Human Ecology 27(1): 55–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Huntington, H. P. (1998). Observations as the Utility of the Semi-directive Interview for Documenting Traditional Ecological Knowledge. Arctic 51: 237–242.Google Scholar
  36. Huntington, H. P. (2000). Using Traditional Ecological Knowledge in Science: Methods and Applications. Ecological Applications 10: 1270–1274.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Huqqaa, G. (1996). The 37th Gumii-Gaayo Assembly, Gada: The Oromo traditional, economic and socio-political system, Norwegian Church Aid, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.Google Scholar
  38. Kamara, A. B. (2001). Property rights, risk and livestock development in Southern Ethiopia. PhD dissertation, Georg-August-University Gottingen, Waldweg 26 D-37073 Gottingen.Google Scholar
  39. Kamara, A. B., Swallow, B., and Kirk, M. (2004). Policies, Interventions and Institutional Change in Pastoral Resource Management in Borana, Southern Ethiopia. Development policy Review 22: 381–403.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Kjekshus, H. (1996). Ecology, Control and Economic Development in East African History. The Case of Tanganyika 1850–1950. James Currey, London.Google Scholar
  41. Kontoma, D. J. (2000). Household vulnerability and risk management by Borana pastoralists in southern Ethiopia. MSc Thesis, NORAGRIC, Agricultural University of Norway.Google Scholar
  42. Kull, C. A. (2004). Isle of Fire: The Political Ecology Of Landscape Burning in Madagascar. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL, USA.Google Scholar
  43. Laris, P. (2002). Burning the Seasonal Mosaic: Preventative Burning Strategies in the Wooded Savanna of Southern Mali. Human Ecology 30(2): 155–186.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Legesse, A. (1973). The Gada: Three Approaches to the Study of African Society. The free press, New York.Google Scholar
  45. Mackinson, S. (2001). Integrating Local and Scientific Knowledge: An Example in Fisheries Science. Environmental Management 27(4): 533–545.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Majok, A. A., and Schwabe, C. W. (1996). Development Among Africa’s Migratory Pastoralists. Bergin and Garvey, London, Westport, Conn.Google Scholar
  47. Mapinduzi, L. A., Oba, G., Weladji, B. R., and Colman, E. J. (2003). Use of Indigenous Ecological Knowledge of the Maasai Pastoralists for Assessing Rangeland Biodiversity in Tanzania. African Journal of Ecology 41: 329–336.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Mbow, C., Nielsen, T. T., and Rasmussen, K. (2000). Savanna Fires in East-Central Senegal: Distribution Patterns, Resource Management and Perceptions. Human Ecology 28: 561–583.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Moreira, A. G. (2000). Effects of Fire Protection on Savanna Structure in Central Brazil. Journal of Biogeography 27(4): 21–1029.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Natcher, D. (2004). Implication of Fire Policy on Native Land Use in the Yukon Flats, Alaska. Human Ecology 32: 1–441.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Niamir-Fuller, M. (1999). Managing Mobility in African Rangelands: The Legitimization of Transhumance. Intermediate Technology Publications, London, p. 314.Google Scholar
  52. Oba, G. (1996). Shifting identities along resource borders: becoming and continuing to be Booran Oromo. In Baxter, P. T. W., Hultin, J., and Triulzi, A. (eds.), Being and becoming Oromo: Historical and anthropological enquiries. Nordiska Afrika Institutet, Uppsala.Google Scholar
  53. Oba, G. (1998). Assessment of indigenous range management knowledge of the Borana pastoralists of Southern Ethiopia. Commissioned by GTZ-Borana Lowland Pastoral Development Program in collaboration with the Oromiya Regional Bureau for Agricultural Development. Negelle/Borana Ethiopia.Google Scholar
  54. Oba, G., and Kaitira, L. M. (2006). Herder Knowledge of Landscape Assessments in Arid Rangelands of Northern Tanzania. Journal of Arid Environments 66: 168–186.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Oba, G., and Kotile, D. G. (2001). Assessments of Landscape Level Degradation in Southern Ethiopia: Pastoralists versus Ecologists. Land Degradation and Development 12: 461–475.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Oba, G., Post, E., Syvertsen, P. O., and Stenseth, N. C. (2000). Bush Cover and Range Condition Assessments in Relation to Landscape and Grazing in Southern Ethiopia. Landscape Ecology 15: 535–546.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Oba, G., Weladji, R. B., Lusigi, W. J., and Stenseth, N. C. (2003). Scale-dependent Effects of Grazing on Rangeland Degradation in Northern Kenya: A Test of Equilibrium and Non-equilibrium Hypotheses. Land degradation and development 14(1): 83–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Olafsdottir, R., and Juliusson, A. D. (2000). Farmers’ Perceptions of Land-cover Changes in NE Iceland. Land Degradation and Development 11(5): 439–458.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Reid, S., Robin, L., Kruska, R., Muthui, N., Taye, A., Watto, S., Wilson, J. C., and Mulatu, W. (2000). Land Use and Land Cover Dynamics in Response to Changes in Climatic, Biological and Socio-Political Forces: The Case of Southern Ethiopia. Landscape Ecology 15: 339–355.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Scoones, I., and Graham, O. (1994). New Directions for Pastoral Development in Africa. Development in Practice 4: 188–198.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Sheuyange, A., Oba, G., and Weladji, R. B. (2005). Effects of Anthropogenic Fire History on Savanna Vegetation in Northern Namibia. Journal of Environmental management 75: 189–198.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Smith, A. B. (1992). Pastoralism in Africa: Origins and Development Ecology. Hurst, London.Google Scholar
  63. Tache, B. D. (2000). Individualizing the commons: Changing resource tenure among Borana Oromo of Southern Ethiopia. MA. Thesis, Addis Ababa University.Google Scholar
  64. Upton, M. (1986). Production Policies for Pastoralists: The Borana Case. Agricultural Systems 20: 17–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Walker, B. H., Ludwig, D., Holling, C. S., and Peterman, R. M. (1981). Stability of Semi-arid Savanna Grazing Systems. Journal of Ecology 69(2): 473–498.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Watson, E. E. (2003). Examining the Potential of Indigenous Institutions for Development: A Perspective from Borana, Ethiopia. Development and change 34: 287–309.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Watson, E. E. (2004). Agricultural intensification and social stratification: Konso in Ethiopia contrasted with Marakwet. In Widgren, M., and Sutton, , J. E. G. (eds.), Islands of Intensive Agriculture: In Eastern Africa (Eastern African Studies). The British Institute in East Africa, London, pp. 49–67.Google Scholar
  68. Wezel, A., and Lykke, A. M. (2006). Woody Vegetation Change in Sahelian West Africa: Evidence from Local Knowledge. Environment, Development and Sustainability 8: 553–567.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. World Bank (1998). Indigenous knowledge for development a framework for action. Knowledge and learning center, African region.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Noragric, Department of International Environment and Development StudiesNorwegian University of Life SciencesÅsNorway
  2. 2.College of AgricultureHawassa UniversityAwassaEthiopia

Personalised recommendations