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

Abstract

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.

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Notes

  1. According to the Borana oral historian Borbor Bulle, there was a violation of the transfer of power (baali) from the outgoing Liban Jaldesa to the incoming abba-gada Gobbaa Bulee. According to aadaa seera (law), the incoming abba-gada takes power in a symbolic ceremonial handing over of an ostrich feather (i.e. baali). The emotionally charged ceremony (this is the only occasion when Borana carry arms during ceremonies) is related to concerns about what the future holds in terms of a better life, peace and political stability. For example, each gada class remains in power for a specific period (eight years), which begins and ends with a formal transfer of baali. The group which transferred baali to the future ruling gada class will not return to power until another 40 years has passed. According to the aadaa seera (law) of Borana, the outgoing abba-gada blesses the baali and hands it over to the incoming abba-gada who in turn blesses the event for successful achievements in the new era. According to Borana law, the transfer of baali is perceived as a transfer of what was good from one gada to the next and therefore symbolically concerns the well-being of the entire society. In this particular case, Gobbaa Bulee refused to take the symbolic ostrich feather. Not being allowed to stay in power, according to the gada laws, the outgoing abba-gada placed the symbolic ostrich feather on Acacia tortilis (Dhaddacha). The transfer of power from abba-gada to a tree was unprecedented. In the view of the Borana, Gobbaa Bulee took the baali from the tree and blessed trees instead of the Borana, which explains the expansion of bush encroachment.

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Acknowledgements

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.

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Angassa, A., Oba, G. Herder Perceptions on Impacts of Range Enclosures, Crop Farming, Fire Ban and Bush Encroachment on the Rangelands of Borana, Southern Ethiopia. Hum Ecol 36, 201–215 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10745-007-9156-z

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Keywords

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