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Indigenous resource management practices in the Gamo Highland of Ethiopia: challenges and prospects for sustainable resource management

Abstract

Deforestation and soil degradation are serious sustainability challenges in many countries of Sub-Sahara Africa such as Ethiopia. Rapid socioeconomic change is a key underlying factor for the unsustainable use and management of natural resources. However, there is a number of well-established resource management systems and a wealth of local experience in maintaining and managing natural resources. This study explores the indigenous and local knowledge (ILK) practices for managing soil, forestland, grazing land, and farmland at the Gamo Highland of southwestern Ethiopia. Field observation, household surveys, focus groups discussions, and expert interviews were conducted to identify the different indigenous practices for managing natural resources in the area. Primary and secondary data were used to identify various relevant ILK practices such as terraces, intensive cultivation systems using drought tolerant species, soil management practices (e.g., manuring and fallowing), and a series of social norms and regulations to preserve sacred forest and manage grasslands. All these practices reflect the cumulative application of ILK over long periods of time, for the effective use and management of natural resources. However, the implementation of such ILK practices has been declining recently due to various factors such as land scarcity, labour shortages, shifts in rural livelihood options, and government policies. However, such indigenous management practices should be preserved and promoted through the integration of ILK with scientific approaches to ensure the design and implementation of socially acceptable resource management systems to ensure the long-term sustainability of the Gamo Highland.

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Notes

  1. The area is considered to be megalithic due its ancient stone-walled terraces (Jackson 1972; Jackson et al. 1969).

  2. One Tropical Livestock Unit (TLU) is equal to 250 kg. The TLU values for different species of animals are: 0.7 for cattle; 0.8 for horse or mule; 0.5 for donkey; 0.1 for goat or sheep.

  3. Indigenous terraces are very strong and can last for long periods of time. They usually can last more than 8 years without maintenance. Sometimes, farmers have to maintain the terraces if they are partly damaged (or sometimes washed down) by high amounts of runoff that usually occur in April and October or cattle damage due to grazing on terrace fields after harvest.

  4. Archaeological studies have concluded that the area has been settled in since at least approximately 3360 years before present age, and that indigenous crops such as enset were grown for at least 2000 years (Arthur et al. 2010; Cartledge 1995).

  5. Leaves and branches of these trees are also used for animal feed and fuelwood.

  6. It is worth mentioning that some crops such as sisal (Agave sisalana) and rice that were introduced later into the area (e.g., sisal was introduced by Italians during the occupation period from 1938 to 1943) were abandoned soon after.

  7. Terracing is also practiced and in other parts of Ethiopia such as Konso (southern Ethiopia) where the local terraces have been designated a UNESCO world heritage site, south Shewa (central Ethiopia), and the Hararghe plateau (eastern Ethiopia) (Westphal 1975; Asrat et al. 1996; Krüger et al. 1996; Besha 2003; Watson 2009).

  8. Such community bylaws are prevalent and in other parts of Ethiopia. For example, Yami et al, (2013) discuss such bylaws for the community management of exclosure forestland in Tigray, northern Ethiopia.

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Acknowledgements

We are very grateful to all farmers and the enumerators who took part in the research. We would also like to thank the German Research Foundation (DFG) and the Graduate School “Human Development in Landscapes” for their financial support of the study. The paper has greatly benefited from in-depth comments and suggestions of reviewers and the special issue editor Alexandros Gasparatos.

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Correspondence to Engdawork Assefa.

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Handled by Alexandros Gasparatos, University of Tokyo, Japan.

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Assefa, E., Hans-Rudolf, B. Indigenous resource management practices in the Gamo Highland of Ethiopia: challenges and prospects for sustainable resource management. Sustain Sci 12, 695–709 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11625-017-0468-7

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Keywords

  • Sustainable agriculture
  • Indigenous knowledge
  • Terrace
  • Sacred forest
  • Gamo Highland
  • Ethiopia