Ethiopian Red Cross Society (ERCS) Benishangul Gumuz Regional Branch was established in 1997 and is located in the capital city of the region, Assosa. Besides providing 24-hours free ambulance and related humanitarian services, the branch has been implementing development activities in the region for the last 12 years in different parts of the region with the support of Austria Red Cross and other partners.
The Skybird Programme, which is supported by the Austrian Red Cross Society (AutRC) with funding from the Austrian Development Agency, aims to contribute to improved living conditions through strengthening capacities and partnerships of the RCRC movement for more effective interventions in WASH and related fields. ERCS Benishangul Gumuz branch is one of the branches that was awarded the Skybird micro-grant after submitting a micro-project proposal following a call for proposals for ERCS branches to participate in the first cycle of the Skybird Programme.
The proposal was developed after a team of experts from the ERCS Assosa branch, Assosa Environmental Protection Association and Assosa Woreda Agricultural & Rural Development office, together with community leaders, conducted a field visit and consulted with the community at two Kebeles namely Ateto Selga and Selga 20 Kebele that is located 12km and 17km from Assosa town respectively.
The availability of natural resources in Benishangul Gumuz is frequently threatened by the expansion of urban settlements which lead to severe degradation of forest land. Ever since the clearing of forest land in the upstream region of Selga 20 Kebele, the catchment area has suffered from increasing land degradation. The formation of gullies leads to water shortages as the community well, constructed by the Ethiopian Red Cross and Austrian Red Cross in 2014, is not replenished while the arable land also degrades further affecting the community who are dependent on land cultivation for their livelihoods. Due to the severity of the level of forestland degradation, the team selected Selga 20 Kebele to be addressed by the Skybird micro project.
ERCS Benishangul Gumuz branch micro-project is entitled “Rehabilitating degraded land of Selga 20 Kebele to improve the potable water source”. The project implementation period was one year (from August 1/2020 to June 30/2021) with an allocated budget of 39,968.94 EUR (1,441,200.00 ETB).
A team from AutRC and ERCS conducted a learning documentation visit on July 13, 2023 to ERCS Benishangul Gumuz Branch and the micro project site, and talked to the beneficiaries. The lessons and challenges from the implementation of the micro project are presented below.
The overall objective of the micro project is to rehabilitate the degraded land of the upper stream catchment area of Selga 20 Kebele by enhancing technical capacity of the community in soil and water conservation and rehabilitating the degraded land (practically working on the field by mobilizing the community and providing the necessary technical and material support).
There are 320 households in Selga 20 Kebele with a total population estimated to be 1,700. The intervention focused on awareness raising and practically engaging the community in the rehabilitation efforts. This includes training on soil and water conservation techniques for the 320 households as well as the establishment of a project task force and the preparation and management of a nursery site. A particular focus is on sharing of experiences, inclusion of indigenous knowledge and participation of women in the project.
Ahmed Husen, chairman of Selga 20 Kebele, said “The main cause of the land degradation is overgrazing by our livestock. We used to send the animals to this area in the morning and in the evening. Selecting this area to rehabilitate was a very good decision. I can say a very good assessment was conducted.”
An operational agreement (A Service Level Agreement – SLA) was signed between ERCS Benishangul Gumuz Regional Branch Office, Assosa Environment Protection Association (AEPA) and Assosa Woreda Agricutre & Rural Development Office to facilitate the implementation of the Skybird Programme.
Enhancing technical capacity of the community in soil and water conservation
The project implementing task force steering committee involving the Woreda, Kebele and community was established for administrative and professional support. Tree nursery site at the downstream area was established involving 10 youth and women (6 female, 4 male) selected from the community to form a nursery group that manages the nursery site and benefits from generating income from the sale of tree seedlings. Technical training in nursery site preparation and seeding cultivation was provided to the seedling enterprise and hand tools and seeds were provided.
Awareness creation was provided to the community focusing on the magnitude and extent of land degradation and its impact on reduction of land productivity and water resources, the community role and the benefit obtained from the conservation work. The branch organized an experience-sharing visit to 32 members of the Selga 20 Kebele community members from February 5-6/2021 in neighboring Kebeles (Amba 1 and 11 kebeles) on nursery management and rehabilitation of degraded land. Training on soil and water conservation was provided to 30 (18 male and 12 female) members of the community. Capacity building training was provided for women to encourage women’s participation.
Rehabilitating the degraded land in Selga 20 Kebele
Rehabilitation work on 4 hectares of degraded land was conducted by constructing soil and water conservation structures and delineating the area for regeneration with a community participatory approach.
Preparation of the work site for soil and water conservation was conducted by demarketing and mapping the area by the community and volunteers together with experts from the Asossa Woreda Agricultural and Rural Development Office, Asossa Environmental Protection Association (AEPA).
A combination of structural (Fanya juu terraces) and vegetative (grass and trees) soil and water conservation (SWC) measures were implemented.
Structural measures – Fanya juu
Online sources show that Fanya juu is a Swahili term meaning “to throw up” . It is a soil bund type suitable for lands with 5 to 20% slope. Farmers (12 male and 10 female) from Selga 20 Kebele were trained on surveying and laying out the structure to construct Fanya juu, which was done by excavating a ditch 10m long along the contour with 50cm width and 50 cm depth and throwing the excavated soil above the ditch with 50cm embankment height and 50 cm embankment width to form a ridge above, that will become a natural bench terrace after few years. This makes conditions more suitable for plants to grow by conserving moisture, increasing soil infiltration rate and reducing erosion by minimizing runoff velocity and harvesting water on the ditch.
Vegetative measures were also implemented to prevent soil movement by improving vegetative cover to roughen the surface.
The Fanya Juu terrace was filled with Vetiver grass, which is a fast and easy-growing plant and when planted in single lines along the contour, the stiff stems of its thick hedge slow the movement of runoff water and spread it out allowing more water to be absorbed into the soil, thus reducing erosion. 15,000 tillers (growing shoots of the grass) of Vetiver grass were planted.
A total of 23,980 seedlings were planted covering 4 hectares of the degraded land of Selga 20 Kebele. These include:
- Mango seedling =980
- Gerevila robusta =15,000
- Moringa =1,500
- Acacia senegal = 1,500
- Low land bamboo =5,000
Moringa and Mango trees have deep root systems that help to reduce soil erosion and break up compacted soil and improve its nutrient content. Acacia has the potential to pump nutrients from deeper soil horizons which is vital for the regeneration of soil fertility. Bamboo makes the soil to be more porous with better infiltration due to its huge network of roots.
Ergo Mohamed, member of the steering committee and environmental expert working in Selga 20 Kebele, said “Red Cross brought 25,000 tree seedlings from Assosa Agricultural Research Center. 23,000 were planted on the degraded land and 2,000 seedlings were given to the farmers who participated in the planting, to plant them in their yards. Additional 1,200 tree seedlings consisting of Acacia senegal, Avocado, Moringa and Gerevila robusta that were prepared by the nursery group were planted. The trees are growing well except Grevilleas which are getting attacked by mites. One challenge was sustaining community engagement. Soil conservation involves a lot of work with few immediate obvious benefits.”
Protecting the open degraded areas from interference of local people and animal grazing was the immediate action taken at the start of the project, as one of the soil and water conservation measures.
Ahmed Husen described how this is implemented: “We started the rehabilitation work by providing awareness to the community and isolating the area from human and animal contact by hiring a guard. During Meher, the main crop season in Ethiopia, from September till February, when farmers harvest crops, households pay the guard 4 kilos of grain, that is either Corn, Finger millet, or Sorghum. In total, the guard is paid 14 quintals of grain per year. If the guard couldn’t be on the field for some reason, he reports to me and I assign someone temporarily for that day. We haven’t encountered major challenges in this regard, but sometimes donkeys come to graze and we charge the owner 100 ETB if it happens again after issuing a warning.”
Rehabilitating the degraded upper stream brought a significant impact on the sustainability of the source water yield to be more secure and higher quality.
The intervention is taken as a model by the Woreda Agriculture Office and is exemplary for other communities to ensure sustainable land management through community engagement to conduct watershed management.
Communities living in five Kebeles in the downstream catchment areas that use the watershed for their nursery sites and small-scale irrigation schemes are indirectly benefiting from the intervention.
The communities and the agriculture bureau have continued the soil and water conservation activities after the end of the Skybird micro-project implementation.
Ahmed shared his experience in this regard saying “When the project ended in 2021, we didn’t stop the activity. The degraded area is 50 hectares, we still have plenty of work to do. Experts from the agriculture bureau asked to send 3 to 4 farmers to help them measure and lay out where to dig trenches. From February till the rain starts in July is the period we do such rehabilitation works. We have allocated Tuesdays and Thursdays for such work. 5 farmers dig a 10-meter terrace. Not all households participate as we have older people, widows and others with health issues. Around 100 out of the 320 households participate.”
Operation of the Nursery Group
The group only managed to provide 12,000 seedlings that were planted during the project implementation period. The main challenges experienced by the nursery operators are related to seed supply and water availability.
Although they have received trainings, due to the sensitivity of the process such as damages during seedling transportation, the group’s seedling production attempt resulted in less or zero success rate. This was also among the top constraints.
Mulu Melaku, member of the nursery group, said “We were only able to sell 12,00 seedlings that are planted here. The nursery site is not functional now and we haven’t prepared seedlings for long. Our main challenges were, the nursery site was located uphill from the water source. we don’t have irrigation system. We had to carry water to prepare the seedlings and the water source dries in summer time. The other challenge we faced was low survival rate of the seedlings for a reason we were not sure of. We also don’t have access to seedlings as no one supported us after the project ended.”
Consistent community engagement
Ergo Mohamed explained the challenge in sustaining community engagement saying “Soil conservation involves a lot of work with few immediate obvious benefits. This makes it challenging and sometimes turnouts reach 20 to 30 out of 320 households. We have set 15 ETB penalty for not participating. Some prefer to just pay this and stay in their farm or other activities.”