Ethiopia: Surplus-producing eastern highland parts of Eastern Wellega zone badly hit by current crisis


Assessment Mission: 30 August - 11 September 2003
By Dechassa Lemessa, Field Officer, UN OCHA Ethiopia
1 Introduction and background

East Wellega Zone of Oromiya Region is administratively divided in to 21 woredas hosting a total population of nearly 2 million. The area is agro-ecologically split into 11% highlands, 49% midland and 40% lowlands. The zone has one long rainy season extending from March to mid-October with annual rainfall ranging from 1000 - 2400mm.

Mixed agriculture (crop and livestock) is the main stay of the farming communities on which their livelihood is fully dependent. In fact, East Wellega zone is commonly known as one of the surplus producing areas. Small-scale farmers in the zone extensively use chemical fertilizers, improved seeds, herbicides and insecticides to maximize their crop production. Major crops grown in the zone include cereals (barley, wheat, teff, maize and oat), pulses (field bean and peas), oil crops (niger seed, rapeseed and sesame), root crops (Irish potato and Oromo Dinch (Coleus edulis)) and vegetables (cabbage, onion and garlic). Coffee is grown only in some districts like Abe Dongoro (especially in an area called Laagee produces one of the best quality coffee), Guto Wayu, Sasiga, Diga and Sibu Sire of the zone. Niger seed and sesame are important cash crops grown in the high- and lowland areas of the zone respectively. Due to low prices and dwindling production of coffee coupled with lack of alternative income sources, khat is increasingly grown as an alternative cash crop in the midlands. In fact, the expansion of khat is also partly coupled with the national resettlement programme, as people from khat-cultivating areas such as Hararghe are transporting and transplanting seedlings to their resettlement areas.

East Wellega zone is also acknowledged for its livestock breed known as Horro-breed1 (derives its name from the sub-province of the former Horro Guduru) that has spread widely through Wellega, Illubabor and Keffa and on small scale to Shewa Zones of the region (Bako Agricultural Research Centre, 2003). The agricultural potential of the zone is, however, declining due to rapid land degradation (deforestation, soil erosion, decline in soil fertility), population pressure, land shortage and fragmentation, unreliable climatic conditions, spread of introduced exotic weeds such as Raphanus raphanistrum ('gommane' in Oromiffa), Parthenium hysterophorus ('faramsisaa' in Oromiffa) and striga, a parasitic weed, severely competing with crops and highly reducing crop harvest. Furthermore, trypanosomiasis, a livestock disease transmitted by tsetse flies, in the lowlands, liver fluke and pasteurellosis, especially in areas bordering Finchawa Dam2 (Abay Chomen, Guduru, Jimma Rare and Jimma Ganati Woredas), are major animal production impediments.

Another potential of the zone that is not yet tapped is tourism, mainly because of inaccessibility of the area and undiscovered features of the Finchawa Dam. In the middle of the dam there are a number of "moving lands" (called 'sarmalee' in Oromiffa) and islands (called 'cittuu' in Oromiffa) where a number of people live on traditional farming. Sarmalee is a moving land segment, covered with vegetation and around one hectare in size, floating on the water and moving around on the lake depending on the wind direction.

On some of these floating islands animals are grazing, shepherds are walking and grass harvesters are cutting grass for sale and domestic use. It is a unique phenomenon of the Finchawa Dam, created from the formerly, pre-dam swampy areas from where pieces of soil have been detached and are now floating on the lake. The islands are also of interest because they harbour hundreds of people who have been living completely isolated during the last 33 years since the dam was constructed. The people on these islands are completely isolated and never benefited from any kind of support or help from neither government nor anybody else. Even local government structures have never reached these places because of lack of accessibility and facilities to cross to the islands due to the associated risks of crossing the water to the islands. The inhabitants of the islands use rafts to travel ashore. According to Jimma Ganati (bordering the dam) Woreda officials, it was not even known by government officials that, until recently, there are people living on these islands.

1.1 Objective and methodology

This assessment mission was fielded from 30 August to 11 September 2003, by UN OCHA Ethiopia with the objective of assessing the over all food security situation of East Wellega zone. During this mission, however, two assessment teams, one from WFP and the second one from Federal and Regional DPPC, conducted assessments in the zone focusing on resettlement issues and verification of affected number of people (on request of the zone) in the zone. Thus, after having consulted and discussed with zonal officials and the team, this mission was slightly modified and focused on livestock condition due to critical feed and water shortage. The mission, therefore, gave more attention to the seriously affected parts of the zone and visited eastern highland districts, namely: Ebantu, Jimma Ganati, Horro, Jarte Jardaga, Abay Chomen and Guduru.

During the assessment regional, zonal and district level DPP officials, NGOs and farmers were contacted and interviewed. Personal portraits and experience, field observations, review and analysis of secondary information were employed. The inaccessibility of some of the critically affected areas forced the assessor to enjoy horse back to reach the sites.


1 The breed is characterized by uniform colour and body conformation; they are medium to large in size with small and finely shaped head, a straight profile and medium to large horns that are definitely larger than Ethiopian Zebu breeds. They have a fine skin and uniform brown colour, which is slightly lighter around the muzzle and on the flanks, abdominal floor, and perineum and in between the hind legs.

2 A dam (with an area of over 40km2) generating hydroelectric power for the country that farming communities surrounding the dam, however, are strongly condemning for its adverse effects and impacts on their livelihoods. Farmers reported, that it significantly competes for their grazing and farmlands and no compensation was and is made for this; that they have not benefited from the generated electric powerespecially districts like Jimma Ganati situated at the edged of the dam (less than 5 km away) are without any electric light and service; risk of losing animals- drown in to the swampy edge of the dam while in search of grazing grasses mainly in dry season; that cost of transportation increased (using boat), to cross the dam- for every routine activities like travelling to and from schools and markets; increased risks of losing (drowned) their children going for schooling (every year at least one child is drown in to the dam while crossing it).

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