Kenya + 2 more

East Africa: Reducing hunger, poverty and environmental degradation in the Highlands

Conference presents new research on strategies to improve agricultural and environmental practices in Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda
Addis Ababa -- More than 100 experts are convening a regional conference designed to achieve sustainable land management and reduce poverty in the East African highlands.

"With the right policies, in the right places, opportunities are ripe to reduce hunger, poverty, and environmental degradation in the highlands of Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda," asserted John Pender, a senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute, and one of the lead organizers of the conference, which runs today through April 26 at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.

High-level government officials and some of the world's leading researchers attending the three-day conference will address challenging policy issues, and debate how best to balance the sometimes-competing objectives of reducing hunger, increasing agricultural production, and preserving the environment.

Low crop yields, poverty, and natural resource degradation are severe problems in many parts of the East African highlands - problems that are only getting worse. Forests are disappearing, soils are eroding, and farm sizes are shrinking. Most farm households survive on less than $1 per day.

"It is critical that we overcome these problems," emphasized Dr. Wilberforce Kisamba-Mugerwa, Minister of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries for the Government of Uganda. "This land management research could not have come at a more opportune time. It will be of particular help to us as we confront the problem of land degradation, which is one of the greatest challenges to the modernization of agriculture in Uganda."

The East African highlands are very diverse, however, and farmers face different challenges in different places. No "one-size-fits-all" strategy will work in all areas.

"Some areas of the highlands are very fertile, while others are prone to drought. These areas in turn may be extremely remote, or close to roads and markets," explained Simeon Ehui, coordinator of the livestock policy analysis program at the International Livestock Research Institute, and a co-organizer of the conference. "Development strategies need to take these differences into account, and be linked with the comparative advantages of a particular area," he said. "In the dryland areas of northern Ethiopia, for example, investing in livestock can provide an important pathway out of poverty."

The research shows that in some places, it makes most sense to spend scarce resources to build roads, develop markets, and buy fertilizers and improved seeds. In other areas, farmers are better off engaging in soil and water conservation measures, such as building stone terraces on steep slopes, or planting trees.

"Ideally, we would like to implement measures that simultaneously increase agricultural productivity, improve natural resources, and reduce poverty," stated Ato Belay Ejigu, Vice Minister of Agriculture in the Government of Ethiopia. "But we recognize that most policies will involve trade-offs, and that=B9s where this research will be of immense value. Using it, we can determine, based on the priorities and resources of particular areas, which strategies will yield the most benefits for the economy, for the environment, and, most of all, for the people of this region."

The conference is cosponsored by:

  • International Food Policy Research Institute
  • International Livestock Research Institute
  • International Centre for Research in Agroforestry
  • United Nations Economic Commission for Africa
  • Eastern and Central Africa Programme for Agricultural Policy Analysis
  • African Highlands Initiative of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR)
  • Regional Land Management Unit of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency
  • Soil, Water and Nutrient Management Program of the CGIAR

For more information, contact:

Michele Pietrowski
+(251-1) 46 32 15
m.pietrowski@cgiar.org

Susan MacMillan
+(254-2) 63 07 43
s.macmillan@cgiar.org

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ISSUE BRIEF

Overcoming Poverty and Environmental Degradation in Less-Favored Areas of East Africa

Residents of Echmare, a remote village in northern Ethiopia, have not had an easy life. This region of the country has often experienced food shortages, and even famine. Just ten years ago, the community lived with the constant threat of hunger and poverty. Years of deforestation, and soil and land degradation contributed to poor harvests. Until 1991, these problems were further exacerbated by civil war.

Poverty, low agricultural productivity, and natural resource degradation, however, are not unique to Echmare. Worldwide, approximately 1.8 billion people live on such less-favored lands, and struggle with many of these problems. Most of the rural poor in developing countries live in less-favored areas.

Land is considered less-favored, or marginal, due to poor soil quality, inadequate rainfall, rugged terrain, short growing seasons, or other factors that limit agricultural productivity. Places that lack adequate irrigation systems or insufficient farmland to support a relatively large population are less-favored as well. Areas having high agricultural potential can also be considered less-favored if farmers do not have satisfactory access to basic infrastructure, such as roads, and markets.

People who live in marginal areas struggle with similar challenges, but less-favored lands are quite diverse. They include the semiarid and arid tropics of Africa and South Asia, mountain communities in South America and Asia, hillside areas in Central America, and much of the highlands in East and Central Africa.

The East African highlands consist of areas above 1,200 meters in Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, northern Tanzania, and Uganda. These areas represent approximately one-quarter of the land in East Africa, and they are home to more than 50 percent of the combined population of these countries. Rural population densities in the highlands are the highest in Africa, with well over 500 people living on one square kilometer, in some places. As a result, farm sizes are small throughout the highlands, usually only one or two hectares in size, or less than five acres.

In hopes of identifying successful strategies to improve the livelihoods of farmers, such as those in Echmare, researchers from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) are leading a study to verify policies, programs and technologies that can help achieve sustainable development of less-favored lands in the East African highlands. A major goal of the research program is to understand how people at all levels - international, national, community and farm - can work together to improve land management.

This emphasis on marginal lands is relatively novel. Traditionally, researchers, governments, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have pursued development strategies that focus on favored areas, believing that returns on investments would be greatest in these regions. Experts expected that increased food production and rapid economic growth in favored areas would ensure food security and enable poor farmers to migrate out of less-favored lands.

But, despite large investments in favored areas, millions of people still live in less-favored parts of developing countries. Rapid population growth continues, and poverty and natural resource degradation have actually worsened. As a result, the threat of famine remains severe in many places. At the same time, investments in favored areas face diminishing returns, and environmental problems are increasing in these areas.

Rapid population growth, maximum use of prime farmland, and declining agricultural productivity in favored areas are compelling developing country governments to consider investments in less-favored lands. Although yields are relatively low for many types of crops in less-favored areas, IFPRI research shows that alternative and innovative uses of land and labor can be a productive way to protect land and increase incomes. With the right investments in less-favored areas, communities can achieve economic growth, while reducing poverty and environmental degradation.

Echmare is one such success story. Facing a continual threat of food shortages brought on by poor soil and land quality, the villagers decided to take a new, and creative approach to land management. First, they divided community wasteland into small plots, and then assigned them to households. While the land remained communal property, families were responsible for private tree planting on their designated plots.

The farmers of Echmare worked hard to ensure the survival of each tree, and the results were outstanding. Nine out of ten trees survived to full growth, a significant increase from rates as low as one in ten on other community woodlots in the region. The mature trees have slowed soil degradation, and land that was previously unworkable now supports a valuable asset. The villagers have been able to harvest, and profit from some of the trees, increasing their household incomes.

Echmare's use of communal land was so innovative that this tiny and relatively poor village, in a remote part of Africa, gained international recognition. It also caught the attention of the regional government, which has decided to allow other communities to allocate degraded hillsides for private tree planting. Echmare's successful tree planting program also encouraged scientists conducting research on less-favored lands in Ethiopia to look for other examples of successful development pathways in Ethiopia and other parts of the East African highlands. Collaborating with local partners, the researchers are identifying other productive practices, and determining which land management and development policies are best suited to particular environments.

By identifying successful and unique pathways to sustainable development in less-favored areas, and providing this information to policymakers, researchers are hopeful that Echmare will soon be one of many success stories in the highlands of East Africa.

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Facts on Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda

ETHIOPIA

- More than eighty percent of the Ethiopian population lives in highland areas. (Strategies for Sustainable Agricultural Development in the East African Highlands, 1999, IFPRI).

- The highlands cover approximately one-third of Ethiopia's land area. (Strategies for Sustainable Agricultural Development in the East African Highlands, 1999, IFPRI).

- Approximately eighty-five percent of the Ethiopian population lives in rural areas. (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2001)

- At least eight out of every ten workers in Ethiopia are involved in agricultural activities. (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2001)

- Agriculture contributes about half of Ethiopia's total goods and services. (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United nations, 2001)

- Half of Ethiopia's children under the age of five are malnourished. (UNICEF, 2000)

- Only one-fifth of the Ethiopian population that lives in rural areas has reasonable access to an adequate amount of safe drinking water. (Earth Trends, 2001, WRI)

- It is estimated that the Ethiopian population will rise in the next twenty years from sixty-three million to one hundred million. (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2001)

- Every year there is a net decline in the amount of Ethiopia's forests. Ethiopia now has less than one-fifth of its original amount of forest cover. (Earth Trends, 2001, WRI)

- For every one thousand people in Ethiopia, it is estimated that there are one hundred and eighty hectares of land being used for crops. This is significantly less than the average for sub-Saharan Africa, which is two hundred and eighty-eight hectares. (Earth Trends, 2001, WRI)

KENYA

- Nearly two-thirds of the Kenyan population lives in highland areas. (Strategies for Sustainable Agricultural Development in the East African Highlands, 1999, IFPRI)

- The highlands cover only one-fifth of Kenya's land area. (Strategies for Sustainable Agricultural Development in the East African Highlands, 1999, IFPRI)

- Roughly two-thirds of the Kenyan population lives in rural areas. (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2001)

- Three-quarters of the Kenyan population are dependent on agriculture for food and income. (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2001)

- Agriculture is responsible for one-quarter of the Kenyan economy's total goods and services. (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2001)

- One out of every five children under the age of five in Kenya is malnourished. (UNICEF, 2000)

- Half of the Kenyan population that lives in rural areas has reasonable access to an adequate amount of safe drinking water. (Earth Trends, 2001, WRI)

- It is estimated that the Kenyan population will rise in the next twenty years from thirty million to forty-three million. (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2001)

- Every year there is a net decline in the amount of Kenya's forests. Kenya now has less than one-fifth of its original amount of forest cover. (Earth Trends, 2001, WRI)

- For every one thousand people in Kenya, it is estimated that there are one hundred and sixty hectares of land being used for crops. This is significantly lower than the average for sub-Saharan Africa, which is two hundred and eighty-eight hectares. (Earth Trends, 2001, WRI)

UGANDA

- Nearly forty percent of the Ugandan population lives in Uganda's highlands. (Maintenance and improvement of soil productivity in the highlands of Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar and Uganda,1997, African Highlands Initiative)

- The highlands cover just over one-quarter of Uganda's land area. (Maintenance and improvement of soil productivity in the highlands of Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar and Uganda,1997, African Highlands Initiative)

- Most of the Ugandan population is rural - around eighty-five percent live in rural areas. (World Bank, 2001)

- Eight to nine out of every ten workers is involved in agriculture. (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2001)

- Almost half of Uganda's total goods and services come from agricultural activities. (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2001)

- One out of every four children under the age of five in Uganda is malnourished. (UNICEF, 1995)

- Forty percent of the Ugandan population that lives in rural areas has reasonable access to an adequate amount of safe drinking water. (Earth Trends, 2001, WRI)

- It is estimated that the Ugandan population will double in the next twenty years from twenty-three million to forty-six million. (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2001)

- Every year there is a net decline in the amount of Uganda's forests at a rate that is considerably higher than the sub-Saharan African average. Uganda now has less than one-twentieth of its original amount of forest cover. (Earth Trends, 2001, WRI)

- For every one thousand people in Uganda, it is estimated that there are three hundred and forty hectares of land being used for crops. This is significantly higher than the average for sub-Saharan Africa, which is two hundred and eighty-eight hectares. (Earth Trends, 2001, WRI)

* * * *

RESEARCH RESULTS

Effective Strategies for Reducing Hunger, Poverty, and Environmental Degradation in the Ethiopian Highlands

More than 45 percent of Ethiopians live in the country's highlands, where population densities are very high. Over-population has contributed to land degradation, soil erosion, and deforestation, which are widespread problems. In turn, food shortages in the highlands of Ethiopia are endemic, and the threat of hunger is pervasive.

Ethiopia's geography is varied, ranging from mountains and deserts, to fertile valleys with plentiful rainfall. These diverse conditions call for different development strategies.

In some areas of Ethiopia, including large parts of the Amhara and Oromiya regions, agricultural extension programs have been very successful. By using fertilizers and improved varieties of seeds, farmers have substantially increased their crop yields, as well as household incomes. Research shows that these inputs, and access to credit, have often had a greater impact in lower rainfall areas than under high-rainfall conditions (drought-prone areas excepted).

Strategies for Drought-Prone Areas

Agricultural extension focused on fertilizers and improved seeds, however, has not been as successful in areas of the country that are plagued by drought, including much of Tigray. Soils are very degraded, and rainfall is inadequate.

In these dry land areas, there are many other promising opportunities to increase agricultural production and household incomes, while practicing sustainable use of natural resources. Some of the strategies that are particularly profitable include soil and water conservation measures, planting trees, small livestock production, development of non-farm activities, and improved management of community resources.

Soil and water conservation

Farmers in drought-prone areas do best when they focus on soil and water conservation measures, such as construction of stone terraces, reduced tillage and burning, and increased use of manure and compost. By conserving soil moisture, these land management practices significantly increase crop production, while slowing land degradation. Rates of return to investments in stone terraces in Tigray average at least as high as 25 percent.

Trees and bees

Planting trees also provides significant economic and ecological benefits for poor farmers. Household incomes increase, and soil degradation decreases. Eucalyptus trees, which are relatively fast growing, are particularly profitable in northern Ethiopia. Rates of return to farmers' investments in eucalyptus are often above 20 percent. Economic benefits are greatest when community wastelands - which are low quality and have few productive uses - are used for private tree planting. The environmental benefits are substantial because the trees are planted on degraded land.

Honey and beeswax are two key by-products of tree planting. They can be produced with relatively low-input, low-cost technologies. Ethiopia ranks fourth in the world in beeswax exports, and tenth in honey. If rural households can get these products to market, substantial opportunities exist to increase a family's income.

Animals on the farm, and vegetables to the market

Investing in livestock can also significantly increase household income. Raising chickens and beekeeping are particularly profitable ventures, with marginal rates of return averaging over 30 and 40 percent, respectively. Farmers who own cattle can also earn high returns and use resources sustainably with improved management practices.

Building and improving roads in areas that are well suited to the production of high-value or perishable crops could lead farmers to grow them, and substantially increase incomes. Research shows that being one hour closer to a road, and having improved access to a market, more than doubles a farmer's probability of relying on such crops for household income.

Managing communal resources

Decentralizing the management of common resources can also improve the welfare of both communities and individuals, and increase their access to them. Research on community grazing lands and woodlots shows that the more management is decentralized, the greater the gains to all users. When small groups manage woodlots and raise trees, for example, they invest less labor per hectare, give more attention to crucial tasks such as watering, and achieve higher rates of tree survival. Environmental benefits, such as declining soil erosion and increased biodiversity, also improve. These advantages suggest new opportunities for small highland groups to manage common resources traditionally administered by the government.

Conclusion

In the highlands, there are many potential pathways to development. Although different strategies are needed for different situations, investments in infrastructure, education, and agricultural research and extension are generally needed throughout the Ethiopian highlands. By investing wisely, significant inroads can be made in the fight against poverty, natural resource degradation, and inadequate agricultural production.

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