Livestock keepers in Barka-Adisba kebele, Atsbi-Womberta district, Tigray region were once confronted with ‘the tragedy of the commons’, as do many livestock keepers in Ethiopia who depend on communal resources. The idiom ‘the tragedy of the commons’ was coined in 19th century Britain and expresses the failure of farmers to achieve the collective good of their communal grazing lands through their destructive competitive use. The tragedy is caused by overstocking and overgrazing and expressed in land degradation, feed shortage, low livestock productivity and loss of farmers’ livelihoods from livestock. The Atsbi villagers also had to deal with land policy which stipulated closure of degraded hillside grazing/browsing and discouraged extensive grazing of livestock in communal lands.
The Atsbi livestock keepers however acted proactively through the LIVES’ predecessor project (Improving Productivity and Market Success of Smallholder farmers) in a community-based approach. In 2007, a group of villagers sharing 60 ha of communal land in Barka-Adisba kebele came together and developed by-laws for governing their communal land. They declared the land closed to livestock grazing, apportioned it to the villagers in the group and adopted hay production and stall-feeding for their livestock. These farmers saved their lands from degradation and their livelihoods from peril. This cooperative’s voluntary activity has now been scaled up. The grazing land under sustainable management in the district increased to 4000 ha in 2012.
The Atsbi experience has shown that community-based institutional intervention is a feasible approach to avert degradation of communal lands, losses in biodiversity and livestock productivity as well as farmers livelihoods. This approach is more acceptable to villagers rather than enforcing regulations on them. The success of the approach lies in the fact that it is based on existing social norms and promotes a sense of belongingness. Community-based institutional interventions to prevent the tragedy of the commons could take various forms. For instance, in Dura kebele, Laelay-Maichew district the communal land is passed on to and managed by the village church, while the villagers maintain their use right. Other variations of the community-based approach could be adopted depending on local circumstances.
Changes in social arrangements or institutional interventions may not be the only solutions to avert the tragedy. Technical interventions to rehabilitate and improve grazing lands are also required as most communal lands are already degraded. Otherwise, it might not be feasible to close grazing lands and sustain livestock under stall feeding systems. In its future intervention kebeles, LIVES plans to introduce additional technological interventions to enhance pasture productivity, hay production management and storage including introduction of small-scale manual hay balers. The approach described here is perfectly suitable for promoting intensive dairying and fattening systems with small flocks/herds. Would it also be applicable to extensive systems with large breeding flocks (like the subalpine regions of Ethiopia) which could be the source of animals for the semi-intensive fattening systems and the export market?
Written by Solomon Gizaw, with contributions from Yayneshet Tesfaye, Gebremedhin Woldewahid, Dawit Woldemariam, Haile Tilahun