Grazing land contributes about 67% of livestock feed resources in West Shoa Zone in Oromia, Ethiopia; making it an important resource that deserves attention. This blog story shares the perceptions of communities and experts about the vast wetland grazing areas in the highlands of Ejere and Ada-Berga districts of West Shoa Zone.
Before 2007-08, the system of wetland grazing management in Ejere and Ada-Berga was communal although there was loose control by individuals on their grazing lands. Nowadays, however, private grazing land and hay preparation are more common in West Shoa Zone. ‘If a person is herding animals in June in one place, you will find them in the same place in September’ explains a community member in West Shoa Zone; showing the high level of private use of grazing lands and the disruption of the previous system that rotated grazing between wetland and upland areas. At the moment, private grazing lands (0.25 to 0.5 ha/household on average) are used for hay making and/or grazing. Furthermore, private grazing lands are larger in size than communal ones and the latter are diminishing.
The reasons for strengthening private use of grazing lands and hay preparation vary from locality to locality. For instance, during 2007/08 period in the Elu-Aga Peasant Association (PA) of Ejere District, there was a conflict in the use of grazing lands between those owning large and small number of animals. This led to strong efforts in protection of grazing lands and preparation of hay. Thus, farmers who own large herds started to buy hay and rent grazing lands for seasonal use to those with smaller herds. At the same time, community members in Maru-Chebot PA in Ada-Berga said they started protecting their grazing lands to preserve (from animal trampling) the nesting sites of Berga birds that migrate seasonally from South Africa to breed in Ada-Berga. To protect the birds’ breeding grounds, the community and the Ethiopian Wildlife Heritage agreed to reduce the number of grazing animals, set up a proper grazing system and to use hay to feed their animals.
In addition, the need to prepare hay has increased because farmers, regardless of their economic status, want to adopt indoor feeding for their animals and to conserve feed for the dry season, particularly for dairy cattle. Farmers use different criteria in selecting sites for hay production. Important criteria include presence of enough moisture/water in the land as well as alluvial/fertile soil and good grass species. They protect the land from grazing by fencing and implementing traditional by-laws on land use. Only few of the farmers, about 1%, use urea and/or manure to fertilize their grazing land. Scythes are the common tools used for harvesting grass and the labour cost of harvesting is between ETB 1,500-1,600/hectare (USD 75-76) and a hectare of land for hay making and/or grazing for one season costs about ETB 4,000 (USD 200). Buyers cover all costs incurred in hay preparation.
Farmers primarily produce hay for home use and to a limited extent, for sale. The dried hay is stored in house, piled up outside with or without wood/stone under it and sometimes prepared as baled hay.
Twelve years ago, the price of baled hay was about ETB 3.50-7.00 but it now costs ETB 27-35. Bailing services cost about ETB 6.00/bale. At times, individuals buy the grass and cover all preparation costs which amount to about ETB 14/bale. The cost of bailing is high, particularly for small-scale farmers in Ethiopia, and many are concerned that the rising price of hay (about ETB 85/bale in Addis Ababa) and other livestock feeds will make dairy production unprofitable unless the price of milk is also increased.
In recent years, the communal grazing lands in many PAs in Ada-Berga were allocated to unemployed youth groups by PA administration so that they could generate income from the sale of grass/hay. The youth groups protect the land from grazing by fencing, implementing traditional by-laws and hire labour from income from the sale of grass. However, due to lack of knowledge and skills on grazing land management as well as methods of rehabilitation, they haven’t done much except fencing the land.
According to communities in the two districts; in the past, these grazing areas had high production and nutritious herbaceous plants for livestock. But the wetlands which used to be swampy are drying up in many places and are reducing in size. As a result, meat and milk production and productivity has declined. Moreover, the increase in human and livestock populations and the associated land use changes has resulted in overgrazing, and deteriorating grass quality because pastures do not have sufficient time to recover.
Until recently, there were no rehabilitation activities to improve the condition of these grazing lands. But now, land owners, such as those close to the Holleta Research Centre are using manure as fertilizer and in places where rain water accumulates, are digging canals to drain excess water to enable grass to grow. Although farmers in the dairy producing areas want to use commercial fertilizers on their grazing lands, the high cost of fertilizer often discourages them from using it.
In this era of climate change, much has to be done in awareness creation and training regarding grazing land management and rehabilitation. The degraded grazing lands need to be rehabilitated in a participatory way based on the extent of degradation. Furthermore, detailed ecological and sociological evidence is needed to document the changes in wetland grazing areas and design interventions. The Livestock and irrigation value chains for Ethiopian smallholders (LIVES) project and its partners will play a significant role on this aspect. The use of manual balers, that LIVES is currently testing in West Shoa Zone as well as other project sites will help farmers/groups to bale hay more efficiently and cheaply.
Written by Abule Ebro (PhD), Adisu Abera and Zewdie Adane.