Written by Yoseph Mekasha
Livestock production remains a major component of the Ethiopian agriculture sector. Mixed crop-livestock farming is the major livestock production system in rural areas of the Livestock and Irrigation Value Chains for Ethiopian Smallholders (LIVES) project intervention districts (Arbegona, Bona Zuria and Bensa) in the Sidama highlands of southern Ethiopia.
The Livestock-enset (perennial crop) sub-system is dominant in the cool humid areas of Arbegona whereas the livestock-enset-coffee sub-system is dominant in the sub-humid areas of Bona Zuria and Bensa districts. Most rural farmers depend on subsistence farming unlike in urban and peri-urban areas where marketing of dairy products is common.
Transhumance, where livestock producers move with their animals seasonally from one grazing area to the other in search of better forage, is also practised in these districts. This seasonal movement, which is used by producers to respond to feed shortages, takes three routes: within the peasant association (PA), outside the PA within the same district and outside the district (mostly neighbouring districts) within the same zone. All movements take place within the same agro-climatic zones (sub-humid to cool humid).
Although the grazing duration is not properly regulated according to carrying capacity, the first route resembles rotational grazing. Generally, in rotational grazing, livestock are moved frequently among small pasture enclosures/paddocks using a schedule designed to optimize forage quality, quantity and animal performance. The second and third routes require dislocation of the household head, who has permanent residence elsewhere, along with the livestock.
Unlike the transhumant system practiced in other parts of Ethiopia and elsewhere in Africa, livestock producers in the intervention districts have more plots of grazing land in different locations (mostly in sub-humid to cool humid areas). According to a recent assessment, 83% of the households have two or more plots of grazing lands. This is because livestock has high value for producers in Sidama and the size of grazing land is shrinking due to population pressure.
Households in cool humid settings have more plots of grazing land compared to those in warm sub-humid areas. This could be related to the fact that in humid agro-ecology such as in Arbegona District there is high livestock population, and part of the total land is occupied by enset (perennial crop). It suggests that feed supply from a single plot of grazing land is not sufficient for livestock production, and requires additional grazing land elsewhere. However, in sub-humid areas such as Bona Zuria District, the number of livestock is limited. In addition, part of the total land is occupied by annual (e.g. cereals) and perennial (e.g. enset and coffee) crops where the former leaves behind much of the crop residue for livestock feed.
Under a transhumant system, few animals are left behind for the family and most of the livestock moves along the household head. Movement occurs during the time when the available forage declines in quantity, and when the forage in other location is ready for grazing. LIVES intervention districts receive on average 1246-1350mm of rainfall per annum over eight months in a bimodal pattern. This gives livestock keepers the opportunity to make seasonal migration from one area to another within the highland agro-ecological settings.
Transhumance livestock production is extensive, and has little market orientation. Households engaged in the production system own large numbers of indigenous livestock compared to sedentary producers. However, due to increasing population pressure and continuous encroachment of cropping land over time in the highland settings of the intervention districts, the number and size of grazing plots are expected to reduce. This will eventually exert pressure on herd size and the environment. Consistent with this, the number of livestock producers engaged in this form of production has been declining over the years.
To this end, LIVES in collaboration with the Offices of Agriculture demonstrated improved grazing land management techniques and introduced high yielding improved forage species suitable to the respective agro-ecologies to address feed shortage. The knowledge and skill acquired through the interventions will be shared among intervention and domain households including those engaged in transhumance livestock production for possible scaling out.
With contributions from Tesfaye S, Birhanu B, Dirk Hoekstra and Azage Tegegne.