Ethiopia: Effective methods of drought mitigation

A pastoralists meeting held in Boranna to discuss the effects of drought rangeland management. ACORD supports communities to analyse their risks and then implement practical interventions to increase their resilience. Photo by Tom Fry

Despite their contribution to the national economy, pastoralists in Ethiopia have been systematically marginalised for decades. In recent years they have been faced with a new challenge as droughts are occurring with increasing frequency. Given their dependence on livestock for their livelihoods this poses a serious risk for pastoralist communities.

ACORD interventions are focused in Dire and Mio districts. More than 75% of this area is regularly affected by drought and the majority of the population are pastoralists; 80% in Dire and up to 95% in Mio. During the severe droughts of 2011, up to 70% of livestock were lost- this was the worst drought in a long time.

With support from CIDA, CordAid, Trócaire, CCFD and GEZA, ACORD has been working in Boranna zone, South West Ethiopia since 2008 improving the drought preparedness capacity of these communities. ACORD believes that people themselves are the key actors in their own development and promotes a Community Managed Disaster Risk Reduction (CMDRR) approach which at its core is about mobilizing and bringing together people within the same community to enable them to collectively address a common risk and pursue risk reduction measures.

Enhancing community resilience

ACORD supports communities to analyse their risks and then implement practical interventions to increase their resilience. This could include supporting the construction and maintenance of water harvesting facilities, reclamation of communal reserve pasture land, supporting community based animal health programmes or livestock marketing initiatives.

A community leader explains the
benefits of range management.
Photo by Kristin Seljeflot.

Rangeland degradation is one of the major problems pastoralists face in Borana. The continuous bush encroachment and degradation of the rangeland have reduced the size of available pasture, productivity of the rangeland and pasture quality. The traditional resource management practices in Boranna give considerable emphasis to the protection and preservation of the reserve pasture land (known locally as "Kaloo") where breeding stock is kept during shortage of pasture.

However, the management of reserve pastureland has weakened because of:- prohibition of bush burning in the 1980's (which was used to control bush encroachment); recurrent drought/erratic rainfall which over time discouraged pastoralists from preserving the land; inappropriate interventions by various NGO's and the inefficient government safety net programs which have undermined the tradition. Besides bush encroachment, the expansion of private kallos and unwanted settlement has reduced the number of communal reserve pasture lands challenging the tradition.

Despite these challenges, communities in Boranna are showing some impressive results and improving their living conditions. Attitudes towards bush clearing, rangeland management, saving hay, herd management and destocking in times of crisis have also changed.

Today, restoration of reserve pasturelands is one of the key drought mitigation measures being implemented by the community. Did Jarsa, in Dire District is one of the model pastoralist associations engaged in rangeland restoration and effective utilisation of the restored land. From just 140 hectares of reserve pasture it has served the community to cope with recurrent drought caused as a result of the 2011 ganna rain failure. The management was through a cut and dry system and a total of 105,336 kg of hay was harvested. 418 households have benefited from the reserved pasture and a total of 1,800 breeding animals were supported for about one month through the crisis and 500 cattle got survival feed.

This best practice has also been replicated in two neighbouring PAs (Semero & Megado) in which the community harvest hay and conserve the land to use during the drought period. The rangeland restoration initiatives, which are ongoing could be cited as a very good example of the attitude change towards preparedness and mitigation measures. So far 10,000 ha of communal rangeland has been protected and the target communities are continuing these activities without external support.

A question of national policy

The devastating effects of a rapidly changing climate in Ethiopia are visibly producing innovative strategies and activities by pastoralist communities, associations, and NGOs. However, at the national level there is no distinct policy agenda specifically recognising the needs and promoting sustainable livelihoods for climate-affected pastoralist communities. In Ethiopia, as in many countries with significant numbers of pastoralists or agro-pastoralists, national-level policy on pastoralism is piecemeal, not adequately implemented, or based on misunderstandings of the importance of pastoralism to national economic growth and environmental protection.

At the same time a strong knowledge-base is developing amongst scholars, development practitioners and governments that paints a very different picture than the commonly held scepticism over the future of pastoralism in Africa. Although still predominant, the view that pastoralism is an activity outside the prevailing tides of national development is increasingly being challenged. As the examples above illustrate, pastoralist communities are finding innovative ways to adapt in a complex and rapidly changing ecological, political and economic environment.

As climate change puts increasing pressure on other forms of economic activity, in much of East Africa pastoralism is increasingly economically productive, and pastoralists are finding new forms of managing and using resources to adapt. There is strong evidence that in terms of economic growth, secure livelihoods and environmental sustainability pastoralism is the most appropriate economic activity for African dryland environments.

In many African countries policy incoherence means that there is little opportunity to ensure governments and state institutions are able to draw on these practices and provide the incentives and resources to design policies that will support robust and sustainable livelihoods for pastoralist communities.

However, the Policy Framework for Pastoralism in Africa (PFPA), agreed by the AU in 2010, is the first continental wide policy framework addressing the needs of pastoralists. It aims to secure, protect and improve the lives, livelihoods and rights of African pastoralists. The framework acknowledges both the complex and challenging environments in which pastoralism takes place, and to ensure dynamic and locally adaptable solutions assigns significant importance to the participation of pastoralists in the design of policies.

The framework is supposed to provide a springboard for political commitment and coordination in pastoral development. The guidelines should allow national governments to integrate pro-pastoralist policies into national development plans. However, in Ethiopia and many other African countries there remains a recognisable gap between policy formulation and implementation. ACORD, as well as other civil society groups, is focussed on promoting the PFPA in the countries where it works by facilitating dialogue between key stakeholders, from pastoralists to policy-makers, to build collective awareness and commitment to designing pro-pastoralist policies on the continent.

Additional resources

Resilient pastoralist communities
View slideshow

Read more about ACORD's work in Ethiopia.
Read more about ACORD's livelihoods work across the continent.


  • ethiopia
  • food security