Project site description

i) Geographical settings: Kombolcha is one of the districts in East Hararghe zone of Oromia region. It is bordered on the south by the Harari region, on the southwest by Haramaya district, on the northwest by Dire Dawa Administrative Council, on the north by the Ethiopian-Somali region, and on the east by Jarso district. Melka Rafu is the administrative center of the district. It is situated between 09°22' N-09°35‘N and 42°06' E-42°13' E with altitude that ranges from 1200 to 2460 meters above sea level (Figure 2.1).

The topography of Kombolcha is a very complex terrain that includes gently sloping dissected plains and plateaus to moderately steep and undulating medium to high gradient hills. A significant northern part of the district is hilly with steep slopes, with Wara Mucha, Babo, and Lalu amongst the highest points in the district. These geographical features limit accessibility to some of the kebeles[1] in the district. Around river courses, limited valley floors are also present.

Figure 2.1:Map of Kombolcha district and its administrative kebeles.

The approximate total area of the district is 30,452 ha, of which the largest portion (i.e. 78 percent) is covered by non-agricultural land that comprise of built-up, degraded, or otherwise unusable), 16.8% by arable land, 1.7 percent by pasture land and 3.9 percent by forest. The 2007 national census reported a total population of 140,080 in the district, of whom 70,967 were men and 69,113 were women. As per this census, about 91 percent of the total population lives in the rural areas of the district. The population density is as high as 235 persons per km2. The district is divided into 20 kebeles (CSA, 2007). The area coverage among these kebeles varies from 308 ha to 2938 ha, with average area of 1523 ha. From the twenty kebeles, the proposed farmer-led field experimentations will be implemented in Egu and Bilisuma kebeles. These kebeles are selected based on their production potential, accessibility to other neighboring farmers, suitability of the agro-ecologies to the selected crops/cropping system, willingness and experience of farmers, and commitment of development agents in the selected areas.

The Kombolcha district is characterized by lowland and midland agro-ecological climatic conditions. It receives a mean annual rainfall of 600-900 mm, which is bimodal but erratic in distribution. The small rainy season starts in February/March and extends to mid-May, while the main rainy season stretches between July and August. The mean annual minimum and maximum temperatures are about 14 and 24 °C, respectively.

Owing to the generally high population pressure and the consequent land scarcity, almost all slopes are cultivated except the very steep hills. The steep hills are being rehabilitated following the natural resources management policy of the country that has been adopted recently. A combination of physical soil and water conservation structures, such as stone/soil bunds and terraces, and biological measures, such as planting trees, are being practiced. Because of these interventions and their protection from cultivation, the vegetation cover has begun to regenerate. At some places, the sides of steep slopes are covered by khat (Catha edulis Forsk) often intercropped with sorghum, maize, sweet potato, and other crops. The steep slopes are also used as settlement areas.

ii) Vegetation: The commonly observed vegetation cover in the district is shrub and bushes composed of different species. Some of the steep slopes are covered by replanted and remnant tree species such as Juniperus procera, Olea oleaster, Podocarpus totara, Ficus sur, and Accacia abyssinica. Around homesteads are found eucalyptus trees. Some agro-forestry tree species such as Acacia abyssinica and Croton macrostachyus are found on individual farmers’ fields.

iii) Water resources: Kombolcha district has the Erer and Fefra rivers in addition to dependable groundwater resource in the valleys. Furthermore, a number of perennial springs originating from under the hills are very common. Groundwater is found at a shallow depth that ranges from seven to 20 meters from the soil surface. Farmers have excellent traditional practice of opening a hand-dug well for taping groundwater resource. Due to the presence of these different sources of water, small-scale irrigation is practiced intensively on the gentle slopes and valley bottoms of the district during the off-seasons. Irrigation is also practiced on the steep slopes by pumping water against the sloping gradient.

Some of the flat lands such as that in Egu Kebele, and the valleys are very much affected by waterlogging during the rainy season and by frost during the coldest months (October to January). Due to these factors, the yield obtained from these areas from rainfed agriculture is often very low and is not enough to feed households. Particularly, plains occupied by Vertisols require some surface drainage channels and cut off drains to be constructed along the slopes.

The common irrigation practice is traditional that combines flood, furrow, and/or basin irrigation without proper irrigation scheduling. The steep slopes are the main sources of water that come as springs or recharge the groundwater. Thus, the current national participatory and community-based watershed management program is a step in the right direction. Participatory and community-based watershed management is a strategy designed by the Ethiopian government to involve farming households in the efforts of conserving water, soil, forest, and other natural resource bases in their locality. It is mainly aimed at rehabilitating degraded watersheds. In this system, physical soil and water conservation mechanisms such as terraces, soil bunds, etc. are built and trees are planted by members of the community involving men as well as women to prevent soil erosion and land degradation as well as enhance vegetation cover of the watershed. The improved physical structure to prevent soil erosion and the vegetative cover will lead to a decreased risk of water erosion as well as better soil fertility. In the long term, the regeneration of forests will be stimulated. The watershed is furthermore replenished by improving the water absorbing capacity of soils. Finally, the increased availability of water and vegetation will ensure sustainable and long term improvements of the ecosystem for sustainable farming and improved livelihoods

iv) Farming system: The farming system is dominantly mixed cropping with livestock husbandry. The middle and lower slopes and the valley bottoms are the main agricultural lands. The lower slopes and valleys are also used for production of food crops during the rainy season, and vegetable crops, in addition to khat, during the off-seasons through irrigation. The major crops grown in the district include sorghum, maize, fenugreek, linseed, common bean, and wheat in some high elevation areas, and groundnut in the lowlands. The main cash/vegetable crops grown are tomato, beetroot, potato, cabbage, onion, carrot, pepper, lettuce, shallot, sweet potato, and spinach. Khat, coffee, fruits, and vegetables are the main cash crops. Khat is usually intercropped with sorghum, maize, sweet potato, and common bean.

Although the farming system is mixed crop-livestock production, the livestock component is not strong due to scarcity of animal feed in most of the kebeles. Grazing land is scarce and is limited to small valley areas not used for agriculture, and on steep slopes. Farmers use cut-and-carry system. Farmers also cut and use maize and sorghum plants as feed particularly after thinning. They also use crop residues, weeds, and grasses growing on farm edges as feed. Introducing multipurpose improved forage species, namely, Brachiaria grass, can address shortage of feed in the area and enhance livestock production.

v) Agricultural inputs (seeds, fertilizers and other chemicals): The use of fertilizers is based on blanket recommendation of 100 kg urea and 100 kg DAP per ha regardless of soil type and crop type. This is equivalent to 64 kg N and 20 kg P ha-1. In addition to this, as a regular soil fertility maintenance program, every farmer is advised by development agents (DAs) to apply organic matter to the soil either as manure or in the form of compost. However, due to limited inputs of organic materials for preparation of the compost, the positive impact of applied compost on soil fertility and health is minimal. Crop residues are mostly used as animal feed, fuel wood, and construction materials. Furthermore, the residues remaining in the field after harvest are burnt to avoid incidences of diseases and pests in the following cropping season. The combined use of all these practices would lead to low status of soil organic matter. The government of Ethiopia has embarked on developing soil fertility maps so that site- and crop-specific fertilizers recommendations can be made. This, in most cases, however is based merely on soil test results. However, calibration based on plant tissue analysis is still pending. Farmers have also limited access to inputs such as quality seeds of improved varieties, fertilizers, and pesticides. Consequently, it is vital to implement an integrated soil fertility management program in order to improve crop production and productivity, and ensure food and nutrition security of the farming community.

vi) Markets and extension services: The district has good all-weather road network linking the kebeles with the district town, Harar city, and Dire Dawa Administration. The district has also better access to markets in the neighboring countries such as Djibouti and Somalia. Nevertheless, farmers are not getting fair share/margins as they are exploited by the middlemen. Especially when the commodities are perishable like vegetables and fruits, the farmers do not have the power to bargain and, hence, are often compelled to sell at the very low price whatever the buyers offer.

Almost all kebeles in the district have one farmers’ training center (FTCs) at which practical skill training is given and demonstrations of showcase technologies are done. Each kebele has on average three development agents (21 developments per 10,000 farmers, 1 DA: 476 farmers) serving as animal science, plant science, and natural resources experts. Furthermore, schools, micro-finances, cooperatives, farmers’ groups, and health centers are available. Each kebele has a leader with different committees dealing with different issues. Traditional institutions that are meant to facilitate social issues, such as wedding, funerals, etc are also common among the community.

Ethiopia has an agriculture development-led industrialization (ADLI) economic strategy/policy. For this to materialize, the agriculture sector needs to develop at a faster rate to provide raw materials for the industry in addition to ensuring food and nutrition security. There is a strong policy support to promote a sustainable intensification of smallholder agriculture. The country has adopted a national economic policy that focuses mainly on implementing the Agricultural Development Led Industrialization (ADLI) Strategy. ADLI aims at bringing an effective economic growth and building technology capability that enables the development of micro, small, medium, and large industries (FDRE, 2012). Strategic directions of Ethiopian Agriculture, as stipulated in the GTP document, are increasing the capacity and extensive use of labour, proper utilisation of agricultural land, taking account of different agricultural zones, linking specialization with diversification, integrating agricultural and rural development, strengthening the agricultural marketing systems, and effective implementation of the scaling up of best practices in the sector (MoFED, 2010).

Ethiopia has recently developed a Climate-Resilient Green Economy (CRGE) strategy for addressing both climate change adaptation and mitigation objectives and to protect the country from the adverse effects of climate change. The strategy is based on four pillars: improving crop and livestock production and productivity so as to attain household and national food security and enhance farmers’ income while reducing emissions; protecting and re-establishing forests for their economic and ecosystem services, including carbon stocks; expanding electric power generation from renewable sources of energy five-fold over the five-year period for markets at home and in neighboring countries; and leapfrogging to modern and energy-efficient technologies in transport, industry, and buildings (FDRE, 2011).

[1] Kebele is the smallest administrative unit in Ethiopia