In 2016, The Nexus Network awarded a research partnership grant to five different projects aimed at improving understanding of the interactions between food–energy–water–environment and to support actions to improve their sustainability. The partnerships enabled researchers to build interdisciplinary research collaboration in locations across both the UK and Africa. Among these, the IPORE project (Improving Organic Resource Use in Rural Ethiopia), led by Professor Euan Phimister (University of Aberdeen, UK) explored how improving the use of organic resources in rural sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) might help improve long-term energy, food and water provision in rural Ethiopia. In this blog post, Professor Phimister gives a summary of the project’s findings.
Using data collected in two study areas, the project researchers developed a comprehensive but simple framework designed to capture how farm households’ decisions on the use of organic resources impact long-term soil fertility and resilience to drought. This framework allows researchers to quantify the trade-offs between competing uses of organic resources (such as dung, crop residues, and wood). This data on the trade-offs helps policymakers and farmers to make decisions on their resource. Examples of the decision-making scenarios identified by this framework include: the benefits for farms if they use more dung for soil improvements, instead of cooking; what revenue a household would stand to gain or lose if more dung was used on soil; what the financial implications would be in terms of increased wood purchases or time spent collecting; the extra time required to take cattle to water in the dry season and how this affects the organic resources available.
The data collected as the result of this framework show that the soils in these areas are extremely degraded and, therefore, at risk. This situation emphasises the how important it is to develop a package of measures. For example, to maintain and improve the soils, farmers must invest in both soil conservation measures and improvements to the type and efficiency of the available organic resources that they use.
The researchers also explored how the individuals in the community feel the governance of exclosure areas (areas where people and livestock are excluded) in their locality might be improved to increase the availability of grasses for their livestock. Exclosure areas are used widely in Ethiopia to help the regeneration of degraded common land. It was identified during discussions at a stakeholder workshop in Awassa in November 2016, and previous stakeholder and focus group discussions in April 2017, that the governance of these areas could be improved. Data collection was designed to explore this issue, and the results show that individuals would be willing to undertake additional work to improve the productivity and sustainable use of enclosure areas. There is also evidenced support for increased community solidarity to allow poorer households access to more benefits from the enclosure areas and to provide compensation for households who suffer damage associated with the wild animals living in the areas.
These findings were among the results of the project that emerged during discussions in a recent workshop in October 2017, attended by delegates from local and regional government, district and community representatives and researchers from Hawassa University, Southern Agricultural Research Institute and the International Water Management Institute. The workshop was held in Halaba, in the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Region.
More information on the IPORE project (including the final report) is available here.