Numerous empirical studies
have reported the immensity of environmental degradation in Ethiopia. Rate
of deforestation is in the range of 80,000 to 200,000 hectares per annum.
The soil conservation Research Projects had estimated an average soil loss
of 42 t/ha/year on cultivated lands and a maximum of 300-400 t/ha/year in
highly erodible and intensively cereal cultivated fields (EPA, 2003). Nearly
three decades ago, the Ethiopian Highland Reclamation Study estimated that
about half of arable lands in the highlands have been eroded from moderately
to seriously levels (Constable, 1985). By now, this figure might have
reached a much higher level, where human population (which is the underlying
factor) has increased by more than 65% since then. The yield decline, food
insecurity, increased susceptibility to drought, and household economic
decline are partly emanated from the ongoing severe degradation level.
Soil and water conservation
(SWC) measures (cultural and introduced ones) can thwart the current trend
of soil loss. While most of the cultural ones are getting obsolete due to
changing physical, demographic, and socio economic conditions, the
adaptation level of introduced SWC measures have been negligible, if not
none. Low levels of SWC adoption are attributed to several factors. Some
studies attribute the low level of SWC technology adoption to poor economic
status of farmers, labor shortage, land tenure uncertainty, problem of
fitness of the technologies themselves (Woldeamlak and Sterk, 2002; Wogayehu,
2003; Menale and Holden, 2005). Other studies in the past advocated that
farmers show very little or no interest in implementing the conservation
measures (e.g., Kebede and Hurni, 1992). However, this assertion had often
been criticized by the question, “had peasants been introduced with the
appropriate conservation techniques which were supposed to be harmonized to
their farmlands?” A recent study (Woldeamlak and Sterk, 2002), which
assessed the level of farmers participation in SWC activities in Chemoga
watershed (East Gojjam zone), revealed that most of their involuntary
participation had emanated from dissatisfaction on the technology itself.
Gibbon et al, (1995)
pointed out that there had been more instances for peasants to be unwilling
or unable to carryout what are understood to be more sustainable actions.
These are attributable to lack of adequate knowledge, resources, inadequate
economic returns or insufficient information about the longer term or wider
benefits. Hence, in many instances, peasants are forced to opt for
short-term but unsustainable resolution, which induce not only further
degradation on the existing farmland; but also an accelerated rate of soil
loss from newly colonized fragile lands. For instance, Belay (2000) noted
that crop cultivation in parts of Welo is carried out without any type of
terracing, while 74% of the land requires application of contour plowing,
broad based terracing or bench terracing. Recent studies in Ethiopia (e.g.,
Bekele and Holden, 1998; Belay, 1998; Dessalegn, 2001) reported that
farmers, although aware of the effects of soil erosion, they are often
incapable because of the socio economic circumstances, which calls for
concerted effort to overcome those problems ahead of the introduction of
As more lands are required
to feed the rapidly growing population, there would be further expansion of
crop cultivation onto ecologically fragile environments (like steep slopes,
wetlands, and communal forest area). This further aggravates the
“environment-poverty trap” (Pearce and Markandia, 1990). In short, the state
of Ethiopian environment is very precarious, and calls for urgent
involvement in combating land degradation problem through research and
continued public dialogue.
To tackle the problem of
ongoing land degradation in Ethiopia, there has been several attempts and
approaches emanated from different stakeholders. Peasants, government, NGO,
and research community had reacted and responded from their own perceptions,
understanding, and resources. Excerpts of their responses are outlined
The prime sufferers of land
degradation are peasants. Responses of peasants to land degradation are
combined interplay of the biophysical, sociopolitical, economical and
demographic attributes which in turn are varying across space and time.
Amanor (1994) noted that farmer’s response to the environmental degradation
reflect the growing consciousness and awareness of environmental processes.
This idea is proved in Ethiopia where Tesfaye (2003) reported that soil
degradation is better perceived among peasants of the highly degraded areas
than their counterparts in less degraded areas.
Farmers had long been
managing their lands through traditional methods shifting of cultivation and
land rotation techniques. Upon continued population increase, such practices
withered due to continued shrinkage of land sizes. They were compelled to
infringe towards vulnerable lands which are fragile, steep and stony. There
were also various indigenous techniques to arrest soil erosion problems.
Kruger et al. (1997) had attempted to catalog indigenous SWC measures
available in different parts of the country. Traditional SWC have been
widely used for more than a century in regions like Tigray, North Shewa,
Gamo Gofa, North Welo, and Harargie. For instance in Konso, stone bench
terraces and multiple cropping practices have been existed for over five
hundred years. However, those techniques could not sustain the ever rising
demographic stress exerted on the land. Upon reaching the ‘finiteness’ of
lands, peasants abandoned the use of fallow. This has brought exhaustion of
lands and led to declining of land productivities. In response, about 20,000
to 30,000 ha of lands are abandoned annually. These abandoned areas are the
highly erodible lands of Ethiopia (Hurni, 1990).
The rapid growth of rural
population and absence of economic diversification, coupled with abandonment
of unproductive lands, the existing lands have gone through persistent
fragmentation as it passed through generations. As lands are further
fragmented they become uneconomical in size and left with little room for
implementing SWC measures. Besides, the growing scarcity of lands had caused
the vulnerability of farmers to impoverishment and scarcity-induced
conflicts (Tesfaye Teklu, 2004).
Out-migration is another
response of farmers due to the deterioration of land qualities. It has been
a common coping mechanism through easing land scarcity problems due to
mounting population pressures and food insecurity problems. However, such
responses were not safe heavens to migrants. While some of them benefited
from the process, many others had faced even more hostile circumstances. For
instance, Tesfaye Teklu (2004) and Tesfaye Tafesse (2004) have accounted the
nature and extent of resentments and grievances induced from endogenous
(host) peoples and the consequences of violent conflict and displacement.
The Imperial, Derge and the
current governments had responded the problem of land degradation in various
ways, viz., soil conservation and afforestation campaigns, resettlement
campaigns, area enclosures etc. Various policies/ programs/ strategies, etc
were formulated to implement those measures. Despite huge resources, capital
and time spent on those activities, several research findings have proved
that the degradation levels had rather been immensely augmented since then.
Of all the methods, the
greatest strides were conservation and afforestation schemes. However, SWCs
were heavily relied on mechanical methods. The great contributions from
biological/agronomic measures were ignored. It was reported that about
998,000 ha of farmlands and 208,000 ha of hillsides were terraced, 15,500 km
check dams were constructed on gullies, 296,000 ha of land were afforested
on denuded areas, 310,000 ha closed for regeneration of vegetation, etc.
However, after spending huge financial resource, the impact had been
unsuccessful at the end (Dessalegn, 2001; Eyassu, 2002; Yeraswork 1995) as
most of the structures were demolished or have fallen into disuse during
disturbances following collapse of the Derge. Major limitations of those
activities were lack of the consent of peasants. Besides, most of the
activities were coupled with the highly criticized f-f-w schemes, which is
unsustainable due to the probable projects terminations. Authorities
attribute this failure to “lack of ownership of the programs by the
community and the top-down approach”.
In order to implement
modern SWC technologies and other agricultural activities, large number of
trained Development Agents (DA) had been trained However, recent study (Pausewang,
2002) witnessed that while peasants see the ongoing land degradation in
their farm and grazing lands, most of them do not ask DA’s for help. There
is a distrust which might have emanated from past experience records that
most DA’s were central in most of unfavorable government decisions like land
redistribution, villegization and resettlement, tax and contribution
collection, forced sell of grains on quota basis, etc. Hence, the current
massive training of DA might do little to arrest the alarming rate of
degradation problems unless a paradigm shift is made in the term of
reference in the task of DA’s. A study made in Kenya also witnessed that one
of the reasons why peasants are not listening to DA’s is that in most
instances, peasants are more knowledgeable to their environment and its
processes than DA’s.
Resettlement had been
another activity by successive governments to promote food security, relieve
the population pressure of the vulnerable areas, and rehabilitate the
already degraded lands. Despite the resettlement of close to 600,000
peasants during the Derge, the objectives set were not able to meet the
intended hopes (Dessalegn, 2003). Various researches showed that the process
had inflicted a massive forest and soil degradation (Solomon, 1994) in the
settlement areas which are the “green belt” and “lung” of the country. Even
at present, about 400,000 people are already resettled and it would climb to
a total of 2.2 million people at the course of three years, where its impact
is yet to be seen.
Around 1980, an increased
concern about the worsening condition of land degradation has led to the
draft legislation for land use planning and regulation. However, this draft
legislation has never been enacted into law. In the last two decades, in a
bid to combat land degradation problems, several policies, strategies,
programs and laws had been enacted. The Environmental Policy of Ethiopia was
approved in April 1997, and several environment-related ones were approved
before and after it. Gedion (2003) had outlined and reviewed the sectoral
and cross-sectoral policies, strategies and laws that relate to environment.
He commented that they were seldom examined for their internal consistency
and harmony and are of little known by the majority of Ethiopians. However,
the policy hasn’t been reviewed since its approval. Besides, those policies
are often criticized for lacking enforceable mechanism.
Recently, the Natural
Resources Sector within the Ministry of Agricultural and Rural Development (MoARD)
has tried to fill the policy and strategy gaps that directly and indirectly
influence natural resource conservation. A new land administration and use
proclamation has been approved by the council of ministers and the
Several NGOs had also
upheld SWC technologies in various parts of the country. They rather,
followed a “bottom-up” and “participatory” approach. Besides, the SWC
activities in many areas were fine-tuned with local conditions. Even at
times of political turmoil, like in the case of government change, those
conserved areas had remained intact (Dessalegn, 2001). However, compared to
the extent of the degradation problem in the country, the proportion of
NGO-assisted SWC impacts are quite small. Besides, their efforts, as it is
heavily relied on f-f-w, are critically challenged to have induced
Several researchers had
conducted land/soil/forest based studies in different agroecological regions
of the country. They produced numerous qualitative and quantitative
information on the extent and magnitudes of degradation. Most of these
studies had generated area-specific land management options/ recommendations
to arrest land degradation.
In Ethiopia, there is
already a ‘wealth of literature’ on the impact of land tenure on land
degradation. Though it appears to be a delicate political issue, several
studies put land tenure as a primary issue to arrest soil and resource
degradation (e.g., Birhanu et al., 2004; Dessalegn, 2004; Kifle, 1999;
Yeraswork, 1995). It is widely believed as a means to encourage investment
on land improvements and environmental rehabilitation, which is also a
fundamental variable in agrarian and rural development. Land tenure
insecurity is also considered as a key factor of land degradation (World
Bank, Agenda 21). On the other hand, opponents of tenure individualization
(e.g., mostly the government side) focus on its alleged negative impact as
it might lead to concentration of land ownership, and increased
marginalization of farmers.
On the contrary, as long as
EPRDF and the current Constitution are in their power, land is a “dead
issue”. Therefore, it would be a “sterile argument” (Dessalegn, 2004) to
dwell on land ownership issue in a situation where there is deadlock on the
issue. This standpoint could incite paradigm shift in the orientation of
researchers. Apart from suggesting the same bred of recommendations for
government’s change of mind, researchers in the mean time could seek
alternative solutions which might be malleable to the current policy
framework. One of the exciting challenges of research undertaking is to
muddle through restraining factors and conditionality. Then, what kinds of
alternative options could researchers to bid to the fore, which is to be up
taken both by government and peasants?
Generally speaking, the
attainable level of improved land management adoption by a farmer is set by
physical (natural) factors like slope, soil depth, soil erodibility, etc.,
called “defining-factors” (Figure 2). As pointed out by several scholars,
the land policy issue poses detrimental effect on improved land management
adoption, due to land tenure insecurity, called “policy-limited” factors.
However, the new land administration and use proclamation (which is approved
by the parliament recently) has limited opportunities and provisions through
land registration and certification, which allow ownership transfer through
inheritance, gift or rent while restricting the upper limit for cultivation
on sloppy lands and impose the need for conservation activities on such
lands. However the limited provisions of the existing policy are not
harnessed at the present time, which is constrained by various socioeconomic
factors. Constraining factors like inadequate economic incentives, tax
irregularities, inappropriateness of some introduced technologies, and their
limited economic and financial return, are called “reducing factors”. This
is the gap where researchers could fill it through production of alternative
approaches and methods within the existing socioeconomic and political
Figure 2. Schematic overview of land management situations and gaps for
Therefore, the general
objective of this is to generate a new alternative approach which could
systematically regulate the ongoing land degradation problem within the
existing socioeconomic and political framework of Ethiopia. Specifically,
the study will develop a prototype of sustainable mechanism which
effectively enforces improved land management.
Section 3 below briefly
describes the development of alternative land management approach followed
by Section 4 which attempts to appraise the developed model on the context
of selected sample areas. Finally, Section 5 presents the conclusion along
with policy recommendations.
3 Towards New Land
3.1 A Land Abuser Pay?
There are ample policies,
strategies and programs pertaining to environmental issues in Ethiopia (Gedeon,
2003). However, most of them are still ‘paper tiger’. There is acute dearth
of compelling legislation for natural resource protection and development.
As Dessalegn (2001) put it, the enforceable laws do not back the provisions
of the policy, and hence remain a mere declaration of intent.
From the land management
perspective, peasants could be broadly categorized in two: those who are
fervently caring their lands and those who are not. So far, there had not
been any particular incentives for the environment-friendly peasants.
Rather, they had been victims of faulty-government policy measures, which
used to be imposed indiscriminately on the entire farming community.
There are some countries
that employ cost-sharing system to promote SWC works. This, however, created
heavy burden on developing countries. Through such measures, resources are
susceptible to misuse and may develop a subsidy-dependent mentality toward
whatsoever government initiates. The other option had been the provision of
loans and credits to peasants. However, farmers would be reluctant to use
their little borrowing capacity for soil erosion measures. Besides, the
monetary returns from SWC range from very low to none on short-term basis.
Even in USA, loans are not popular in soil conservation work (Kebede and
Hurni, 1992). The limited environmental commitment or awareness to SWC
efforts is also common in most parts of the world (Ghai, 1994). For
instance, research in Tigray witnessed that the average rate of returns for
investments in stone terraces are less than 25%. The willingness and ability
of Tigray farmers to invest in SWC measures are mainly constrained by cash (Boetekees,
Especially after the UN
Conference on Environment and Development held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992,
the principle of “polluter pays” had gained immense popularity. This
conception has been employed to regulate environmental problems, like water
and air pollutions, where polluters are liable to pay (in the form of tax)
for the damage they caused.
Land tax is an annual tax
based on land ownership and usage of land. Revenue from land tax is paid
into the general revenue account of government, and assists in the provision
of public services such as education, health and public safety. The canon of
taxation is that every citizen should contribute to the state in proportion
to his ability. Land taxes are an ideal revenue source for local
governments. Taxations are used (as in the case of Ethiopia) as a means to
raise revenue, redistribute income and wealth, discourage or encourage
specific activities (Fentaw, 2002). Government commonly employs progressive
cost/rate on most urban-based services like electricity and water supply.
The attempt is not only to garner revenue from high consumers (so as to
subsidize, for instance, rural electrification), but also to systematically
discourage the abuse of such meager resources through enhanced rate/cost.
Tax is a powerful
instrument for revenue collection (Deininger, 2003), and the following
queries could, therefore, be raised: Can land taxes be tagged with new
purpose? Can we make land tax as a catalyst in environmental management? Can
we encourage proper management of lands through tax relief and tax
exemptions? Can we discourage land mismanagement through pedantically
enhanced taxes? In short, can we make the exiting land taxation system
acquiescent to our crucial problem of land degradation?
This study presupposes that
land taxes could be useful mechanisms to regulate land degradation problems.
Corollary to “polluter pays” principle, this research project dwelt on the
idea of “the more one abuses his land, the higher the land taxation is” and
vise versa; which eventually yields to the principle of “the land abuser
3.2 Modus Operandi of
Ott (1998) noted that
taxation of lands is almost universal, but the method varies across
countries. The commonest land taxation systems are based on land size and
quality. In Australia, there is a terminology called “total site value” to
calculate land tax for each year. It is determined by “valuer general” where
there could be periodic reevaluation. Skinner (1991) noted that many
countries that have been practicing land taxation system in the 50’s (like
Egypt and India) have avoided it, and focused rather on income or
export-based taxes. In the absence of understandable land use plan of a
given locality, the land tax administration on qualitative criteria has been
identified as a very difficult task to carry out. These difficulties are
believed to have eroded the land tax system in the above mentioned
countries. Skinner (1991) reported that some countries have systems similar
to inputted income taxes, where market value of the land are considered, or
based on the annualized net profit from land.
While the system of land
taxation varies from country to country, actual revenues from land tax are
generally below their potential (Deininger, 2003). The same is true in
Ethiopia (1.1% of total government revenue). Prime reasons for this could be
deficient incentive structures, weak assessment and administration of land,
and also the political difficulty of having significant land taxes.
According to Ott (1998), the objective of land tax should range from raising
revenues to effectively backup social and economic goods.
In Ethiopia, the
contribution of land tax to local economy has not been adequately analyzed.
However, tax revenue constitutes the lion share of government revenue (CSA,
2004). About 70% of total domestic revenue is derived from tax, and makes >
13.7% of GNP. Recently, its contribution showed substantial increase,
especially due to the recent introduction of urban land lease and rental
taxes. The rural land use fee used to be 51.3 million birr in 1982/3 (Eshetu,
1990) and reached more than double in 2000/1 (CSA, 2004) which has become
116.2 million birr. However, this makes 1.1% of the total government
According to Eshetu (1990),
taxes that fall directly on agriculture include: land use fee, tax on
agricultural income, and tax on exports of agricultural products. Farmers
pay Br 10.00 for the first hectare and Br 7.50 for each additional half
hectare as land use tax. The land use fee for state farms is Br 15 per
hectare. Eshetu criticized that the then land taxes were fixed irrespective
of the soil fertility and slop factors. He justified that the agricultural
sector is not an important source of tax revenue, especially considering its
substantial contribution to output and employment. Eshetu further noted that
agricultural income tax is exactly equal to land use fee, which is the
minimum birr 10.00 for annual income less than birr 600.00 per annum. Based
on these facts, Eshetu believes that the Ethiopian peasantry is not
overburdened by taxes as used to be imagined by many people.
The Constitution of
Ethiopia (Article 97.2-3) states “regional states shall fix and collect fees
for land usufruct rights” and “states shall levy and collect taxes on the
incomes of privet farmers”. According to Terrefe (1992), each regional state
fixes the tax and delivers this task down to zones, then into district and
peasant association (PA) levels. Once the total amount of taxes a peasant
association (PA) is obliged to pay is known, the executive body of PA works
out the amount each peasant pays. This looks different from reports of
Eshetu (1990). Terrefe further pointed out that land taxation influences
state-peasant relations. At times of instability, like in the period of
government change, government deliberately exempts farmers from land taxes,
and at times of political settlement, peasants are forced to pay back
policies/regulations enacted by four Regional States, viz., Tigray, Amhara,
Oromia, and SNNP, shows that, land taxation system is flat, which is more or
less based on size criteria. The exception is Tigray Region, where the
weredas are partitioned to three land tax categories, which is most
probably based on zonal agro-ecological quality. A land tax of birr 30.00 is
allocated in weredas like Kefla Humera, Welkayit and Tsegedie; birr
35.00 in Tahitay Adiabo and Lae’lay Adiabo; and birr 40.00 in all other
weredas of the region (Tigray Region Land Regulation, No 15/1994).
The objective of land
taxation in Ethiopia seems defined by single criteria (as a revenue
collection scheme) than multiple criteria. Such objective fails to capture
the variability and diversity of biophysical environment. Skinner (1991)
noted that targeting on land size criteria would worse off the environmental
With respect to land rent
practices, the norm deviates from the land size criteria. In Tigray (Birhanu
et al., 2004), the average rental price per hectare for land in 1998
was birr 450, 550, and 845 for the poor, medium, and quality lands,
respectively. It is simple to note that a land rent based on quality
parameter would induce its own repercussion on land management. Mostly, the
poor farmers can afford to rent inferior (poor) lands and they have nothing
to spare for land management. They rather opt for the quickest but
unsustainable mode of land management, which might exacerbate land
degradation processes. Hence designing efficient land taxation mechanism is
a necessity to bring about any desired goals.
3.3 Marriage of Land Taxation to Land Management
If the present trend of
farm extensification is allowed to continue, a great deal of fragile lands
would further deteriorate. The problem is, are farmers willing to put aside
“marginal lands” from cultivation? Could farmers uptake improved SWC
products while the technology incurs additional labor, capital, time, and
space? This is hardly possible in the face of acute land shortage. These and
other questions could not be settled simply by enacting environmental laws.
Most researchers, officials and land users agree that poverty plays
deterring factor to investment on land management. This calls for acceptable
and positively enforcing mechanisms which influence not only to invest on
their lands but also influence the judgment of peasants either to farm or
dispose those marginal lands from unsustainable farming system.
Taxation system could be
integrated to various priority concerns. Right now, land degradation problem
is the most pressing issue of Ethiopia. Commissioning land taxation to
address the challenges of land degradation would, therefore, be a timely
issue. If land taxation is to be synchronized with the management practices
of land users, the system is believed to encourage conservationist farmers,
who are adding worth to the land. In the mean time, it discourages land
mismanagement by imposing heavy land taxes. Anchoring land taxes to land
management issue leads to the principle of differential land taxation system
3.4 The Differential Land Taxation (DLT)
DLT is proposed to arrest
the problem of land degradation in a reasonable way through taxing lands at
a variable rate based on the level of adopted land management packages.
Farmers managing their land according to the recommended type of management
options, through exerting extra efforts, land and capital would be rewarded
not only by a reduced tax, but also by the long-term benefit of land
productivity. As DLT distributes tax burdens among different land management
types, it would voluntarily attract the conservation-minded peasants towards
enhanced care. Hence, DLT would have two vital benefits: viz., assist the
rehabilitation of degrading lands with sound land management
system/practices, and systematically relieve the stress from those degraded
and fragile lands.
In the development of DLT
system, it is assumed that there would always be land taxes either to poor
or rich. The owner (user) of the land is liable to pay the land tax,
irrespective of the tenure system. It is assumed that this unavoidable tax
could be addressed to the issue of land degradation problem. Hence, in this
study land taxes are envisaged to regulate the exploitation/management
4. Empirical Evidences from Case Studies
4.1 The Sample
4.1.1 Location of
In order to substantiate
and appraise the underlying assumptions of the DLT, it was necessary to
undertake field based study. Three administrative zones were chosen (Table
1) from central Ethiopia, representing different status and magnitude of
land degradation problems. The zones include North Showa (Amhara Regional
State), North Showa and East Oromia (Oromia Regional State). Selection was
based in consultation with natural resource experts at regional, zonal, and
wereda bureaus. From the 3 zones, a total of 4 weredas (Map 1)
were selected: Moja-na-wedera, Tarmaber, Girar Jarso, and Dugda-Bora
wereda. From the 4 weredas, 7 villages were chosen in
consultation with DA’s. Their altitude ranges from 1600m in Meki area to
>3,172m in Sela Dingay area.
Focused group discussion (FGD)
was employed to qualitatively explore the issue. Each focus group commonly
composed of 6-10 members. The average time taken to discuss with FDG’s was a
minimum of 2 hours and in each village 4 to 5 focal group were chosen.
Information was also collected interviews conducted with local officials and
DA’s. The selected themes have focused on land and its degradation pattern,
SWC issues, and land taxation practices.
Map 1: Map of Ethiopia and the study sites (shaded part). Numbers 1, 2, 3,
and 4 refers to Moja-na-wodera, Tarma Ber, Girar Jarso and Dugda Bora
Table 1. Summary of the
Selection of sample areas
for case study was based on accessibility to conduct field work, prevalence
of land degradation problems at different level of magnitudes; and presence
of government and NGO’s initiated SWC activities in the areas.
4.1.2 Gradient of
The study villages are
found in different agro-climatic regions (Table 2). They vary in geology,
elevation, rainfall, temperature, soil, topography, farming systems, etc.
North Showa Zones of the Amhara and Oromia region are found in the central
plateau of western physiographic region, which is overlain by trappean
volcanic rocks, belonging to Magdala group. Most of these rocks are acidic
(Mohr, 1967) inheriting fertile black soils. East Oromia zone is found in
the rift valley physiographic region, where the geology belongs to tertiary
pyroclastics and quaternary basalts covered by various lacustrine deposits.
Topographically, the two
sample weredas of Amhara Region are very steep, where there are
chains of mountains. These areas are drained by tributaries of Abay and
Awash rivers. The Girar Jarso wereda of North Showa (Oromia) belongs
to gently undulating topography, where sheet erosion is the most dominant
type of soil loss, which is taking place insidiously. The area drains to the
tributaries of river Abay. Dugda Bora wereda of the rift valley
belongs to dominantly of rolling plain. It is adjacent to eastern
escarpment, which drains to Ziway and Koka lakes. In this area, numerous
gullies have developed recently. The gully is becoming a very series problem
in the last twenty five years with a remarkable depletion of cultivated area
Soils do vary not only
across weredas and villages but also within different positions of a
particular toposequence in a village. In most villages there is identifiable
trend of soil in their distribution. The most classifying criteria employed
by peasants are texture, followed by fertility level, degradation and color.
On Table 3, a corresponding standardized soil group is suggested for each
locally identified soil type, based on a rapid assessment technique employed
by the author through convergence of evidences. It is possible to deduce
that, while depletion of soil nutrients and acidity are common problems in
soils of North Showa villages, problems emanated from salinity and sodicity
are believed to be higher in the Dugda Bora wereda.
Table 2. Types, qualitative
classification, and fertility status of soils in the study areas
Inclination of land facet
Steep (> 200)
Lithosol / Regosol
Deep (> 50cm)
5.1.3 Gradient of
Land Management Practices
Major crops grown in North
Showa of Amhara and Oromia Region include barley, horse bean, lentil and
wheat in the higher elevated areas. Teff and sorghum grows in the relatively
lower elevations. In Gira Jarso, barley, wheat, horse bean, teff, and lentil
are widely grown. In Dugda Bora, maize, teff, and sorghum are grown.
Land rent is common
practice in the studied villages. It is undertaken either in monetary form
or through share cropping. Mostly, the time frame set for land rent
is a year or two. Peasants who rent-out lands include old, week, poor (who
lack oxen), and women headed families. Those who rent-in are mainly of
youngsters whom most of them are landless.
Farmers showed varied
reflections on the impact of land renting system on SWC practices. Most
peasants asserted that, since there is a binding rule in the contractual
agreement, the one who rent-in is accountable to care the land. On the
possibility of renting out lands for longer periods, most respondents fear
that the land renter might claim for ownership. This short period of rent is
believed to have a negative repercussion on the wellbeing of the soil,
because SWC effort gives economic and financial return after several years.
Land fragmentation is one
of a deterring factor of SWC implementation. It is a common phenomenon in
all the surveyed areas. CSA (2003) shows that the Amhara and Oromia regions
have higher number of farm plots per person than other regions. However,
respondents put this problem as “insignificant” and a “tolerable” factor.
Land parcels found in different locations do vary in their characteristics,
merits, demerits, and risks. It also helps as risk aversion strategy and
help crop diversity.
In the Amhara region, the
landholding redistribution of 1997 has enabled the provision of at least two
land parcels which comprises “good” and “bad” quality. Such mix is locally
known as lem-ke-tef which allows to fully exploits the local
ecological niche. In the surveyed villages, farm plots are not significantly
apart from one another. Therefore, differences of agro-climatic impacts are
very unlikely as it used to be common during the Imperial Regime. In the
past, farmers were traveling very long distances to cultivate lands, called
mofer zemet. This system was practiced through share-cropping on
distinctly different land quality vis-à-vis own locality. The 1975 Land
Reform has drawn the wider apart farm plots closer towards homesteads.
Furthermore, the 1997 landholding redistribution had further shrunk to an
insignificant distance from each other.
Hence, the only
characteristic differentiation among farm plots in the studied villages is
attributable to variations in local topographic positions. The slope angle
of land facets differs appreciably within a toposequence, which results in
variation of soil texture, soil color, soil hydrologic property, rooting
depth, growing period, suitable type of SWC, etc.
Despite long history of
keeping livestock, its management is still traditional in the studied
villages. Domestic animals are mostly feeding crop residues during post
cultivation period. During cropping season, animals are restricted either to
abandoned plots of land, sent to very steep lands, or kept in the barn to be
fed through cut and curry. In some instances, small plots of lands are
apportioned from each farmer so that they can simply stand on. However,
livestock is seldom considered a “problem” by respondents as an agent of
soil degradation. Their main concern is rather the diminishing space
available for livestock, which correspondingly affect the feed potential of
the area. In their response, the number of livestock per household has
declined through time. Some respondents fear that in the future, such trend
would result in absence of oxen for farming.
In all studied villages,
cattle dung is used as important sources of household energy. Many house
compounds have a stockpiled pan cake of cow dung, which is to be consumed
during rainy season. Twigs of eucalyptus are also used. Other trees like
bissana, agam, and woira are also used in Armania area.
The exception is Dugda Bora wereda, where acacia trees are widely
used for household energy. Nowadays, remnants of sparse acacia trees are
found in the homesteads and farmlands. Instead of cutting these trees,
farmers often prune the branches. The twigs are initially used as a thorny
fence, and as it decays through time, it will then be used as fuelwood.
Besides, limited charcoal is used in the locality.
Eucalyptus trees are
labeled “aggressive” due to its competition for water and soil resources.
Most crops fail to grow near them. It is common to see an estimated buffer
zone of ten to fifteen meters being left unutilized. Thus, the tree is
mostly planted on the backyards and homestead boundaries. It is planted
mostly in washed away soils (called bikika in the Amhara Region),
which are ‘unsuitable’ soils for crop growth. Currently, government is
encouraging farmers to plant as many trees as possible. For instance, each
farmer is ordered to plant a quota of 500 trees in North Showa of Amhara
Region. In Dugda Bora wereda, apart from eucalyptus, other trees like
true-man-tree, acacia salgina, and wanza are planted at a small scale.
Despite acute dearth of
proper soil fertility study reports in the studied areas, chemical
fertilizers are applied by most farmers following a uniform application rate
set in a blanket approach. Farmers do not apply fertilizers over all their
soils/plots. In Moja-na-wedera, farmers are applying fertilizer on soils
which are good enough to respond positively. On the contrary, farmers of
Girar Jarso wereda are applying fertilizer on degraded soils.
Respondents in Girar Jarso commented that “fertilizer can rejuvenate a
totally degraded land”.
The outstanding worry
voiced by most of discussants was the ever-increasing cost of fertilizer.
Besides, repayment is very difficult due to the frequent failure of crops
due to meteorological cataclysm. Especially during frosty months in high
elevated areas of Amhara region, many crops collapse; in lowland parts, the
fertilizer response is stalled by water stress and diseases. In all the
areas, fertilizers are applied only once in the cropping season, while the
maximum benefit could have been obtained through split application at
different stages of a crop.
4.1.4 Gradient of
In the North Showa of
Amhara and Oromia, agriculture has been practiced for a long period. Studies
(e.g., Hurni, 1983) reported that agriculture in North Showa (of Amhara) has
been practiced for the last 530 to 1140 years. Long period of cultivation
had made the environment to undergo extensive degradation. On the contrary,
crop production is a recent phenomenon in Dugda Bora wereda. Until
1960’s, the area had mainly been under natural woodlots. Very few
pastoralists were residing in the localities. Since the 1975 Agrarian
Reform, cultivated areas increased at the expense of decreasing wood covered
areas (CTA, 1999), and hence eroding areas had intensified in those areas.
Land degradation is
prominent in all the surveyed areas (Table 3). However, the intensity and
magnitude varies from site to site. The degradation is highly correlated
with the topographic factor, management response and the type of land
utilization, and the awareness level of farmers. The severe land degradation
in the villages of North Showa (of Amhara) has presumably prompted the
introduction of government and NGO supported SWC for over 2-3 decades ago.
Table 3. Land degradation and management levels in the sample zones
North Showa (Amhara)
Intense due to broken
topography and cultivation which took place for long time.
Credible effort since 80’s
North Showa (Oromia)
Overlooked degradation; its effect is looming large
Almost negligible effort so far
East Showa (Oromia)
Degradation is recent phenomena, but intensifying
at alarming rate
Almost negligible effort so far
Concerning the opinion of
farmer’s knowledge on the degradation problem, various responses were
observed. Respondents of Girar Jarso wereda feel that there are “no
degradations” in their locality. This might be due to the dominance of sheet
erosion on the dominantly gentle slopes, which is hard to detect their
processes in a short span of time. The fact that teff dominates
farming system, which requires shallow soil depth; it might have concealed
the appreciation of the threat. However, in other surveyed areas, soil
degradation is a well known and considered as a challenging problem. This
understanding might be due to their exposure to the conspicuous
environmental change, and partly from the lesson obtained from DA’s.
However, their level of information pertaining to the causes, processes, and
impacts do vary across locations.
In response to the extent
of land degradation and degree of environmental susceptibility to
degradation, responses of farmers also varied. In North Showa (of Amhara),
the environment has been subjected to intense degradation due to
predominance of steep slopes and long history of cultivation, and hence
farmers in those areas have rated the problem at great magnitude. According
to them, “one can not survive with out SMC”. The next conscious groups were
farmers of the rift valley. Though the area has plain surface, which
undergone a short period of man’s intervention, the soil is characterized by
high level of erodibility and fragility. Since the rate of degradation is
very fast, it can easily steal the attention of peasants. Farmers of Girar
Jarso wereda have showed little awareness and correspondingly their
responses are insignificant.
In Tarma Ber wereda,
farmers acknowledge that their locality was degraded in earlier days.
Currently, they believe that their farms are ‘rehabilitating’ through their
conservation measures. The nearby locality, Moja-na-wodera, respondents put
it at a “moderate problem” which varies across the positions of topography.
The younger respondents are mainly optimistic due to the knowledge and
promises they obtained from DAs. In Dugda Bora wereda of rift valley,
despite the dominance of plain surface, respondents are more anxious about
the ongoing degradation, like the emergence and rapid expansion of gullies,
and worried to the future wellbeing of their environment. The higher
environmental consciousness of Dugda Bora could be associated with the fast
rate of degradation process taking place in the area.
Concerning the impact of
erosion on soil fertility, the most commonly cited indicator is a decline in
crop production. Crop yield is often considered as a proxy indicator for
land degradation by local officials and experts. Respondents explained that
crops grown on degraded soil would get stunted, the soil structure degraded,
the color get changed (get lighter) more rocky, yield declined, depth
declined, etc. On the method of knowing land degradation on the farmer’s
field, respondents explained that soils get coarser in texture, the yield
decline, emergence and development of gullies, exposure of plant roots, etc.
4.2 Appraisal of the
4.2.1 Judgment of
past SWC efforts
In the surveyed villages,
farmers have been practicing their own methods of land management. Farmyard
manure was a common practices employed by all respondents. However, only
soils of the backyard had benefited from such practice. The other method was
opening of draining waterways, which protect croplands from inundation and
over logging problem. However, this method might induce gully erosion and
depletion of soil moisture, which might enhance the vulnerability of
farmlands for crop failure. Land fallowing has been one of the methods that
has been employed in old time.
Government’s involvement in
the environmental management activities initiated since the Derge period and
has been geared in two perspectives: through afforestation program mainly
(eucalyptus tree), and promotion of physical-based SWC activities. In this
regard, North Showa (of Amhara) has been the most widely treated area of all
the surveyed areas. However, respondents expressed that the past SWC has not
been successful. The explanation given by respondents includes:
- The conservation plans
were made and implemented on watershed bases and implemented on a group (debo)
basis. Recently, the approach is turned to farmers plot basis conducted by
- Conservation plans were
designed and enforced by the government bodies, and there was no room for
the participation of farmers;
- Before the
implementation of the planed measures, little awareness creation was made
towards the importance of SWC measures to farmers;
- There had been little
room for modification by farmers as the introduced SWC designs were very
- The problem emanate from
the upstream downstream conservation aspects were not addressed.
Hence, farmers were
erecting terraces compulsorily and very carelessly, which made them to be
easily collapsible and short-lived. Especially during moments of government
change (e.g. in 1991), some of the government initiated projects dismantled,
and others were left collapsed. Official reports
of the Amhara Region show that more than 50 percent of the constructed
structures failed within two years.
With respect to the
contribution of NGO’s in managing the land, most respondents believe that it
was a very useful approach when compared to the government’s effort. NGO’s
like UNDP, EEC, Self-Help have been involved in the surveyed areas. They
were undertaking those activities mainly through food-for-work. Apart from
the environmental wellbeing, farmers were happy with the wheat or oil
provision during the 1984 and 1992 projects. Besides, the participation
approach and activities tuned to local variability were considered as an
projects were also criticized for lack of sustainability and follow-up. Some
of the NGO terraces also dismantled during government change. But this time,
most farmers regret their destructive action when they start to notice how
worse their environment has become since then.
Environmental wellbeing of the localities: optimist or pessimist?
The opinion of group
discussants in Amhara Region on the future wellbeing of local environmental
tended optimists. The predominance of steep slopes and the corresponding
long tradition of SWC practices in the region might have brought
consciousness (awareness) and develop optimistic view.
The Girar Jarso village
respondents were more pessimists and they foresee a worst environmental
predicament. The area is predominantly found in a gentle slope where erosion
has been taking place insidiously. Hence, these farmers had been unaware of
the ongoing degradation processes and therefore have very recent exposure to
SWC practices. Presently, they experience the accumulated consequences of
the past degradation processes and they are still doubtful of the SWC
merits. In terms of age group, younger respondents are more optimists. This
might probably be due to their attentiveness towards the education delivered
by DA’s and other information sources.
During the discussion,
almost all of the respondents believe that the present time is more
challenging and found in complex situation than in the past. Intensity of
land care also amplified in the recent time than before. In the previous
generation, land was relatively abundant; there was even ‘forest land’.
Older group remember that in the past ‘life was so easy and was going
with out cautious plan’. This is because population was very few;
inferior lands were left free for sheeps to browse; and surplus yield was
obtainable from small plots of land. In response to the current
environmental challenge, there is high level of land care.
Women commented that, in
old time, there were no terrace, no fertilizer, no conference, and farms
were situated at far away distances from homesteads. In the past, let alone
the degraded lands (shallower soils); even fertile lands (deeper soils) were
not cultivated exhaustively. Despite intense care of land in the present
time, there is little obtainable yield. The issue of climate change is also
raised: temperature is rising, rain is declining, and the timing of rain is
varying. Old respondents remember that there was wide scale livestock
rearing without bothering for grazing space.
importance/contribution of the currently ratified land registration and
certification, various groups have the opinion that it might encourage the
farmers’ motivation for enhanced land management. So far, in none of the
study areas the certificate is granted, and farmers are eagerly waiting for
it, while knowing that the policy enforces the proper care of land.
4.2.3 Judgment of
current land tax: homogenous or heterogeneous?
Information obtained from
the study area witness that the current land taxation system is
heterogeneous. In the Amhara Region, the system is based on “land size”
criteria. In Oromia Region, the criteria vary among different weredas,
where both “land size” and “wealth status” are used. In Dugda Bora wereda
of Ormoia, “land size” criteria is widely adopted, which resembles the
Amhara Region. On the contrary, the farmers of Girar Jarso wereda are
broadly classified into 3 categories based on their wealth status. The
categories (1st, 2nd, and 3rd) are based on
the cumulative quality of residential unit, number of pack animals,
livestock, and quality of land owned. This system had been practiced since
the 1975 Land Reform. Since then, there had been various instances of moving
up and down in the ladder of wealth, and the current status of farmers
hardly match with the money they are paying for land taxes.
Despite the unjust rating
of the current land taxation, many farmers are still ‘comfortable’ with the
statuesque than opt for readjustment in the tax system. Farmers are afraid
of inconveniences that had been impacted due to the 1997 land redistribution
in the Amhara region. This implies that there are two types of land taxation
system in the study area. When this information coupled with the land
taxation system in Tigray region, which classifies the weredas in
different taxation categories, Ethiopian land taxation system is typified by
absolute heterogeneity. The alternative land taxation parameter proposed by
old focal group is ‘land quality’ coupled with ‘land size’.
Almost all focal groups
have commented the unfairness of the existing land taxation system. At the
commencement of this study, it was hypothesized that farmers would have
affirmative response if the rate of existing land taxes are reduced or
exempted in response to their exerted effort on SWC activities. While
acknowledging the weakness of existing taxation system, their response
differed from the prior expectation. They unequivocally rejected the idea of
“tax exemption”. They rather opted for the possibility of easing the
unbearably higher contributions other than land taxes. This is because
peasants are over burdened by various request to contribution request to pay
in the form of cash and labor for the construction of schools, farmer
training center, toilet, road, SWC, etc.
All responding farmers
confirmed that paying land tax is unquestionable. The annual payment
implicitly grants a land security where their name as land owner is updated
on the government’s master document. Hence, they consider the shortcomings
of the land tax rating as a bearable amount while knowing the over- and
under-valuation which stem from lack of accurate and timely assessment of
land sizes. Because of this, there are instances where a farmer could pay
land tax for a land which might deviate up to 2 hectares than the actual
The existing land tax has
remained constant since the Derge period. The landholding has remained
unchanged since the 1997 redistribution of landholding. Compared to the
benefit they get in the form of tax exemption, they prefer to keep their
land’s security through paying even unjustifiable land taxes. Some preferred
rather a material incentive than prying on the agricultural tax. This is
because they are afraid that it would complicate their life.
4.2.4 The role of incentives and responses
Peasants in all localities
witness that there had been no incentives given to farmers who employ good
care of his/her land. They agree with the positive impact of incentives
towards motivating farmers for such purpose. Let alone a big thing, even an
incentive as small as a gift of shorts “tibiko” could make a
difference on the farmers’ moral.
Most farmers are informed
the revised land use law by government officials. When asked to comment on
the enforcing mechanisms which include land confiscation due to
mismanagement, they are ready to take good care of their land. However, they
are doubtful of the implementation of “land confiscation”, which might be
subjective to judge. Some says, such subjective measures might lead to
When farmers were proposed
with the idea of over-taxation of land to those failed to keep their lands
in accordance with the recommended management, older farmers reacted that,
“the idea, at it is new to the society, might initially upset the farmer who
failed to care his land, but through time, the practice would become
well-known through time, and the result would be very positive at the end”.
Since most farmers are hard workers, most farmers could benefit from the
advantage of tax exemptions. Some farmers of Moja-na-wodera proposed an
alternative measure, which is punishment than meddling with land taxes.
Implementation of DLT
encompasses three essential stages: 1) appraisal of lands, 2) determination
of management options, and 3) tagging land parcels with DLT. All farmers
agree with the necessity of evaluating lands for determination of compatible
land management type. An appraised land has to be recommended for land
management option. Farmers in the study villages were asked by whom the farm
land shall be evaluated. Most of them responded that a group, which is a mix
of farmers and experts, shall do the business.
Concerning the criteria for
the determination of DLT, most discussants indicated ‘land slope’ to be
considered as a key criteria. ‘Level of land degradation’ was chosen as the
next key factor. With respect to the question of “who shall decide the type
of land management to be adopted?” most respondents preferred to focus both
on the land conservation type and the determination of crop types in each
5. Conclusion and Policy Implications
There had been numerous
policies, programs, proclamations, etc to rehabilitate the degraded
environment in Ethiopia. Attempts to rationalize with those efforts have not
been successful because of the majority of the farmers do not have financial
resources required for better management techniques.
As Tegegn (1999) observed,
farmers are less willing to pay for the environmental protection in cash.
Majority of farmers gave a monetary value of ‘none’ for environmental
protection. But, of course, they are willing to contribute in terms of
labor. This implies that farmers in the first instance are poor; and even if
they are having the money, their priority is not to invest for the long term
benefit like in the case of the land protection. Therefore a policy which
aims at enforcing farmers with appropriate land taxation mechanism would
bring substantial impact on the desired expectation.
In Ethiopia there is severe
and threatening land degradation problem which is undermining the any
development endeavor of the country while contributing to the poverty trap.
Paradoxically, there are ample literatures on SWC technologies amenable to
different agro-ecological regions. However, those technologies are barely
taken up by peasants due to various limiting factors. This depicts the
uncompromising gap which needs to be filled without delay. In this respect,
DLT can make a modest contribution. DLT makes use of the available
literature, policy and land taxation to bring about sustainable land
management by promoting technology uptake through systematic incentives
Instead of spending huge
resources in the little yielding SWCs through unpopular campaigns and
financing the highly criticized f-f-w schemes, systematic dispensation of
land taxation system would bear fruit. Besides, instead of collecting taxes
based indiscriminately on sheer land size parameter, it could be possible to
systematically encourage and support the conservation-minded peasants to be
actively engaged in the SWC, while discouraging those who are mismanaging
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