"God has locked the sky" : exploring traditional farming systems in Tigray, Ethiopia

Derakhshani, Nava (2015-04)

Thesis (MPhil)--Stellenbosch University, 2015.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: The Tigray region in northern Ethiopia is a historic centre of agricultural production and home to many subsistence farmers that still use traditional farming systems and practise rain-fed agriculture. The region has been affected adversely by famines and periodic droughts for centuries and is vulnerable to climate change. Farmers are producing on small plots of often degraded land and through their own actions have depleted the natural resources they rely on, in particular soil, water and trees. This study sought to explore the environmental degradation of Tigray through both a literature review of its agricultural socio-political history and a lived experience in the village of Abraha We Atsebaha among farmers of the region. It uses a variety of methodologies and methods, including a literature review, grounded theory, narrative inquiry and ethnography, to expand on the factors that have contributed to the current degradation, the implications for traditional farming and the potential for land regeneration. The first journal article seeks to explore how Ethiopians have shaped their natural environment. In particular, it focuses on deforestation, soil degradation, the role of changing governance and land-ownership patterns, and the effects of climate change. The article demonstrates that traditional farming systems do not operate in isolation from their socio-political and environmental context. The second journal article provides an in-depth narrative inquiry conducted in Abraha We Atsebaha over a three-month period in 2014. This village is known for its indigenous farming knowledge, commitment to regeneration and innovation in conservation practices. Interviews were conducted with selected farmers and local leaders and informal discussions were carried out with government extension representatives using the ethno-ecological cosmos-corpus-praxis guidelines to enable an integrated exploration of the nature of traditional farming, the causative factors of environmental deterioration and the resultant communal response. In addition to written interview notes, observations and field notes were recorded daily. Photographs are used to give a real sense of the community and their work. It emerged during this process that underlying belief systems were exceptionally important in a context of traditional conservation. Both articles discuss the development work undertaken by government in the rural farming sector and the successes and challenges faced. They also show that elements of traditional farming, sustainability measures and environmental care were suspended in favour of short-term survival as a consequence of social, political and population stressors. This study provides learning points, gained from insights gleaned from the literature review and the lived experience, for improving development interventions in this region. This study did not explicitly explore the role of religion in conservation or the potential long-term effects of current government policies and initiatives. However, it contributes to the small pool of literature on the region focused on traditional farming systems by providing a comprehensive overview of the drivers of degradation (historical and current) and offers a unique, “soft” experiential narration of a village in northern Ethiopia that allows insight into farmer experiences, pressures and adaptation efforts.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Die Tigray-streek in die noorde van Ethiopië is ’n historiese sentrum van landbouproduksie en die tuiste van menige bestaansboer wat nog op tradisionele boerderystelsels en reënbesproeiing staatmaak. Die streek het eeue lank onder hongersnood en periodieke droogtes gebuk gegaan en is kwesbaar vir klimaatsverandering. Boere bewerk klein stukke, dikwels afgetakelde, grond en het deur hul eie optrede die natuurlike hulpbronne waarop hulle staatmaak – veral die grond, water en bome – uitgeput. Hierdie studie was daarop toegespits om ’n beter begrip te vorm van die omgewingsaftakeling in Tigray. Vir hierdie doel is ’n literatuurstudie van die sosiopolitieke landbougeskiedenis van die gebied onderneem, en is die lewe in die dorp Abraha We Atsebaha tussen boere van die streek ervaar. Die navorsing het van ’n verskeidenheid metodologieë en metodes, waaronder ’n literatuuroorsig, gegronde teorie, narratiewe ondersoek en etnografie, gebruik gemaak om lig te werp op die faktore wat tot die huidige aftakeling bygedra het, die implikasies vir tradisionele boerdery, en die potensiaal vir grondvernuwing. Die eerste tydskrifartikel verken hoe Ethiopiërs hul natuurlike omgewing gevorm het. Dit konsentreer veral op ontbossing, grondaftakeling, die rol van veranderende staatsbestuurs- en grondbesitpatrone, en die uitwerking van klimaatsverandering. Die artikel toon dat tradisionele boerderystelsels nie afsonderlik van hul sosiopolitieke en omgewingskonteks funksioneer nie. Die tweede tydskrifartikel beskryf ’n narratiewe diepte-ondersoek wat oor ’n drie maande lange tydperk in 2014 in Abraha We Atsebaha onderneem is. Hierdie dorp is bekend vir sy inheemse landboukennis, toewyding aan vernuwing, en innoverende bewaringspraktyke. Onderhoude is met ’n uitgesoekte groep boere en plaaslike leiers gevoer, en voorligtingsbeamptes van die staat is by informele gesprekke betrek. Die etno-ekologiese cosmos-corpus-praxis-riglyne is gebruik om ’n geïntegreerde studie te onderneem van die aard van tradisionele boerdery, die oorsaaklike faktore van omgewingsaftakeling, en die gevolglike gemeenskapsreaksie. Benewens skriftelike aantekeninge gedurende die onderhoude, is waarnemings en veldnotas ook daagliks opgeteken. Foto’s word gebruik om die gemeenskap en hul werk getrou uit te beeld. Gedurende hierdie proses het aan die lig gekom dat onderliggende oortuigingstelsels besonder belangrik is in ’n tradisionele bewaringskonteks. Albei artikels bespreek die ontwikkelingswerk wat die regering in die landelike boerderysektor onderneem, sowel as die suksesse en uitdagings daarvan. Dit toon ook dat elemente van tradisionele boerdery, volhoubaarheidsmaatreëls en omgewingsorg as gevolg van maatskaplike, politieke en bevolkingsfaktore laat vaar is ten gunste van korttermynoorlewing. Die insigte wat uit die literatuuroorsig sowel as die lewenservaring in die bestudeerde gemeenskap spruit, bied lesse vir die verbetering van ontwikkelingsintervensies in die streek. Die studie het nie uitdruklik die rol van godsdiens in bewaring of die potensiële langtermynuitwerking van huidige staatsbeleide en -inisiatiewe ondersoek nie. Tog dra dit by tot die klein hoeveelheid beskikbare literatuur oor tradisionele boerderystelsels in die streek deur ’n omvattende oorsig te bied van die (historiese en huidige) snellers van aftakeling, en vertel dit ’n unieke, ‘sagte’ ervaringsverhaal oor ’n dorp in die noorde van Ethiopië om sodoende insig in landbou-ervarings, -druk en -aanpassingspogings te bied.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/97123
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