By Joern Fischer
My last blog post spoke of a number of planned activities to distribute our research findings to date in Ethiopia. Let’s start today … with the last of all events during that trip, a mini-conference with government and non-government stakeholders from the zonal, regional and federal levels.
We had about 50 participants, who we engaged through numerous talks, discussions and in breakout groups. We covered topics of biodiversity conservation, ecosystem services and disservices, human livelihoods, gender and equity, governance, and future scenarios – all based on our original research over the last few years (see our project website).
Together, our findings tell a story of a rapidly changing landscape. The biggest challenges for local people relate to land scarcity (owing to population growth), crop raiding by wild animals (especially baboons; see here) and unhelpful policies around fertilizer use. We learned that especially the poor depend on the integration of conservation and production activities (this paper), and that the forest and also trees in farmland are used widely, in many different ways. We learned that gender equity had improved, but that there was still a long way to go (this paper); and we learned that there is a systematic communication gap between some stakeholders engaged in food security and biodiversity conservation (this paper).
Our small conference went well, and our findings were well received. What was particular interesting was the last session – on the future of southwestern Ethiopia. In this session, we presented multiple scenarios of what the future may bring – depicted in the bilingual book we just published, and distributed at the conference. Here, we were dealing with a mix of attendees, but most of them represented various government bodies.
And … essentially universally, they reasoned the best way forward was a scenario based on diversification of land uses and livelihoods; including strict protection of some forest patches, and modern organic practices throughout the rest of the landscape. This observation is interesting, because it is not reflected in what we heard from stakeholders on the ground … they, too, largely have this preference, but they speak of government policies that push intensification and commercialization, rather than diversification.
So it looks like to me like the people involved in various agencies are further than their policies – when asked as individual experts, their vision for a sustainable future is diversification-based. When we look at what is actually encouraged through policies, however, it’s less clear that diversification takes centre stage – rather, it seems we hear a lot of talk about various new varieties and fertilizers, and surplus production, and trade-offs between conservation and intensification.
This conversation won’t get resolved overnight, but it was interesting to share our findings, and stimulate discussion – including about what is the right direction for southwestern Ethiopia. Our attendants at least, seemed to largely agree with us – we need a systems perspective, bringing together livelihoods and conservation, and likely need diversified livelihoods and solutions.
Our presentations from the mini-conference – a total of 200-300 slides or so – are available on our project website within a few days of this blog post being published; as is the book summarizing the scenarios. Through time, other materials from this last field trip will also be there.