|Seeing is believing – and 18 months after a group of local herdsmen and landowners first met with Self Help Africa advisers in the Samaro area of Ethiopia’s Sodo District, they are witnessing the benefits of careful conservation.|
There were too many animals – cattle, goats, sheep and donkeys grazing the lower slopes of the Great Rift Valley which was their home – and steadily the vegetation – both trees and other plant life, had disappeared.
As a consequence much of the land which had previously provided pasture had become a barren moonscape – the fragile soil upon which all grass had been grazed away became a parched dry dustbowl in high winds, and a brown and muddy torrent during heavy seasonal rains.
Some sheltered parts of the slopes still retained soil – sometimes jutting two and even three metres above the rest of the rock strewn landscape. This in itself was a chilling indicator of the pace of change, and the extent to which unprotected soils could be stripped by the elements from the hillsides.
In other areas nearby the rains have carved great gulleys and ravines out of the landscape, as the water literally cut through the land, as it found its quickest route down the mountain to the valley floor.
A short distance from the Samora ‘moonscape’ the local community, in conjunction with Self Help’s advisers, agreed two years ago to establish a local area enclosure, in a bid to regenerate an area had been a victim of this environmental transformation.
Local community representatives established a monitoring committee, and approved a plan and series of local by-laws which had the effect of preventing future grazing in the enclosure area by farm animals.
Self Help Africa provided training, instruction and the necessary seedlings, and over a period of months the local community set about a process of replanting the enclosed area with native plants and shrubs, together with a range of nitrogen fixing introduced variety species designed to aid the regeneration of the area.
Various species of grasses, including vetiver, whose roots run to as much as five metres, were planted throughout the site, and along with introduced sand bags and small stone wall structures had the effect of slowing rainfall run off – and ensuring that much of the water now soaked down, rather than merely ran off the surface of the bare earth.
Eighteen months later and the real signs of regeneration are clear to see at Samora. A local conservation committee of land users has begun a rota of limited grazing of the enclosure area, while the site is also being used to propagate seedlings and grasses which in time can be transplanted to other degraded areas, and new enclosures.
Self Help Africa recognise that the problems of soil degradation and desertification being faced by rural communities in Africa will not be remedied by conservation and replanting measures alone - but it is rather through an integrated programme of activities that real and lasting change can be brought about.