Agriculture is a vital part of the economy in Ethiopia and an important source of income for many small-scale farmers. Land degradation in the highlands is a major problem for farmers as it reduces agricultural productivity and growth. Soil erosion depletes arable land and leads to the sedimentation of dams, threatening water security for household use and livelihoods.
Sustainable land management has gained attention as a tool to support agricultural productivity, and avoid the negative economic and livelihood impacts of land degradation and erosion. In Ethiopia, the government has adopted the approach with an aim to protect vulnerable environmental systems and stabilise the income and livelihoods of the poor.
The activities of sustainable land management, such as terracing and planting approaches, encourage water to infiltrate into the soil. This helps recharge groundwater and increase water availability from streams and wells during the dry season, which will provide greater water security for household water use and for agricultural water use.
This observatory will investigate the role of sustainable land management activities in securing water for livelihoods and household use. In 2012, the Water and Land Resource Centre established six ‘Learning Watersheds’ in the highlands of central and north-western Ethiopia in order to pilot sustainable land management. This work has included promotion of small-scale irrigation activities. These established research sites offer an opportunity to study the complex relationship between poverty and water security in fragile ecosystems.
We will explore how changes in water security benefit women, men, girls and boys. Understanding how gender influences access to water will help develop initiatives to enhance women’s access to and control over water in Ethiopia.
The research will help inform national programmes on sustainable land management, water supply, and small-scale irrigation, ensuring that groundwater is used sustainably at the watershed scale.
Making small-scale irrigation work for women, January 2019
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Mersha, B.D., Zeleke, G., Alamirew, T., Dejen, Z.A., & Gebrehiwot, S.G. (2022). Soil moisture spatio-temporal variability under treated and untreated catchment conditions in a fragile tropical highland environment: implication for water security. Arabian Journal of Geosciences, 15:696
Mersha, B.D., Zeleke, G., Alamirew, T., Dejen, Z.A., & Gebrehiwot, S.G. (2022). Assessing the effect of sustainable land management on improving water security in the Blue Nile Highlands: a paired catchment approach Environmental Monitoring and Assessment 194:197
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REACH (2015) Country Diagnostic Report, Ethiopia. REACH Working Paper 2, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
IRC: Dr John Butterworth
International Food Policy Research Institute: Dr Ruth Meinzen-Dick, Dr Claudia Ringler
University of KwaZulu-Natal: Dr Seifu Kebede
University of Oxford: Dr Katrina Charles
Water and Land Resource Centre: Dr Solomon Gebrehiwot, Berihun Mersha, Dr Gete Zeleke
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