“Tana Beles project has been most beneficial for all of us,”, Mr Getenet says determinedly. Mr Getenet is the chair of Wowa Mageram village watershed management committee in Debre Tabor, Ethiopia. His fellow villagers concur:
“Our wheat yields have doubled in few years, and even teff and barley yields have increased. We use the same amount of fertilizers as in the past, but harvest much more than previously as the soil has become more fertile,” they say.
Mr Getenet sees the positive development arise from interventions that Tana Beles watershed project introduced. In the past, the valuable top-soil was year after year washed away by heavy rains flooding down the hills. Now the plots are surrounded by stone and soil bunds that protect the fields from erosion. He also points out that the land is now less steep after the terracing has leveled out the field. The soil texture has improved due to natural compost, is now lighter to plough and has improved water retention capacity.
Another advantage to villagers comes from the vegetative protection: the bunds are planted with leguminous species of bush, Tree Lucerne (Chamaecytisus proliferus) that provide very palatable forage rich in protein.
After we started the cut-and-carry practice introduced by Tana Beles, our cows now give 2-3 liters of milk per day compared to 1 liter that we used to get in the past.
Our work proven fruitful
These testimonies are very encouraging to Ms Mikaela Kruskopf from NIRAS, who worked in the Tana Beles project (TBWME) in 2009-2013 and is now visiting the project sites 3.5 years later.
“It is very delightful that when visiting the sites unannounced, all farmers came and told us about the benefits of the project. There seems to be consensus that the project has benefitted all community members, including poor and rich, young and old, workers and unemployed, as well as disabled people,” Ms Kruskopf says.
From free grazing to cut-and-carry
The Tana Beles watershed management project is led from the Agriculture Bureau of Amhara in Bahar Dar. Long-term Project Coordinator, Ato Mitiku Kebede, is pleased to report the good results of the project.
“Perhaps the most dramatic change is the change from free grazing to the cut-and-carry practice. The Project convinced the communities to move away from free grazing, which has been practiced in Ethiopia for thousands of years. With increasing numbers of cattle, this practice has been especially detrimental to the land, and caused severe erosion of communal grazing lands, aggravating also the erosion of agricultural lands further downstream. The project helped the communities to close the communal grazing lands from all cattle, and the land was treated through gully-plugging, seed broadcasting and planting of forage species suitable for forage and soil stabilization,” Ato Mitiku describes and continues:
“Within a year, the natural seed-bank in the soil has regenerated the grassland, and further improvements through gully plugging and re-seeding with palatable species further helped to restore the pasture land to former glory. The grass is cut once a year after the rainy season, and the harvest is shared equally between all households in the community, irrespective of whether they own cattle or not. This helps poorer, landless and younger people to also benefit equally, and has led to that the entire community is fully committed to continue with the communal land protection and the cut-and-carry practice.”
A regional role model
The project’s focal person, Ms Eleni Tesfay, is still working in the Farta Woreda Agriculture Office. She explains that the project has become a regional model site in Ethiopia, and is used as a reference area for other watershed management practitioners. This is the case especially for communal pastureland-closure and moving to cut-and-curry practice, integrated watershed management practices such as employing various types of terraces, gully plugging and vegetative protection, as well as re-forestation of treated lands.
Ms Kruskopf tells that likewise, when visiting Regional Bureaus and Institutions, the staff has appreciated the results of the project, and most importantly, project activities are still being continued, now funded by the Government of Ethiopia.
The NIRAS TA team, including Professor Veli Pohjonen, Mr Lakew Desta, Mr Gete Asfaw, Mr Samson Hailemariam and Ms Kruskopf, was during the project time responsible for the Monitoring and Evaluation activities. The M&E system was divided between the BoA and the Tana Sub-Basin Office, which is the Basin Authority for the upper watersheds of the Blue Nile Basin, covering the Tana Lake watersheds. These activities have been continued and even up-scaled through the WB project supporting the entire TBIWRDP, as well as through Government financing. This tells a tale of achieved sustainability, often the most challenging aspect of development cooperation projects.