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Community / Land projects / Building Resilience in Ethiopia's Awassa region to Drought (BREAD)

Building Resilience in Ethiopia's Awassa region to Drought (BREAD)


04/16 - 06/18


This project is part of


Droughts in Sub-Saharan Africa have been exacerbated by the current El Niño event, resulting in well publicised risks of famine in the worst affected regions and food shortages elsewhere. This project will combine data collected in the Awassa region of Ethiopia before, during and after the current El Niño to quantify the impacts to locally produced food and farmer livelihoods. Our primary aim will be to assess biophysical interventions that promoted resilient food production during this El Niño event, with a strong social sciences input so that societal acceptance and impacts of beneficial interventions can be assessed. We have assembled a UK-Ethiopia project team with long-standing expertise working in the region. It involves experts in all aspects of natural, economic and social sciences. We will test two over-arching hypotheses: (1) the short term extreme drought associated with the current El Niño will have a long term impact on communities, their farming systems and their soils; and (2) resilience to this drought can only be built through interventions that consider both biophysical and socio-economic factors. A major intervention that we will explore is sustainable soil management through organic residue incorporation, taking into account resource conflicts with animal feed and household fuel use that worsen during times of extreme drought. We explore the knock-on impacts of land management to the availability of green water (stored in soil) and blue water (abstracted from ground and surface water sources). Further data on soil fertility will be measured across a range of 36 case-study farms located within two districts that are different distances from water supplies. The project will allow for crop and soil data collected for two years before the current El Niño to be supplemented with continued measurements of post-drought resilience. Previous data were collected in the ESPA funded project 'Alternative Carbon Investments in Ecosystems for Poverty Alleviation'. Modelling of crop and soil responses will allow us to upscale the impacts of land management interventions. Our outputs will be translated into outcomes through engagement with farmers, local and regional government and other stakeholders, both throughout the research and once the research is complete. As recently as December 2015, we met directly with these stakeholders, using well-established networks developed by our Ethiopian partners. Awassa is not the region in Sub-Saharan Africa that is worst affected by El Niño, but we argue that its relatively high population density, supported by food availability during good growing seasons, makes it particularly important. Moreover, land in the worst affected regions is so infertile that interventions may have limited impact, whereas in Awassa and similar more fertile regions of Ethiopia, interventions could promote greater agricultural productivity to supply national food demands during extreme events. We have already observed that Awassa houeholds spend more time collecting water and have been able to collect less due to pump breakdowns as groundwater levels get deeper during this drought. Yields have plummeted, affecting the earnings of subsistence farmer. Interviews conducted in December 2015 showed that farmers attempt to cope with the situation through short term strategies such as selling off livestock which will have long term consequences for the farming system in the area. The outcomes of this research will contribute towards increasing awareness of the impacts of drought in the region, and improving resilience of farming systems to drought. This will help farmers to employ better coping strategies for drought and to cope for longer, requiring less interventions and avoiding catastrophic harvest failures. In the long term, this will contribute towards better food security and nutrition, improved resilience and reduced risks associated with extreme droughts from future El Niño events.


The Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) supports cutting-edge research to address challenges faced by developing countries. The fund addresses the UN sustainable development goals. It aims to maximise the impact of research and innovation to improve lives and opportunity in the developing world.

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