Academic journal article Geography

Local Responses to Marginalisation: Human-Wildlife Conflict in Ethiopia's Wetlands

Academic journal article Geography

Local Responses to Marginalisation: Human-Wildlife Conflict in Ethiopia's Wetlands

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT:

In western Ethiopia, population pressure, upland land degradation and recurrent food shortages have forced many local communities to extend their agricultural activities into marginal areas such as wetlands. This move into wetland agriculture, however, has brought humans and wild animals into closer proximity and crop raiding has emerged as a serious threat to food security. Drawing upon qualitative field research undertaken with wetland farmers in the area, this article explores the nature of this conflict through the lens of the marginalisation of humans and wild animals in the contested space. The results suggest that the escalation of crop-raiding can be attributed to the interaction of various environmental, social and political factors including conservation legislation, land use change, and the erosion of local institutional arrangements governing wetland management. The development of local-level adaptation and mitigation strategies that build on local knowledge are offered as potentially sustainable solutions to current problems.

Introduction

Achieving food security through subsistence agriculture is the perennial goal of the majority of the population of Ethiopia, a country ranked 169 out of 177 in the 2007 Human Development Report (UNDP, 2007). With an estimated population of 74 million and an annual growth rate of 2.3%, population pressure and access to good quality agricultural land are serious issues influencing livelihood security and development throughout the country. Notably in the northern highlands of Tigray and Amhara regions, a combination of population pressure, recurring drought and the agricultural use of steep-sided valleys have resulted in high rates of soil erosion and land degradation (Hurni, 1988; Girma Tadesse, 2001), and food security issues (Webb and von Braun, 1994; Devereux, 2000). However, even in those areas of the country which receive more rainfall, and where conditions for agriculture are more favourable, food security problems are becoming more common. In Oromiya region, climatic variability, insecurity over land tenure, and land degradation, are having an impact on crop production and leading to acute food shortages (Dechassa Lemessa, 1999; Jabbar et al., 2000). One significant local response to this has been the cultivation of wetlands and the establishment of community institutional arrangements for co-ordinating their intensive use.

The lure of wetlands for many poor people in developing countries lies in their fertile, productive soils, the availability of water during dry periods of the year, and the potential to develop a livelihood beyond the subsistence level. While wetland use is an economically attractive strategy for many, the reasons for the agricultural marginality of these areas often become depressingly clear to those involved; the ongoing co-ordination of drainage, cultivation and the management of the water table require huge inputs of labour, time and technology. Moreover, these often inhospitable environments may harbour diseases, such as malaria or trypanosomiasis, or large predators and wild animal pests. They may also be protected by law, on account of their 'naturalness' and rich or endangered biodiversity. Consequently, the encroachment of agriculture into wetlands places people in direct conflict with wildlife, not simply in terms of proximity and the day-to-day interactions this creates, but also at the policy level, where, for example, agricultural initiatives and livelihood development strategies may be incompatible with nature conservation policies. Over the last 30 years a wealth of environmental literature has drawn attention to the negative impacts of agricultural encroachment into marginal areas in the developing world, and its associated effects on environmental sustainabiiity and biodiversity. However, little research has been directed at the negative consequences of this trend on the human inhabitants, particularly the dynamics of conflict between humans and wildlife, the relative marginalisation of both groups within these areas, and the subsequent implications for human livelihood strategies. …

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