Sustainable land management practices in Serejeka curbs soil erosion, increases land productivity

Eucalyptus trees in Serejeka Sub-Zoba
Eucalyptus trees in Serejeka Sub-Zoba Photo: © UNDP Eritrea/Mwaniki

On the outskirts of Asmara in Eritrea, lies Serejeka sub-zoba (sub-region) which has 28 villages with about 11, 000 households. It is a vast ecosystem that was previously bare but is currently a bedrock of productivity. Severe land degradation caused by both natural and man-made practices such as overgrazing and deforestation had robbed the ecosystem of its ability to sustain itself and its inhabitants. Livestock roamed the hills and plains in search of pastures while the people desperately searched for wood to use in their households.

Since majority of the people depend on agriculture, population growth had contributed to unsustainable farming practices such as cultivation of marginal lands with steep slopes and shallow, easily eroded soils. This was compounded by insecurity of land tenure, since farmers were not committing to take care of the land and only to move to another piece of land after 5 or 7 years.

 

Sustainable Land Management Pilot Project

  • Serejeka sub-region is in Maekel Region of Eritrea and has 28 villages, consisting of about 11, 000 households.
  • Population growth had contributed to unsustainable farming practices such as cultivation of marginal lands with steep slopes and shallow, easily eroded soils.
  • Currently the Government is promoting security of tenure by allocating long-term use (usufruct) to farming lands.
  • The Government has decided to scale-up the project in the central highland zone that has similar land tenure issues.

With the support of UNDP and the GEF, the Government of Eritrea initiated a pilot project to reclaim land productivity and enhance environmental protection while at the same time boosting agriculture and promoting forestry. The Sustainable Land Management (SLM) pilot project was started in 2009. The SLM work started in 5 villages with the aim of scaling up the project to the remaining villages. The initial phase focused on creating awareness on environmental issues and the SLM concept.

“At first we mobilized all the stakeholders; farmers, ministries of agriculture, land, water and environment and the administrators.” Said Dawit Mebrahtu, SLM project site manager. The project team visited the villages and had meetings with the stakeholders and conducted trainings on SLM aspects. They set committees at the villages and ensured that the community felt that they owned the project. “The farmers had already seen some of the changes, for example, the bees had since deserted the hives since there were no trees and they could no longer harvest honey. They understood that if they adopted the new practices, it would improve the quality of their lives.” He added.

In 2010, afforestation began. They segmented the land into farming land, grazing land and forested land. The forested lands and grazing lands are communal. The committees have ensured that the communal lands are used appropriately. For example, the community members are not allowed to graze in the forested lands, but they are allowed to cut the grass for their animals. That way, there is less pressure on the ecosystem and it’s able to revive itself. 

Currently, most of the hills that were bare have been forested. The community has planted acacia, eucalyptus, bottle brush and olive trees. They cut grass to feed their cattle during the dry season and the bees have come back to the ecosystem. Wild animals such as antelopes have also come back to the forested lands. Farmers, especially women are given apple and avocado trees to plant on their farms.
 

Shimanegus dam in Serejeka

As part of its contribution, the Government of Eritrea build Shimanegus dam. Farmers use the water for irrigation. They grow vegetables such as tomatoes, spinach, kale, potatoes, carrots, etc. and sell to the market, thus providing a reliable income for their families.

One of the most significant aspects of this project is land distribution. Under the traditional land tenure system, farmland was redistributed every seven years, this discouraged farmers from undertaking activities that could boost land productivity. Currently the Government is promoting security of tenure by allocating long-term use (usufruct) to farming lands.  According to Iyob Fesseha, a chief at Guritat village, people are now making more long term investments on the land, they have constructed terraces, built check dams and planted trees. Consequently, there is reduced soil erosion, increased fertility, improved water retention capacity, which will lead to increased productivity and production. “The crops are still in the fields and it looks promising, we look forward to a good harvest.” He added.

Another interesting pilot activity undertaken is on use of marginal lands that are not suitable for farming or grazing. The unproductive terrain has been allocated to farmers in each village for long term use as individual forest land. This measure, allows each farmer to own a small plot, plant tree species of their choice, harvest and sell products leading to increased personal income.

Abrehet Ghirmay is 43 and a mother of 5. She is a committee member of the land distribution initiative. She said that she had benefitted from the SLM project because previously the she had been allocated 5 different pieces of land and it was time consuming to attend to each one of them since they were far apart. “I can proudly say that I have a piece of land that I can use for life and inherit to my offspring for the first time in my life. This year, am looking forward to a bountiful harvest of wheat and barley. I am confident that I can improve the productivity of my land and it will be a source of livelihood not just for me but my children too.” She said. Abrehet has managed to plant around 35 trees for commercial use and she plans to harvest in 2016. There is ready market for timber and wood. In fact, the electricity company in Eritrea buys poles from the farmers.

So far the initiatives have been successful and the Government has decided to scale-up the project in the Central highland zone that has similar land tenure issues. Although people did not understand the concept of SLM at the beginning and were sceptical about some of its aspects like dividing land for different uses, they have since come to appreciate it. Some farmers preferred free range grazing and were of the opinion that dividing the land will deprive their livestock of feeds.  “Now that we have been successful in Serejeka Sub-Zoba, the government is keen to replicate these initiatives in other parts of the country.” said Abraham Daniel, SLM Project Co-ordinator.
 

Farmers attending a SLM project meeting in Guritat Village

Farmers attending a SLM project meeting in Guritat Village.