Last month, a group of researchers from Ethiopia and Vietnam, and UK took part in a local knowledge training funded by the Early-win AfricaRISING project led by the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF). Participants were trained on how to use the Agroecological Knowledge Toolkit (AKT5) software and methodology for integration into their own university research programmes.
The training took place between 11 and 22 June 2012 at Mekelle University and at the field site of Abreha We Atsbeha in a semi-arid area of the Tigray Region, northern Ethiopia. It was run by Genevieve Lamond, a Research Project Support Officer at Bangor University.
The focus was on tree-crop-livestock interactions on farms within the field site, to assess drivers influencing incorporation of trees on farms and constraints and opportunities for increasing tree cover through agroforestry interventions. The region is prone to heavy soil erosion and the research site was a very interesting one, with many conservation works having been implemented by the community over the last 10 years using physical structures such as stone bunds and check dams to combat flooding and soil erosion. These structures, combined with measures such as livestock exclusion areas, have helped the land to regenerate. One of the many significant contributions farmers have made to the regeneration process is by adopting sustainable farming practices such as using the cut and carry method for livestock feed. This practice has helped reduce the impact livestock usually have on young tree leaves and branches.
“The farmers we interviewed were able to tell us about the main drivers of land cover change over the past 50 years, suitable fodder species for different livestock and their seasonal availability, tree species on their farms and their utilities, and where these trees were positioned on their farms and the reasons underlying this,” said Genevieve.
“A new concept many of us hadn't heard of before was the renting of trees for fodder. For example, a farmer may have 10 Faidherbia albida trees while another farmer has none, so the second farmer can rent some trees from the other farmer to harvest from.”
Faidherbia albida is one of the most common trees in the region and farmers are often happy to share their local knowledge about the importance of its pods for livestock and its leaves for soil replenishment, as well as the way it doesn't compete with their cereal crops because of its reverse phenology—a feature that sees the tree lose leaves when crops are flowering and maturing, making it possible for crops to receive sunlight.
On the last day of the training course, the students were required to share some of their key findings with the farmers they had interviewed over the two-week period. According to Genevieve, this was important because it allowed farmers to verify what had been gathered during the interviews. Secondly, it also encouraged dialogue between them and scientists.
“Too often researchers extract information from communities and do not provide feedback about the results or what will happen next with that information,” Genevieve continued. “One of our ICRAF fellows/Bangor MSc student, Emelda Miyanda Hachoofwe, is now continuing her fieldwork in this research site [Abreha We Atsbeha] and another site in the region for comparison.”