The wetland ecosystem in the Central Rift Valley is the largest fresh water ecosystem of Ethiopia with considerable economic, ecological and social significance. It is a biodiversity hotspot for flora and fauna, containing a diversity of water plants and water birds, which breed primarily in the ecosystem. The islands in Lake Ziway are unique for their historical and cultural heritage. Lake Ziway is the only freshwater lake in the area, used for drinking water, small scale commercial fishing, and small- and large-scale agricultural irrigation.

Large variations in water level due to irrigation is resulting in salt water intrusion of the lakes,  thus heavily impacting the supply of fresh water. This will cause competition between water users, which, compounded with deforestation, will create a threat to the complex and vulnerable ecosystem of the Central Rift Valley.

Economic Rationale

The Central Rift Valley is a sourcing area for floriculture, horticulture and viticulture, as well as a major source of drinking water. The horticultural sector comprises a mix of smallholder growers and commercial fruit and vegetable producers. Large smallholder mixed-farming produces wheat, maize, barley and teff, with predominant livestock of cattle, sheep and goat. Irrigation schemes are expanding and plans to develop aquaculture are in the making.

The Central Rift Valley provides economic opportunities to local small scale farmers and large exporters. To be able to maintain and increase production in a sustainable way, issues of water pollution, unbalanced water use and deforestation need to be mitigated.

There is a recognized need to foster land and water management at a landscape level that offers feasible technical solutions to both smallholder and commercial farmers, while strengthening the social-institutional environment required to catalyze change.

Key Challenges

  • Competing claims on water and land:
    Cause different sustainability issues and are severely compromising the unique biodiversity in the area.
  • Water quantity decrease:
    A drought cycle and large variations in water availability due to increased irrigation and reduced water buffering capacity.
  • Water quality deterioration:
    Reduced outflow and reduced ‘flushing’ of Lake Ziway means the water body is now under risk of becoming saline; Threatening supply of drinking water and irrigation water quality.
  • Deforestation:
    Due to a rapid population growth and insufficient land fertility management, conversion of woodland and wetland into agricultural land is increasing. The production of charcoal and construction wood is an important source of income for the local poor. High livestock pressure results in overgrazed rangelands.

Progress to Date

Since early 2015, ISLA Ethiopia has been convening, facilitating dialogues, and planning co-funding of worthwhile initiatives with key stakeholders. We have brought together the Rift Valley Lakes Basin Authority from government, key private sector actors including Sher Ethiopia Plc, Castel Winery Plc, Verde Beef, Al Foz plc, consultancy agencies including the Horn of Africa Regional Environment Center & Network, Meta Meta and Acacia Water, as well as Meki Batu Farmers union tha represents more than 7000 smallholder farmers.

Based on studies and bilateral consultations with these stakeholder, we have identified pilot joint activities fostering sustainable land and water management.

We completed feasibility studies for drip irrigation and global GAP certification among smallholder farmers. A joint action on reforestation has started with a key private sector partner, while two other proposals on watershed management and capacity building for smallholders are in preparation.

The selected pilot activities are expected to be implemented as of early 2016 to pave the way for more investments and initiatives in the landscape, which will be spear-headed by stakeholders themselves as ISLA assumes a facilitation role.

Mahlet Shebabaw

Country Coordinator, Ethiopia

phone+251 9112 3435 8

e-mailemail me

Jordy van Honk

Program Director Landscapes Africa, Tea

phone+31 (0) 6 1481 1328

e-mailemail me

Manizha Kodirova

Communication Officer, Landscapes

phone+31 (0) 30 230 5660

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