Land degradation is a major problem in Ethiopia. It results in low agricultural yields as well as food insecurity and poverty among the rural population. Inspired by the IASS Global Soil Week, the first Ethiopian Soil Week in Addis Ababa last week focussed on the issue of soil protection in Ethiopia and other parts of the world. From 16 to 19 November around 100 scientists, politicians and representatives of development and civil society organisations discussed different aspects of sustainable land use. Central topics included composting and nutrient management as well as the identification of knowledge gaps, for example in the case of soil quality mapping and fertiliser recommendations. The IASS Global Soil Forum was an official partner of and active participant in the Ethiopian Soil Week.


Look, feel and taste! Even the Global Soil Week could not trump this representation of soils for its sheer appeal. The Earthcake baked by German baker Münch was not the first, but by far the tastiest highlight of the opening of the Ethiopian Soil Week in Addis Ababa last Monday. © IASS

Small Farmers Should be More Involved in the Politics of Sustainable Land Management

At the opening of the event, Anne Flohr, coordinator of the accompanying research project on Soil Protection and Rehabilitation for Food Security at the IASS, stressed that protecting soils and ensuring sustainable land use and security of tenure would help to achieve several of the sustainable development goals (SDGs). “Despite the large number of goals in the 2030 Agenda, this should motivate people to champion soils and focus on opportunities for synergies rather than the challenges posed by potential trade-offs,” she said. Tewolde Ezigzabher, former director general of the Ethiopian Environmental Protection Authority, reported that Ethiopia was endeavouring to reverse land degradation in order to protect livelihoods based on food production, support climate change adaptation and contribute to climate protection. He pointed out that small farmers were playing a pivotal role here: “The system of self-governance favoured by local communities for the management of local resources has contributed significantly to releasing creative energy for sustainable land management!”

Ethiopia is currently affected by a severe drought induced by the weather phenomenon El Niño. In the country on the Horn of Africa, around 82 per cent of the population live in rural areas and the vast majority is engaged in both tillage and livestock farming. Small farmers produce 94 per cent of Ethiopia’s food crops and 98 per cent of its coffee. The participants all agreed that they are the country’s most important ‘resource’ for sustainable land management and need to be more involved. Their knowledge must be better integrated in processes towards the development of sustainable land management measures that often take place at a far spatial and political remove.

Circular economy and stronger role for women proposed as solutions

This topic was also addressed in a session organised by the IASS. With a view to implementing the SDGs in Ethiopia, especially with regard to land management and food security, participants discussed the role of women in land management, but also the need to learn from completed projects such as Millennium Villages – 12 groups of villages with around 80 villages in Africa, where the UN’s Millennium Goals were implemented in an exemplary way. The necessity of making the agricultural sector and especially small farmers more resistant to changing climatic conditions was also emphasised.

In between the workshops, participants went on various excursions. For example, they visited farms where a circular economy operates: thanks to diversified production in tillage and livestock farming and the production of biogas and compost from organic waste matter and slurry, production cycles on these farms are kept closed. The farmers here have replaced most chemical fertilisers with organic ones. They use the biogas they produce themselves mainly for cooking, but also for processing milk.

In the concluding discussion, several participants expressed the view that the exchange of ideas with small farmers should be intensified in order to link research and policy debates more to farming practice. To this end, it would be wise to establish an Ethiopian Soil Forum – like the IASS Global Soil Forum – where representatives of science, government, local authorities and farmers would come together to discuss needs and solutions.

The Global Soil Week is a multi-stakeholder platform and process for transformative change towards more sustainable soil management and more responsible land governance in our world. It brings together experts, scientists and policymakers who play an active role in environmental and developmental issues, as well as representatives from local and regional organisations who report on developments on the ground. Through collaboration with a range of internationally prominent partner organisations and an open call for contributions, the Global Soil Week encourages the active participation of a wide array of participants with diverse perspectives. The unique format bridges different stakeholder communities and translates into engaging sessions with an international perspective.