Field and river

20th International Conference of Ethiopian Studies (ICES20)
Mekelle University, Ethiopia

"Regional and Global Ethiopia - Interconnections and Identities"
1-5 October, 2018

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Shauna LaTOSKY, Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology (Halle/Saale)
OLISARALI Olibui, Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology (Halle/Saale)

Studies of the sweeping changes affecting the lives of agro-pastoralists and pastoralists in East Africa focus overwhelmingly on ‘improving’ or ‘diversifying’ livelihood strategies and their outcomes. Within the context of Southern Ethiopia, livelihood diversification is equated overwhelmingly with improving agronomic practices through irrigation schemes. Both large-scale and small-scale irrigation schemes are intended to boost the national economy and meet local demands for food, scarce water supplies and, in the case of agro-pastoralists, to improve their unpredictable access to both. The Ethiopian government’s ambitious plan to increase the productivity and predictability of the agro-pastoralist diet through modern cultivation techniques has great potential for setting a global example, especially if long-term studies are considered as part of its plan. Longitudinal studies from neighbouring Kenya, for instance, already provide ample evidence of the importance of supplementing, rather than radically altering or replacing the agro-pastoralist diet through irrigation cultivation (e.g., McCabe 2003; Homewood et al. 2005; Fratkin and Roth 2005). This paper proposes a long-term study that adopts qualitative and quantitative methods similar to those used by Fratkin and Roth, McCabe, Homewood, Galaty and others, whose findings offer invaluable insights for any study of livelihood diversification in South Omo. The systematic and timely study proposed here would compare the pastoralist diet of the Mun in four settlement areas in Sala-Mago woreda, before and after their transition to irrigation cultivation. For the purpose of this paper, we begin with a baseline study of the nutritional and social value of the Mun diet. We then discuss the overall proposed project, study area, methods and timeline. While many Mun are interested in the benefits of irrigation strategies as a way to improve their access to food, while maintaining their rich diets obtained through livestock herding, foraging wild foods and food exchange systems, the Makki community is especially optimistic about the benefits of irrigation. Here elders have played an important role in negotiating and consenting to the government-funded irrigation project in their area. We begin in Makki, as we are interested in what drives their optimism for change and how they envision a healthy - and socially balanced - diet now and in the future.