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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TEFERI Abate Adem, Yale University

Rural communities have a range of community-level mechanisms and cultural institutions that help them deal with, to varying degree of effectiveness, environmental shocks such as prolonged droughts, untimely rains, violent floods and outbreak of animal disease and crop pests. With accelerating climate change, which is predicted to increase in the frequency and severity of these shocks, there is a growing concern that the effectiveness of local institutions can be greatly diminished. However, we lack systematic knowledge to understand how the resilience capacities of local institutions are shaped and reshaped over time by environmental and political forces. I address this question by comparing changing roles of Qire, an all-inclusive residence-based association, in two rural villages in south Wollo. While sharing a broadly similar vulnerability context, the villages vary in degree of food self-sufficiency mainly due to location at contrasting agro-ecological zones. The first is a “dega” where cultivation is constrained by erratic rains which tend to be spotty and unreliable in the spring (“belg.”) and extremely heavy and cold in the summer (“kirmet”). The second is a moderately hot lowland (“kola”) endowed with, although prone to moisture-stressed, fertile soils and a rich repertoire of crops. Although hardly a perfect laboratory, this variation provides a unique opportunity for exploring if variations in Qire roles can be linked with variation in degree of exposure to environmental shocks. In exploring this issues, I also recognizes the centrality of state (in)action, as well as other non-climatic trends (e.g. improvements in market access, transportation, food aid, social services, etc.), for understanding the effectiveness of community-level mechanisms for dealing with environmental shocks.