Daniel Van Rooijen/IWMI.

Protecting the soils of Ethiopia: the SHARE project

The global community has finally recognized the importance of soils. The General Assembly of the United Nations proclaimed 2015 the ‘International Year of Soils’ (IYS) and December 5th annual ‘World Soil Day.’ Healthy soils not only contribute to agricultural production and food security, but are also important facilitators of carbon storage.

Over-intensive or inappropriate use of soils may cause erosion, leading to a loss of fertile topsoil that takes a great deal of time and effort to restore. Changing land cover and land use can also drastically alter the hydrology of water catchments, resulting in less water entering the soil, less river water flowing in the dry season and a higher risk of floods in river systems during heavy showers.

The vast highlands of Ethiopia are especially prone to erosion due to bad farming practices.

Degraded landscapes Ethiopia highland river SHARE
Children washing clothes in a meandering highland river in the dry season.
Daniel Van Rooijen/IWMI.

The International Water Management Institute (IWMI) office in Ethiopia, on behalf of WLE, is leading the research of the EU-funded Support to the Horn of Africa Resilience (SHARE) project. SHARE is based in south central part of Ethiopia where the Bale Mountains are situated, and will run through to end of November 2017. It aims to conserve biodiversity and ecosystem functions and services in the Bale Eco-Region (BER) of Ethiopia and to improve the well being of communities that depend on these functions and services. A consortium of organizations has been brought together on SHARE: Farm Africa, SOS Sahel Ethiopia, Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS), Population Health Environment Ethiopia Consortium (PHEEC) and IWMI.

The BER harbors stunning landscapes and globally important biodiversity with a range of endemic and endangered species. With the Bale Mountains National Park (BMNP) at its heart, the BER is the largest afro-alpine area left. It is home to more than half of the 450 Ethiopian wolves that remain globally, as well as nearly all Mountain Nyalas, all remaining populations of the giant mole rat, and a wide array of birds, amphibians and plants. More than 40 springs and five major transboundary rivers emerge from the BER, providing year-round water for up to 12 million people in Ethiopia, Northern Kenya and the Republic of Somalia. It encompasses the second largest moist forest located in a mountainous area in the country (500,000 hectares), home to a large genetic pool of wild Coffee Arabica. Finally, the BER acts as vast carbon store that provides critical ecosystem services to both highland and lowland communities.

mid and low lands coffee waterfall ethiopia SHARE
Left: wild coffee from the mid-altitude forest provides a high value product for local communities. Right: This lowland waterfall is a crucial water source in the drylands of the Bale Eco-Region and beyond, into Somalia.
Daniel Van Rooijen/IWMI.

This globally important ecosystem is under increasing threat from a growing human population. Deforestation and forest degradation is occurring due to the conversion of natural habitat to farmland, overgrazing by livestock and unsustainable fuel wood and timber extraction. These harmful practices, coupled with impacts from climate change, is increasing the vulnerability of both lowland and highland communities that depend on the BER’s ecosystem services.

Upland herders SHARE Ethiopia Highlands
Children herding cattle in the highlands of the Bale Eco-Region.
Daniel Van Rooijen/IWMI.

IWMI’s research acknowledges the principal roles played by water and soils in sustaining ecosystem services and the dependent, inter-linked livelihoods of those living in both highland- with lowland communities. Project activities include establishment of watershed monitoring, piloting of soil and water conservation measures, and building human and institutional capacity at all organizational – and geographical – levels.

The Bale Eco-region is a truly unique area composed of a great diversity of agro-ecological landscapes, from the highlands and Afromontane plateau that extend up to 4,300 meters above sea level (masl), to the dense forest areas (which include Bale Mountains National Park) in the mid-altitude range of 1,300-2,300 masl, all the way down to the lowlands below 1,300 masl. People live in each of these landscapes and communities are wholly dependent on the wide range of ecosystem services that they provide.

SHARE aims to build more resilience in these communities by protecting ecosystems on which they depend and by moving to more sustainable practices that will ensure these ecosystems remain healthy for future generations.