Enset and LivestockWhy are livestock important in enset systems?
How are livestock managed among enset farmers?
What are the major constraints to livestock production?
How has the system of livestock management changed over the last few decades?
Will decreases in livestock numbers and fertility threaten the sustainability of the enset cultivation system?
Regardless of elevation, ethnic group, or degree of dependence on enset in dietary intake, it appears that livestock play a critical role in maintaining soil fertility (and thus agricultural sustainability). Livestock therefore play a critical role in enset farming systems, as they provide: 1) manure for important plant crops, including enset; 2) food, especially milk and occasionally meat for the family; 3) traction for plowing; and 4) a source of wealth that can be sold to provide cash in times of need. Additionally, in ethnic groups that use equines for transportation and hauling, bundles of enset are transported to local markets. Livestock are also kept as an indicators of wealth and sources of prestige among rural cultivators.
Manure is generally applied to crops grown in the vicinity of the household, especially to those considered especially important. Enset and coffee, where grown, are almost always given priority in this regard. Enset plants may take twice as long to mature without manure as they do with the application of manure (McCabe and Lee, 1996). This view is further supported by a recent survey, which shows that "adequate farm manure is regarded as essential to successful enset growing, and . . . farmers with unproductive looking enset plantations were those farmers who have the fewest livestock" (Alemu and Sandford, 1991).
In systems where enset is mixed or secondary to cereals, oxen are critical resources in the preparation and plowing of fields for planting wheat, barley, t'eff, and other cereals. Among farmers in the enset growing region, important livestock uses do not appear to include slaughtering to provide meat for the household. However, the consumption of milk, butter, and cottage cheese seems to make an important and possibly critical contribution to an enset-based diet, which in itself is very low in protein (Shank and Ertiro, 1996; Pijls et al, 1994).
Livestock throughout the rural regions of Africa and Ethiopia act as a store of wealth for a family or household, and this is certainly true for enset cultivators. Households depend on livestock as emergency resources for such things as hospital fees, and they try to save livestock for large purchases such as construction materials to build a new house.
The sale of milk and milk products can also make significant contributions to household income. It appears that until relatively recently, milk and milk products (such as butter and cottage cheese) were reserved almost exclusively for home consumption. However, during the past three decades, the sale of these products has increased, and in some cases has provided as much as 45 percent of annual household income (Beneye, 1994).
There are common themes in the management of livestock among the peoples who cultivate enset, although regional and ethnic differences occur. Differences in management practice may be found in the different ecological zones: dega (highlands), weinadega (mid elevation), and kolla (lowlands). There is also variation according to wealth category, with the wealthier households possessing more livestock and requiring greater access to additional labor and grazing lands.
The management of livestock involves both taking animals to pasture and bringing forage to livestock. Individuals with one or two cattle will normally tether their animals in the grassy area in the front or side of the homestead. Those with more livestock will both tether their animals near the house and take their animals to common grazing areas, if they are available. In many villages, swampy or steep areas are set aside for common grazing ("the commons"). Those who are wealthy utilize the methods previously mentioned, but also may take their livestock for periods of time to second homesteads where the grazing resources are more abundant. Usually these second homesteads are in the lowlands, but in areas of uniformly high elevation they may be above the elevation preferred for crop production. Access to the common grazing areas is usually determined by farmers' proximity to the commons. However, the use of the commons appears to be changing, as more common grazing land is being turned into land that is cultivated.
Stall feeding is the principal means by which livestock are fed during the dry season throughout the enset growing areas, and is a labor intensive activity. Following harvest, crop residues are given to the livestock, and among all enset growing groups, enset leaves form an important part of the dry season livestock diet. Grass may be purchased, but it is more often cut by women from homestead pastures or common grazing areas. Cut enset leaves also contribute to livestock diets in all areas where enset is grown, and they may be used for as long as seven to eight months, or only for a couple of months at the height of the dry season, depending on area and ethnic group. Adebo (1992) reports that in one region during the early and midle dry season, women cut grasses from the village area, but when these resources were used up they had to walk to the lowlands to cut forage for their livestock. This task entailed a seven to ten hour round trip.
Cows kept by rural farmers in the enset growing area produce low quantities of milk. Estimates range from a low of approximately 0.25 liters per day to a high of about two liters per day during their seven month long lactation period. The amount of milk produced increases during the wet season, as forage resources are more abundant and calves tend to be dropped during this time. Low animal fertility is also characteristic of the livestock kept by enset cultivators. Mortality rates are high and enset cultivators typically buy and sell livestock frequently.
Low productivity and high rates of mortality and turnover strongly suggest that the livestock production system is under significant stress. Current data indicate that the most severe constraint is lack of adequate forage. A decrease in the amount of land allocated for grazing per village, and the transformation of some common grazing land to crop production have contributed to this decline in forage resources.
Although it is typical for farmers throughout the world to remember the past as a time of plenty in contrast to the troubles of the present, the consistency of accounts in which farmers kept far more livestock in the past than they do now is striking. Preliminary research strongly suggests that there has been a serious decline in the numbers of livestock held by farmers on a household basis. What data are available suggest that a typical household kept seven to eight head of cattle, a number of small stock, and possibly a horse or two during Haile Selassie's time, while now the average household keeps two to three cattle, and maybe two or three sheep or goats.
This negative downward cycle is a result of increased demands for cultivated land as a result of increasing population pressure. Changes in the system of land tenure also contribute to this trend. The Sidama material provides a good example. Historically, during the feudalist period (1893-1935 and 1941-1974), Amhara lords left the management of the land to the Sidama people, provided that sufficient taxes were paid. Sidama elders then regulated and partitioned off areas of land for grazing. This was also a time when several families would band together and take turns spending up to a year in the lowlands with their cattle. During this period, it was typical for a village to allocate 30 percent of the land to crop production and 50 percent for grazing.
During the recent socialist period (1974-1991), farmland was divided and parceled out. In the Derg period, village land was reallocated so that 50 percent of the land was for crop production and 30 percent of the land for grazing. Areas that once were forests or grazing lands became farms. The only land not parceled out was swamp land (chaffa). These periodically flooded areas are now left for grazing (McCabe and Lee, 1996).
Although people describe the grass in swamplands as tough and poor for grazing, the maintenance of the swamps as grazing land is, as one man put it, "worth fighting for." Unless a farmer owns land in other areas, the chaffas near one's farm and one's own yard are the only sources of grazing. For example, the two swamplands in one area of Sidama were four and five hectares, respectively. Twenty percent of households in one region have second farms, mostly in order to have access to additional swamplands and other grazing areas (McCabe and Lee, 1996).
Will the decrease in livestock numbers and fertility threaten the sustainability of the enset cultivation system?
All the above factors contribute to the progressive downward spiral in the livestock production sector of the rural economy. There may be a decline in total livestock numbers in general, but there is a definite decline for individual households because of increasing population and limited land. This decline will have an impact on manure production and the availability of draught animals. It could also have an impact on human nutrition. The cycle of increasing impoverishment of the livestock component in this mixed crop/livestock system is a serious cause for concern. The multiple purposes of livestock cannot be replaced by fertilizers, and the sustainability of the enset cultivation system is a result of the tight articulation of the crop and livestock production systems.
For example, in the Sidama zone the reduction of common grazing lands has forced farmers to tether their animals in their front yards. Here, most households retain only a few cattle, while the number of donkeys and small stock has been greatly reduced as compared to the past. With an increasing population in an already densely populated area, it is likely that the negative trend in livestock populations will continue, with potentially severe impacts on enset production.