Ato Abdela Said Fulesa understands the importance of having secure land rights. As he explains how his income, food and nutrition security, and resilience have increased in recent years, he carefully holds the kaartaa that certifies his rights to a 0.45 hectare irrigated parcel. The kaartaa is a simple document – it contains a sketch map, a parcel number, and Ato Abdela and his wife’s names and their picture – but it is having a powerful impact.

Ato Abdela displays the kaartaa certifying his, along with his wife's, rights to their parcel of land in Oromia, Ethiopia. Photo credit: Gregory Myers, USAID

Ato Abdela displays the kaartaa certifying his, along with his wife’s, rights to their parcel of land in Oromia, Ethiopia. Photo credit: Gregory Myers, USAID

Ato Abdela is a member of the Kereyu community in the Oromia Regional State of Ethiopia, which for generations has followed the rains with their livestock. Their pastoral way of life has historically been the most efficient way to make use of the scarce natural resources scattered across the vast, arid scrublands that cover much of east and southern Ethiopia. While new developments, such as roads and agriculture schemes, have increased livelihood options in these areas, in some cases, these developments have been perceived to reduce access to seasonal water points and grazing areas, potentially making the Kereyu’s nomadic livelihood increasingly tenuous.

For example, some fifty years ago in Fentale woreda (district), a large irrigation scheme was built to support a commercial sugar plantation. Unfortunately, the people who had been using this land for generations were not compensated for the lost access to land and water caused by this development. In contrast, over the past five years, the district government has developed some 3,000 hectares of new irrigated fields for use by local people by diverting water from the nearby Awash River using lined earthen canals. Although initially residents were promised 1 hectare per family, due to a smaller than expected supply of irrigated land, residents were instead eligible to receive up to 0.5 hectare for a single-headed household or up to 0.75 hectare for a couple. USAID helped the government survey and certify over 5,000 parcels in this district. Ato Abdela received 0.45 hectare of irrigated land that he now uses to grow maize for his family, as well as tomatoes, onions, and green beans for sale.

Having access to an irrigated, certified parcel has helped Ato Abdela build both resilience and capital. “I used to sell cattle to buy food, and when I couldn’t sell cattle during times of drought, I relied on [food aid]. Now, I grow my own food crops and I sell the extras at the market,” he explained. He’s used the extra income to build a house made of mud bricks with an iron roof, a significant improvement over the modest pole and thatch homes predominant in his community. But he still keeps his cattle, preferring to add crop production to diversify his livelihood rather than giving up his pastoral way of life entirely. In fact, livestock numbers in the district have increased since the irrigation scheme became operational, suggesting that these entrepreneurial pastoralists are investing not only in built capital but also in natural capital. Rather than losing access to important land and water resources, it appears that the pastoralists in Fentale have gained an additional livelihood option that they can use as a safety net in times of drought.

Now that he has built his house, Ato Abdela intends to have the land around it certified so that if there is ever any challenge to his rights he can prove his claim. Given that Fentale woreda has some 13,000 hectares of potentially irrigable land remaining, there is considerable scope for scaling up this integrated approach to support small-scale entrepreneurs. To the extent that future irrigation developments recognize local land rights and help diversify livelihoods, they have the potential to increase resilience in this precarious environment.

USAID support to the Government of Ethiopia to strengthen land administration and property rights began in 2005 and continues under the U.S. Feed the Future Initiative with a new and expanded third phase under the Land Administration to Nurture Development (LAND) program. Building on the positive impacts demonstrated through certifying individual holdings in Fentale, the new LAND program will bring the benefits of secure property rights to communal areas, where most land is held at the community level rather than by individuals. Like Ato Abdela, pastoralists in the two neighboring provinces targeted by the LAND program will benefit from clearly demarcated land rights and increased access to markets, removing barriers to economic growth, and an occasional source of conflict, in increasingly drought-prone areas.