Evolution of Smallholder Mixed Farming Systems in the Harar Highlands of Ethiopia: The Shift Towards Trees and Shrubs

Author : Eshetu Mulatua; Habtemariam Kassaa

The paper reports on the major changes observed in the farming systems of the Harar Highlands of southeastern Ethiopia, with special emphasis on the shift towards trees and shrubs. The study was undertaken during two time periods, 1985-1987 and 1997-1998 with the objectives of characterizing the production systems and their trends, and utilizing information so gained to guide research and extension activities in the study area. It was observed that the farming population had increased, land and large stock holding had decreased slightly, and that crop production was under increasing threats from various scourges, notably pests, weeds, and diseases. In the face of these changes, farmers continued to search for alternative strategies, and the major trend noted was the shift towards naturally growing and cultivated tree and shrub species in general and khat (Chata edulis (Vahl) Forsk. ex Endl.) in particular. This shift increased farm income and promoted crop-livestock integration, thereby improving household food security and enhancing sustainability of smallholder mixed farm systems. The importance of khat to the regional economy was also found to be growing both in the livelihood systems of the people in the study area, and in terms of foreign currency earnings. Despite the critics against the ever-increasing culture of khat, it is argued that the shift towards a khat-based farm economy was unavoidable, and, in the absence of other feasible alternatives, khat production and marketing would remain important to the livelihood systems of people in the study area. In view of this, the roles of the tree component in the farming systems should be duly considered in planning research and extension undertakings in the smallholder farms of the Harar Highlands of Ethiopia.