Ethiopia: Agroforestry home gardens build community resilience in southern Ethiopia (Mongabay)

| January 20, 2019

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Bule is a small village 370 kilometres south of the capital, Addis Ababa. It’s believed to be the birthplace of traditional “home garden” agroforestry in Ethiopia.

Farmers in Bule still practice this ancient multi-storied agroforestry system—growing trees, shrubs, and annual crops together in a system that mimics the forest around their homesteads. The home gardens in Bule mostly consist of two native perennial crops: the banana-like enset and coffee. These grow beneath avocado and papaya trees and banana palms, with vegetables below, and the system provides households with nutritional, economic, social, and ecological benefits.

Endashaw Solomon is a local agronomist who says that the local Gedeo people get a lot of value from this indigenous system. He adds that preserving the system is a tradition for the communities, and has enabled them to remain food secure. Locally known as kara miemite boga, the home gardens improve the soil and mitigate the effects of climate change by absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Sali Biftu is a local soil fertility expert. He says: “Trees are used as fuel, fodder, for local construction, but also sold as timber or firewood. The income from these traditional systems is not high, but households are more food secure.”

The trees also provide edible fruits and help build the soil, as well as providing shade for the coffee bushes below.

Farms in nearby areas are increasingly growing monocultures of the popular drug khat. Compared to these farms, the home gardens are more complex and play a major role in reducing soil erosion and boosting fertility and biodiversity levels, according to Mr. Biftu.

The indigenous Gedeo people have a traditional culture of tree planting. Farmer Mengesha Tero explains: “Here in Gedeo, the first thing a father passes to his child as inheritance is the culture of tree planting, and not land. So our children grow up with this culture and pass it to the next generation.”

Mr. Tero, a 58-year-old father of 10, says his household is better off with the home garden agroforestry system because there’s a year-round harvest of different types of crops.

He adds: “My household is food secure. I grow enset, root crops, maize, coffee, sweet potatoes, and avocado. I earn $400–$500 a year from marketing the surplus home garden products.”

Beyene Teklu is a researcher and lecturer at Hawassa University. He says a household should own at least one hectare of farmland to be able to feed itself. But this doesn’t seem to apply to Bule’s agroforestry system.

The average farm size in Bule is slightly larger than the national average at two-thirds of a hectare, but local farmers say they are making a good living from their home gardens. Meseret Bunee owns less than half a hectare, but says she and her husband and their six children enjoy year-round harvests and are food secure.

While shrinking farm sizes have contributed to an overall exodus of rural youths elsewhere, areas dominated by agroforestry are an exception. “Previously the youth used to migrate, but now people remain rooted in their home place thanks to the introduction of modified agroforestry,” says farmer Birhanu Birara.

In addition to its economic and environmental benefits, agroforestry also provides social advantages. Having a reliable supply of food and fuelwood helps women use their time effectively, while income diversification improves the livelihoods and well-being of women and their households.

Teshome Tesema is the director of plantation and agroforestry research at the Ethiopian Environment and Forest Research Institute. He says: “The reason why you are still observing the multi-storied home gardens left and right while you are traveling across Gedeo is that the people love the system and are [benefiting] from it.”

As research studies continue and new technologies are introduced in Ethiopia, modified agroforestry systems have appeared in recent years. But no matter what species are included, home gardens and other forms of agroforestry will likely continue to be popular in Gedeo and dominate the landscape as they have done for centuries.

This story was adapted from an article titled, “Agroforestry ‘home gardens’ build community resilience in southern Ethiopia,” written by Tesfa-Alem Tekle for Mongabay. To read the original article, go to

Photo: The banana-like crop enset with root crops growing below and useful trees above. Credit: Tesfa-Alem Tekle for Mongabay.