Past, present and future perspectives


The eastern African sub-region is characterized by two fragile ecosystems, namely: mountainous and hilly areas (predominantly in Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia); and semi-arid or arid (dryland) areas (predominantly in Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia). These areas support most of the sub-region's population (with densities of more than 200 people/km2), and are the centres of crop cultivation. For example, the highlands of Ethiopia (above 1 500 masl) constitute about 45 per cent of the total land area, and are inhabited by 80 per cent of the population and by 75 per cent of the country's livestock (EPA/MEDC 1997). The dryland areas have low rainfall, and are extremely vulnerable to drought and desertification, especially in the Horn of Africa (rainfall in Djibouti, for example, is only 147 mm/yr). The Horn of Africa experienced severe droughts in 1972-73 and 1984-85, in which millions of people lost their lives, their homes, their livestock or their livelihoods (FAO 2000a). In Djibouti, Eritrea and Somalia, less than 5 per cent of the land area is under cultivation (FAOSTAT 2001). Ethiopia and Kenya have 10 per cent and 8 per cent respectively of land under cultivation. In Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda, higher and more predictable rainfall facilitates relatively extensive cultivation (42 per cent, 35 per cent and 45 per cent respectively) (FAOSTAT 2001). All countries in the sub-region, except Uganda, have extensive pastures (FAOSTAT 2001). In the drier regions, these are used by nomadic herders, because livestock production is preferable to the risks of cultivation.

Most of the population in Eastern Africa (more than 70 per cent) is rural, practising subsistence agriculture (WHO/UNICEF 2000). More than 95 per cent of Ethiopia's agricultural output is generated by smallscale farmers, who use traditional farming practices (FAO 2000a). Rapid population growth and increasing demand for food, combined with high variability in rainfall and frequent drought, is putting pressure on farmers to clear more natural vegetation, and to cultivate more and more marginal land. Shortening of fallow periods and high intensity of rainfall contribute to creating conditions which are conducive to land degradation, soil erosion and desertification (NEMA 2000). Thus, the main issues of concern are population growth, agricultural practices and food security.

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Coffee picking: worker harvesting ripe cherries in Tanzania

Nigel Cattlin/Holt Studios