A Woody Weeds meeting was held in Ethiopia from 7-11 June 2016 at Adama Town in the Rift Valley. The event included a progress review of PhD and MSc student work in the project and a field visit to the Awash Valley in the Afar Region, where the Prosopis invasion is the severest in the country, to assess the level of the Prosopis invasion and look at research sites. Prior to the project meeting, the six PhD students met for a two-day training workshop.
A highlight was the one-day stakeholder meeting that was attended by farmers and pastoralists from areas affected by Prosopis and Lantana, experts from Woreda Development Bureaus and the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research and representatives from Awash National Park, the Federal Ministry of Livestock & Fisheries and non-governmental organisations working in Middle Awash.
The meeting was opened by Dr Daniel Temesgen, who is leading the team commissioned to design a strategy to manage the invasion of Prosopis in Ethiopia and his speech focused on describing the extent of the problem, exploring the challenges and the work government, in particular that of the Afar Regional State, and the intention of the government during the second Growth Transformation Plan Period.
In groups, the participants drew maps of the areas where Lantana and Prosopis invasion are found. After identifying the areas the current management practice, land use type, specific locations where management is practiced, approximate area covered and the main types of land degradation addressed were also indicated on the maps. Particular attention was paid to Sustainable Land Management practices that are currently employed.
Prosopis has spread from its original sources across the Middle Awash River Valleys and is now covering over 1.2 million hectares with 20 out of 32 woredas invaded. It continues to spread at a rate of at between 20-50 thousand hectares per year in Afar region alone. Participants indicated that Lantana is mainly an issue in eastern and western parts of the country. They said that the invasion is not as bad as Prosopis and the management not as difficult. However, Lantana takes grazing land and when there is no grass cattle and goats feed on it. When they eat too much it kills the animal, and spoils the taste of the milk. Participants indicated that the only use is for fire wood.
The participants indicated during group discussions that cattle herding and farming have become very difficult because of Prosopis, and there has not been any effective intervention by the government and NGOs. Participants from affected communities indicated that Prosopis is taking the best grazing land and that it is aggravating the already prevailing food insecurity as a result of climate variability and drought as it takes over good farmlands. Moreover, it hampers livestock mobility and visibility which allow Hyena and lion to come closer and pry on cattle. The manpower requirement for clearing the land makes cultivation more expensive: it requires up to 8000 Birr/ha to clear the land, which is expensive. There was also an argument that Prosopis thorns are not poisonous in themselves, but they can cut and poke holes in the skin of humans and animals, and the small wounds provide an entry point for pathogenic organisms. There was however a disagreement among the communities on his issue.
The meeting was closed with a pledge of the participants to provide the required support for the research undertakings of the Woody Weeds project and the organizers thanked those present for their participation and contributions during the meeting, despite the fasting period.