Pastoralism: a surer investment than irrigated farming

The study “Counting the costs: replacing pastoralism with irrigated agriculture in the Awash valley, north-eastern Ethiopia” (March 2013) analyses the opportunity costs of irrigation projects in a pastoralist area. Regional planners need to know not only that a development scheme is economically viable, but also that it produces economic benefits that will exceed those that were already being obtained from the production system it will displace. These calculations were made with regard to grazing lands on the banks of the Awash River in north-eastern Ethiopia. Beginning in the 1960s, these traditional grazing areas were converted into large-scale irrigated cotton and sugarcane plantations. The paper quantifies the economic benefits generated by these three alternative agricultural systems: producing livestock products versus cotton or sugarcane. It shows that, despite considerable investment by government, pastoralism is consistently more profitable than either cotton or sugarcane farming, while avoiding many of the environmental costs associated with large-scale irrigation projects. As we enter an increasingly climate-constrained world, the findings suggest that pastoralism is a surer investment in the longer-term resilience and economic stability of Ethiopia’s dry lowlands.

Posted on 3 March 2013 in Value of Pastoralism