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Agro-Ecology and Agricultural Policy, Strategy and
Institutional Dynamics in Ethiopia:
A Historical Perspective
Dr. Demese Chanyalew
Senior Agriculture Sector Analyst
USAID/Ethiopia Agriculture Knowledge, Learning, Documentation
and Policy Project (AKLDP)
Presented at the Agro-ecology Network Members Meeting, April 28, 2017
• Agro-ecological Classification: A Historical Perspective
• Agro-Ecology, Agricultural Policy and Strategy
Formulation and Review
• Agro-ecology and Institutional Arrangements
• Agro-ecology based agriculture development initiatives are being
• Documents indicate undertaking of agro-ecology based studies go back
to the early 20th century in Ethiopia, with significant emphasis given
• The FDRE agro-ecology based agriculture development policy, strategy
and institutional arrangements, as well as development plan
preparations, started decades back.
• Natural resources, soil, climate, relative humidity and vegetation types are
used to establish the major and sub-agro-ecologies that have been used
both in crop, natural resources and livestock research (Getahun 1984,
Demissie and Bjornstad 1996, Kocho and Geta 2011).
• Different studies have used agro-ecological classifications ranging in number
from two to thirty-two.
• Five traditional classifications: Bereha, kola, weinadega, dega and wurch
(Alemayhu 2006). The five categories with traditional names are based on
altitude and temperature.
• In the 1980s 13 agro-ecologies were used to study the phenotypic diversity
of Ethiopian barley (Demissie and Bjornstad, 1996).
• 18 major and 49 sub-agro ecologies were widely used in the 1990s and early
2000 (Zerihun 1999, and MoA 2000, and Engda 2001).
• The Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) in early 2000 developed an agro-ecology
classification that went as far as 62 sub-agro-ecologies, but this did not last
The 18 major and the 49 sub-agro-ecologies were consolidated to establish 32
major agro-ecologies. The 32 major agro-ecological zones are grouped under six
major categories consisting of:
• Arid Zone: mostly pastoral and occupies 53.5 million ha (31.5% of the
• Semi-arid: occupies 4 million ha (3.5% of the country)
• Sub-moist: occupies 22.2 million ha (19.7% of the country) highly
threatened by erosion
• Moist: covers 28 million ha (25% of the country) of the most important
agricultural land of the country, where cereals are the dominant crops.
• Sub-humid and Humid: cover 17.5 million ha (15.5% of the country) and
4.4 million ha (4% of the country) respectively; provides the most stable
and ideal conditions for annual and perennial crops; home of the
remaining forest and wildlife and biological diversity
• Per-humid: covers about 1 million ha (close to 1% of the country) and
suited for perennial crops and forests.
The 32 major agro-ecologies were used in developing 14 agricultural adaptation
planning zones (AAZ).
By the time of the Ethiopian Panel on Climate Change First Assessment Report
(EAS, 2015) two agro-ecology resources are recognized:
• The mid- and high altitude agro-ecologies and
• the low altitude areas mainly suited to pastoral and agro-pastoral
GTP II (2015/16 to 2019/20) is using three zones:
• the highland/mid altitude agro-pastoral with adequate moisture,
• the highland/mid altitude agro pastoral with moisture stress, and
• the lowland pastoral and semi pastoral agro-ecological zones.
RDPS (2003) the basic principles that govern agricultural development policy in Ethiopia include
• The labour intensive strategy
• Proper utilization of agricultural land
• A foot on the ground
• Taking different agro-ecological zones into account
• An integrated development path
The different agro-ecological zones, according to RDPS, include:
(i) the eastern and to some extent the southern arid lands where the main livelihood is
(ii) the western lowlands where there are large uncultivated lands and a small population,
(iii) the highlands which are ideal for farming but where farm land is limited and rapidly
being eroded, and where population density is high.
Adaptation of a development path compatible with different agro-ecological zones has been
one of the six fundamentals of Ethiopia’s agricultural development strategy of PASDEP, and
continued in the GTP I preparation and implementation.
• Since early 1990s the agricultural research and higher learning
institutions expansion, and new establishments, have been led by the
principle of agro-ecology based development.
• Agricultural Research and Training Project (ARTP-1998 GoE, IDA, IFAD)
fund to establish six new research centers in uncovered agro-ecological
zones: Jijiga, Somali; Shiket, Afar; Jinka, SNNP; Humera, Tigray; Sekotta,
Amhara, and Yavello, Oromia.
• Agro-ecology classifications have also been influential in the
establishment and spread of ATVET colleges and public universities e.g.
the establishment of Jijiga and Samara Universities, in Somali and Afar
Regions, respectively, is primarily to address the research and
development needs of the pastoral and agro-pastoral areas—which is the
arid and semi-arid agro-ecology of Ethiopia.
In the FDRE, agricultural policy formulation, project design
and implementation, and institutional arrangements may
remain ineffectual if they are not addressing the complex
issues associated with agro-ecological variations.
Agro-ecology in agricultural extension:
• Agro-ecological classifications in Ethiopia so far are used more in agricultural research
undertakings and very little in agricultural extension.
• It should be pragmatically and effectively used in the extension and regular
development plan preparations and implementations.
• Specifically, it should address the interface between agro-ecology based packaging
and the cluster extension approach.
Agro-ecology orientations and knowledge of ATVETS and DAs:
• In education and training institutions the curriculum should be reviewed to include a
clear understanding of the agro-ecological zonation principle in policy formulation
and strategy development.
The CRGE and Agro-ecology interface:
• The interface between CRGE and agro-ecology based initiatives should be addressed.
The CRGE strategy is more on the mitigation side of climate change effects, and the
agro-ecology strategy is more on the technology adaptation aspects of development.
Alemayehu Mengistu. 2006. Country Pasture/Forage Resources Profiles: Ethiopia. Published by Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
Demissie, A and Bjornstad A. 1996. Phenotypic Diversity of Ethiopian Barley in Relation to Geographic Regions, Altitude Range, and Agro-Ecological Zones:
As an Aid to Germplasm Collection and Conservation Strategy. Hereditas 124: 17-29, Lund, Sweden.
Getahun, Amare. 1984. Stability and Instability of Mountain Eco system in Ethiopia. Mountain Research and Development. Vol. 4, No. 1, pp. 39-44.
Kocho T and Geta E. 2011. Agro-ecological mapping of livestock systems in smallholder crop-livestock mixed farming of Wolaita and Dawuro districts,
Southern Ethiopia. Livestock Research for Rural Development. Vol. 23, No. 51.
Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) 2000. Agro-ecological Zonation of Ethiopia. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Zerihun Woldu (1999): Vegetation map of Ethiopia. Addis Ababa University Addis Ababa, Ethiopia