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The effects of trainings in soil and water conservation on farming practices, livelihoods, and land-use intensity in the Ethiopian highlands

Chesterman, Nathan S., Entwistle, Julia, Chambers, Matthew C., Liu, Hsiao-Chin, Agrawal, Arun, Brown, Daniel G.
Land use policy 2019 v.87 pp. 104051
agricultural productivity, climate change, education programs, farmers, highlands, household surveys, image analysis, income, indigenous species, intensive farming, land use change, linear models, livelihood, livestock, nongovernmental organizations, remote sensing, rural development, rural population, soil, soil conservation, soil erosion, villages, water conservation, Ethiopia
Smallholder farmers in the Ethiopian Highlands face increasingly difficult farming conditions. Agricultural intensification to feed the growing rural population, livestock pressure on native vegetation, and climate change converge to exacerbate soil erosion, creating a significant threat to crop productivity and rural livelihoods. Farmer trainings can be a potent strategy to increase farmer awareness of the larger causes of soil loss, help farmers adapt to or mitigate environmental challenges, and improve crop outputs and incomes. However, evaluations of farmer training programs rarely assess socioeconomic and environmental outcomes simultaneously. Our study uses multiple methods to estimate the socio-ecological effects of a soil and water conservation training program for farmers implemented by ADHENO Integrated Rural Development Association, an Ethiopian non-governmental organization. We asked: (a) did farmers use practices taught in trainings; (b) did these strategies lead to improved agricultural productivity or livelihoods; and (c) how did land-use intensity change in areas with more participation in farmer trainings? To address questions (a) and (b), our study and results are based on 449 household surveys, collected between June and August 2017, in two rural kebeles in Ethiopia in which ADHENO has been active since 2003. We used remote sensing analysis of high resolution satellite images to measure land-use change over a period of nine years, addressing question (c) for one of the kebeles. Analysis of household surveys with propensity score matching and robustness checks suggests that participation in farmer trainings predicts the implementation of four out of seven soil conservation farming methods. Participants in training sessions also had higher average incomes from agriculture than non-participants. Linear models of land-use change in the area around villages did not depict a clear relationship between participation in farmer trainings and change in land-use intensity. These results indicate that farmer trainings focusing on soil and water conservation have the potential to influence farming practices and livelihoods and have implications for soil conservation efforts in the Ethiopian Highlands. This study highlights the importance of evaluating the impacts of small, localized development interventions, of which there are many in sub-Saharan Africa, to better understand the ways in which myriad types of programs influence both land use and livelihoods.