Mekelle University’s team won a national award for best researchers and innovators

A team from the Department of Animal, Rangeland and Wildlife Science, led by Dr. Mulubrhan Balehegn, has been undertaking research on “Ficus thonningii Silvopastures’ since 2006. This research has been awarded a bronze medal at the seventh national award for researchers and innovators prepared by the Ethiopian Ministry of Science and Technology.


Dr. Mulubrhan Balehegn and Ato Amanuel Berhe during the award Ceremony



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A group photo of other awardees and the guest of honor of the occasion H.E.P.M. Hailemariam Desalegn

The research started by understanding the role of the drought tolerant Ficus thonningii tree for livestock production, soil fertility and environmental resilience, has spanned activities ranging from measuring nutritive value of the foliage, biomass productivity, impact on animal, impact on soil fertility and use in clime change adaptation in Ahferom district central Tigray, where the system has been traditionally used. Dr. Mulubrhan was able to source different funds from different organizations that enabled the team to undertake the research. The sources of funds included Mekelle University recurrent fund, NoRAD III project, International Foundation for Sciences, Norwegian Research Council, Tropical Biology Association and South African Young Scientists Program .

After eight years of meticulous research, the team lead by Dr. Mulubrhan Balehegn has formulated an evidence-based manual and protocol for successful establishment of Ficus thonningii silvopastures in different areas. Through the use of that manual and trainings sponsored by different organizations including Mekelelle Univerity, GIZ-SLM- Tigray, The Bureau of Agriculture and Natural Resource, REST, the team was able to disseminate the technology to other districts mainly Degua and Kolla Tembien, Ahferom, Atsbi Womberta.

Apart from the local dissemination activities, Dr. Mulubrhan has presented the findings of the Ficut thonningii silvopastures research in many national international conferences and symposia including the Tenth International Rangeland Congress in Saskatoon , Canada, The Livelihoods camp in Burkina Faso, The International Climate Change Adaptation Symposium in Addis Ababa, and Traditional Forest Related Knowledge in Accra, Ghana, Extensive Livestock Expo, Nairobi, Kenya and many other international and national conferences held in Ethiopia. The findings of the research has also been published in many international outlets including: The African Journal of Range and Forage Sciences ( and ), The Journal of Tropical Animal health and Technology ( ), Journal of Livestock Research for Rural Development ( ), and as conference proceedings in many international conferences.

This research and publication has enabled Dr. Mulubrhan Balehegn to be awarded the Best Researcher Award of the College of Dryland Agriculture and Natural Resources for the academic Year 2014/15. Moreover, this work was given an award as the most promising initiative at the SOS-Sahel Livelihoods Camp in April 2015 at Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso ( It has also been shortlisted among the 100 best climate practices by the Best Climate Practice Observatory Project of the International Center for Climate Governance ( ). This same technology was also one of the three best extensive livestock feeding practices selected for showcasing on the Symposium on Extensive Livestock Expo held on November, 2015, in Nirobi Kenya (


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Dr. Mulubrhan Balehegn receiving award for Ficus thonningii silvopastures as the most promising initiative  at the SOS-Sahel Livelihoods Camp in April 2015


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Ficus thonningii is a drought tolerant tree with diverse livelihoods and ecological benefits

The team continues to get involved in the “Ficus thonningii silvopastures’ mainly on areas of efficient techniques of propagation, including proposed tissue culture, role of the system in carbon sequestration, and new ways of processing leaf meal. Therefore, the team calls for the various partners to support the effort to disseminate this noble and low cost technology to other areas in Ethiopia, and other African countries.

Reflections on the Marrakech Climate Negotiations In Light of the American Election

Ethics and Climate


I arrived in Marrakech on Thursday am, November 10 just as the news of the election of Donald Trump was hitting the world like a large meteor hitting the Atlantic Ocean.

I had come to Marrakech to participate in international climate negotiations to which 193 countries had come in hope of making progress on finding a global solution to the increasingly frightening climate change emergency.  All 193 countries had agreed in Paris the year before to work together to try to limit warming to as close as possible to 1.5 degrees C but no more than 2 degrees C. The international community was convinced that their previous promise to work to limit warming to 2 degrees C was much too dangerous particularly for many desperately poor countries. Yet to achieve the new warming limits, nations will need to greatly strengthen their commitments made in Paris, a goal which was the…

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UN adopts resolution promoting sustainable pastoralism and rangelands

It is finally happening…
Pastoralism has been there for millennia, repeatedly proving that it is the best way of utilizing the most inhospitable ecosystems in the world. It has been repeatedly demonstrated that it is by far more sustainable than other forms of livelihoods, specially in the Arid and Semi-Arid areas of Africa.

Empirical evidence on the sustainability of pastorlaism has been repeatedly ignored for decades, because unfortunately, pastoralism does not ‘perfectly’ fit to the centralist agendas of states in Africa. Pastoralism traverses national, ethnic and political boarders and responds only to the natural season and climatic rhythms of mother earth, and has historically been frowned up on by central governments, kings, colonialist masters and their bureaucratic apparatus.

It is high time that We start listening and responding to nature and the ecology which doesn’t lie instead of the whims and political aspirations and interests of groups, and sometimes even individual dictators.

This a step in the right direction and deserves a big Congratulations to scientists, activists and indigenous people’s representatives who have been laboring for centuries to make the world understand that pastoralism is not a remnant of back-warded nuisance to be removed and abolished, rather a time tested ecological adaptation to be nurtured and enhanced.

Congratulations once again to all colleagues and pastoralists all over the world.

ILRI news

EthiopianMinisterOfEnvironmentAtUNEA-2_CroppedEthiopia’s Minister of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Shiferaw Teklemariam, speaks at UNEA-2 (photo credit: ILRI/Dorine Odongo).

Written by Dorine Odongo, communications and knowledge management specialist for ILRI’s Livestock and Environment Program.

A new  resolution on Combating desertification, land degradation and drought and promoting sustainable pastoralism and rangelands was presented and adopted at the second session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-2) held 23–27 May 2016 at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), in Nairobi, Kenya.

At a UNEA-2 side event on sustainable pastoralism, high-level discussions among key players in the livestock sector highlighted pastoralism’s ability to promote healthy ecosystems in the face of climate change, showing that common pastures are potential reservoirs of greenhouse gases.

Kicking off the side event, the deputy executive director of UNEP and assistant secretary-general of the United Nations, Ibrahim Thiaw, reminded participants that ten years ago, myths…

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New Ethiopian ‘livestock master plan’ aims to take 14 million out of poverty

Glad to see that this long awaited project is finally realized. Glad to see that commonly ignored issues of range and pastureland rehabilitation and improvement are given focus.

ILRI news

ILRI/Gerard ILRI/Gerard

Gone are the days when the development debate focused exclusively on humanitarian assistance. Some rapidly growing developing economies are trying to ensure the poorest households benefit from growth. And in Ethiopia, where approximately 70% of the rural households possess cattle, sheep and goats, livestock is officially at the centre of that debate.

Over the last 20 years, the Ethiopian government has prioritized the transformation of the agricultural sector, yet the absence of a livestock roadmap has hindered implementation. However, detailed inter-disciplinary research, presented today by Barry Shapiro, a scientist at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) at the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) in Addis Ababa, reveals the potential benefits of a comprehensive livestock master plan (LMP) in Ethiopia.

With a relatively modest sum, less than USD 400 million over five years, the joint MoA/ILRI plan aims to reduce poverty among livestock-keeping households by 25%, helping family farms move to…

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Leasing land, losing its future: The unintended consequences of land grabbing in Africa

In recent years, African governments have been busy leasing land to large corporations from the west and east. The justifications for the corporations is to find cheaper land and labor to respond to the global food and fuel crisis; while from African side, it is for capital and technology transfer to stimulate development. Sounds like a great synergy, right? I think not!land grabbing

Dubbed land grabbing by the media, its social and economic consequences have been intensely debated, with some activists condemning it as a neoliberal extension of the scramble for Africa, while state bureaucrats  lauding it as a panacea for the rampant food insecurity and unemployment in sub-Saharan. Objective empirical analysis, like this one, are of the opinion that it is not good or bad by itself and that its consequence are all to depend on how states handle it.

Among all this debate dominated by politically urgent arguments of food security and sovereignty, the land and the biotic and abiotic diversity it harbors seems to be ignored. This happened because biodiversity is considered less important an issue compared to food security. For instance the late Ethiopian prime minister Meles Zenawi, in a subtle admission of the negative effects his land deals on the Environment, once said ”We do not want to admire the virgin beauty of our land while we starve“. Unfortunately what the PM called ‘virgin beauty’ is not just  only to be admired, but it is what makes a land to continue to be a land for generations to come.

I am not saying that leasing land to those who can make it ‘productive’ is all wrong; rather I am stating that  arguments of development now, conservation latter will have worse consequences than the current challenges of food insecurity and unemployment, and that is what is exactly happening in most sub-Saharan African countries.  Fortunately, there are ways for countries to benefit from the technology and capital transfer, while at the same time maintaining bio-diversity and ‘health’ of their farmlands. Governments can bring tight provisions of application of ecological principles in agriculture and commercial farming in to the tables of land deals.

If you would like to know more, you can  read my recent paper here or an editorial on my paper by Tim O’Riordan. You can also find a free copy here.

Developing the butter value chain in Ethiopia – LIVES first working paper published

What does it takes to improve the productivity of Ethiopian livestock sector?

Whatever issue you raise about improving livestock productivity in the Ethiopian livestock sector, you can never overstate the importance of improving the quality and quantity of feed. A new working paper on Ethiopian butter value chain also concluded that feed and fertility should be improved.


The baseline survey of the LIVES project and the IPMS sponsored rapid butter market appraisal study clearly demonstrate the importance of butter in rural Ethiopia. The results of the rapid market survey conducted in the 10 Pilot Learning Woredas provided an insight into the functioning of the butter value chain. Results show that to improve the production of fluid milk and to increase the production of butter in rural areas, feed and fertility management need to be improved. Genetic improvement, especially crosses of local breeds with high fat content breeds, should also be encouraged. Since artificial insemination (AI) is not usually available in rural areas, use can be made of mobile teams and hormone assisted oestrus synchronization and mass insemination.

The working paper starts by describing butter production system in Ethiopia and its importance in the LIVES project areas.  It then presents results obtained from the LIVES baseline data exercise…

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This tree is an ethnic Afar, that one over there is a woman: What agroforestry-Climate Change studies used to miss. A new Paper

You can read our new paper here

Traditionally, agroforestry practices in developing countries focus on the introduction of high productivity and high cash value trees. However, despite many millions of seedlings planted every year, the improvement in income, ecosystem services, environmental resilience and climate change adaptation objectives that agroforestry claims to achieve simultaneously, are not to the standard of the effort.  A mechanistic recommendation of planting high value species in mass did not result in the envisaged outputs because, for many small holder farmers, trees are not just trees, but understood and treated with in a complex background of social, economic, cultural, ecological and even religious influences.  Through co-evolution and culturally charged interaction with tree species, with a back drop of changing climate and environment, specific communities have developed different extra-economic attachments and values to different species.

Unlike conventional agroforestry, where species for plantations and introductions are selected based on productive potential, be it timber, calories, livestock fodder nutritional value etc.,  local communities use complex criteria which are specific for specific demographic sects of communities such as villages, cultures, ethnicity, gender etc, for deciding to plant a seedling and nurse it to maturity.  Look at for example the finding from one study of ours (Figure 1) where species which were introduced by highly funded and orchestrated government programs in northern Ethiopia were not well accepted by local communities, while Ficus thonningii, a little know tree with diverse locally appreciated qualities (mainly its resilience in a changing climate) has steadily increased in the number of cuttings planted and survived.

Trends in number of surviving trees (locally planted Vs Introduced by agroforestry)
Trends in number of surviving trees (locally planted Vs Introduced by agroforestry)

We have therefore, studied if factors other than productive potential, or nutritive value of fodder trees determine their acceptance by small holder farmers and pastoralists. We used a local board game, the ‘Gebeta’, to elicit quantitative information about local people’s preference of different qualities in indigenous trees . Moreover, we also scanned fodder samples from these indigenous tree species using near infrared reflectance spectroscopy (NIRS) to assess their nutritional value (a conventional agroforesty quality). We then looked for relationships between the results from the two knowledge systems.

Integrated valuation of indigenous fodder trees using local valuation measures ('gebeta' scores) and conventional agro-forestry merit (NIRS)
Integrated valuation of indigenous fodder trees using local valuation measures (‘gebeta’ scores) and conventional agro-forestry merit (NIRS)

Results were clear, not only that ‘gebeta‘ values for most species did not correlate with NIRS values, but also that different demographic sects (ethnic, gender and age) had different preferences and valuations of same trees. This implies that agroforestry recommendations, based on technical merits of a species, without consulting local needs and priorities, will not bring the livelihoods and environmental change that agroforestry envisage to bring, just because most of the species that are introduced based on their technical merits are not planted at all or not cared for after planting.  Therefore we developed a combined multi-criteria species selection process to identify those that fulfill the requirements of both animal nutrition science and local requirements, which ultimately resulted in different list of species than would have been expected from pure animal nutrition based selection.

Livestock and climate change: Where the BIG opportunities lie

One way by which small scale livestock herders can adapt to a changing climate is by shifting focus to more adapted, drought tolerant and native fodder species. An example we identified can be read here

ILRI news


Some of our biggest opportunities for both reducing and coping with climate change lie among the one billion poor people raising farm animals across the developing world (ILRI poster).

Systems analyst and livestock-climate change scientist Philip Thornton of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) says livestock systems in developing countries remain understudied. This even though livestock keepers, whether pastoral herders or ‘mixed’ crop-livestock farmers, are essential to development destinies in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, where the world’s poverty and hunger remain the most concentrated.

The good news is that there are many ways small-scale livestock keepers can adapt to the changing climate, e.g. by making their production more efficient—a triple win for raising household incomes, reducing greenhouse gas emissions per unit of product and coping with variable climates.

The bad news is we still haven’t reliably reckoned the costs and benefits of many livestock adaptation options in developing countries.

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Call for abstracts: Conference on policies for competitive smallholder livestock production

Competitive Smallholder Livestock in Botswana

The Botswana Institute for Development Policy Analysis (BIDPA) in collaboration with the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) will hold a conference on 26-28 November 2014 in Gaborone, Botswana with the theme: Policies for competitive smallholder livestock production.

The conference aims to provide an opportunity for African and international scientists and the broader stakeholder groups in the livestock production sector to discuss competitiveness in livestock production systems and improving the livelihoods of livestock farmers, especially smallholders, with emphasis on southern Africa.

The broader objectives of the conference are to gather researchers, policymakers and development partners working in the area of assessing competitiveness in agricultural food production and marketing, and to provide answers to various questions rotating around four thematic areas.

It is hoped that at the end of the conference, there will be specific recommendations for the key questions and how to enhance the competitiveness…

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