Thursday, March 13, 2014

Tree Profile: Kigelia Africana

Kigelia Africana - "The Sausage Tree"  dwarfing a young Cordia africana

We spotted Kigelia africana hiding in plain sight during a trip back from a work site.  Many times we have passed this tree but only recently did we take notice that its fruits were obviously different from other trees.  Appropriately named the ‘sausage tree’, the most noticeable characteristic of this tree - besides being giant itself -is the large, grey, sausage like fruit it carries. When we asked people in the area about the tree, everyone knew which one we were talking about but told us that its uses where unknown and that it was the only tree of its kind around, which leaves it to a bit of a mystery for how it got there and where it came from.  I consulted a couple of references to find out more.

Grey colored sausage-like fruits hang from the stems of Kigelia africana

Leaves of Kigelia Africana

Indigenous to Ethiopia and widespread throughout Africa, Kigelia africana can be utilized for firewood, timber, fodder (flowers), dye production (from boiled fruit), and in some places as an ingredient used in fermentation process of honey beer (ripened fruit).  K. africana grows best below 1,850 m and can do well in areas receiving an annual rainfall above 500 mm.


Trees of Ethiopia (A photographic guide and description) - Kebede Tadesse

Useful Trees and Shrubs of Ethiopia: Identification, Propagation and Management for 17 Agroclimatic Zones - Azene Bekele-Tesemma

Monday, March 10, 2014

A Focus on Watersheds – Part 2: Stone Bands, Micro-Catchments, & Check Dams

Looking east over the stone bands within the Gersale Watershed enclosure in Konso

The Gersale Watershed project started nearly 10 years ago.  Each year since the project began, hundreds of participants from the surrounding villages have utilized a portion of their time waiting for the year’s rains to begin by improving their neighboring watershed.

During the first day of this year’s watershed project, a simple but effective brush fence was constructed to expand the areas under the protection of the community.  Since then, the villages in charge of managing this watershed have put its residents to work constructing various stone and soil structures along the hillsides. These structures range from stone bands, micro-catchments, and check dams and are built with the intention to prevent soil and water from freely leaving and flowing downhill. With the soil stabilized and the water slowed and enabled to penetrate the soil, plants can grow and even thrive here.

Kept free from animals and left for light harvesting of grasses and tree products (ranging from cut-and-carry fodder and firewood to fruits and construction materials) will be sold for the benefit of community projects and social services.  The next blog entry regarding this watershed project will cover the tree transplanting event, which are expected to take place sometime between late March and April.

Below are a series of photos and descriptions from the past month and a half of work within the Gersale Watershed, where I’ve been spending my Saturday mornings.

Stone Band Work 1: The process of building a stone band starts with digging trenches roughly 20 cm deep along contour lines of a hillside.  Stones are sourced in the immediate area of the stone band work, either picked up from the ground or unearthed.  Then, the stones are brought to the trenches and placed strategically at a height of about 35-50 cm.  

Stone Band Work 2: Work parties spread out and take on different portions of the Gersale Watershed.  The work starts at the top of a slope and then moves downhill. The spacing between stone bands are closer where the the slopes are steeper - the steeper the slope, the closer the bands are spaced.

Stone Band Work 3: Stone bands run along hillsides where they will provide stable grounds for trees and shrubs to be planted during the rain season.  To the left bags of food or drink or left to hang where people will gather during their lunch break or when the work is finished. 

Prepared to Work: The essentials in the watershed - chekka (a calorie rich, local beer), water, and a tool to dig with.  

Micro-Catchments 1: In some portions of the watershed, free form structures are made in preperation for transplanting tree seedlings in the coming month.  

Micro-Catchments 2: These soil structures will slow water so that it will be made available for the trees that will soon be planted here.

Check Dams 1: Stone check dams are built in places where water and erosion have already started to make a dramatic impression.  Over a few years time, a small waterway can deepen and widen.  With increased water flow, the surrounding soil is put at a risk of being washed away. Check dams both catch soil and slow water.

Check Dams 2: In this waterway, a group of  workers are constructing a series of check dams to prevent soil and water loss.  These check dams will work together to fill in the water way by catching soil that flows out with the water.  Spillways are intentionally built into the check dams so that the pressure of the water doesn't become so great that it would breach its check dam and jeopardize its effectiveness entirely.  

Check Dams 3: A series of check dams are being constructed in this waterway to reduce the rate and severity of soil and water loss.

Fellow Stone Band Workers: I really apprecieated these guys for making me feel welcomed in the watershed.  I was quickly invited into their fold of stone band construction and helped in the process as I could. 

Working with the Crew: Taking a photo opportunity to stand upright for a second.  Much of this work demands being bent over to dig trenches, remove weeds, unearth and carry/roll stones into place.  

Sunday, March 2, 2014

A Focus on Watersheds – Part 1: A Nationwide Movement and a Community Investment

The Community of Durayte in Gersale Watershed begin constructing a fence to expand their watershed restoration efforts

Around the country, farmers are focusing on their local watersheds in an effort to promote sustainable land management.  As the vast majority of Ethiopian farmers depend on rain fed agriculture, their work efforts within their watersheds are crucial towards reducing soil and water loss and the overall productivity and health of their local environment.

In Konso, several areas previously subjected to a combination of overgrazing livestock, erosion, and heavy rains followed by months of hot and dry weather were selected as watersheds needing restoration.  After these areas were chosen, both physical and social boundaries were instated to ensure goats, sheep, and cattle would not enter and destroy the vegetation meant to hold the top soil in place and allow rain water to penetrate deeper into the earth.

During the past month I have been observing the restoration process and working beside my neighbors to construct structures of soil and stone that will reduce the effects of erosion and provide a space where trees and grasses can be grown.  The future products of the trees and grasses within this watershed will be harvested by the community and sold at the market.  The majority of these proceeds will be support schools, hospitals, and other social services. 

The watershed we were working in first received attention 10 years ago.  Each year since then, the surrounding communities have increased their efforts and have expanded the watershed boundaries to include more and more land.  The effectiveness of their work has been steady and profound. 

Below are a few photos taken from this year's first watershed work event within the Gersale Watershed where the branches of many thorny shrubs and trees were cut to create a boundary to prevent grazing livestock form entering.  The next step in the restoration process is to construct stone bands, soil bands, terraces, and micro-basins - more on that to come.

Gathering thorny branches from nearby trees and shrubs to create a fence

Simple but effective brush fence to keep grazing animals out

The current southern boarder of the Gersale Watershed Project 

The effects that watershed restoration can have in just 3 years.  
These photos were taken in an earlier project site within the Gersale Watershed