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An innovative approach to address a problem once regarded as a solution

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Somali -
Prosopis Juliflora, an invasive plant invading rangelands lands and affecting the lives of pastoralists; Shinile, Somali Region.

A vast portion of pastoral lands in Ethiopia, especially in the eastern and north-eastern parts, have almost surrendered to a strange plant once regarded as a solution, yet becomes a serious problem. Though different localities may name it differently, the impact of this plant, called “Prosopis Juliflora”, on pastoralists and their animals has always been the same – adverse.

Prosopis Juliflora, an invasive plant invading rangelands lands and affecting the lives of pastoralists; Shinile, Somali Region.

Introduced in the 1970s in Ethiopia as a soil conservation measure, Prosopis increasingly invaded rangelands and affected pasture production that has already been insufficient in these drought-prone areas of the country.

Prosopis has an extensive and deeply stretched root system that helps it to aggressively monopolize soil moisture and underground waters. In addition, its thorns inflict serious physical injuries on animals and humans, in some cases resulting in deadly or hard-to-heal wounds. The long-list negative impacts of Prosopis on the lives of pastoralists and the overall biodiversity have been identified and narrated by many actors for the past several years, and many initiatives have attempted but failed to sustainably manage the invasion and its adverse effects.

New Approach

A new initiative is currently ongoing under the RESET Plus Innovation Fund programme, financed by the EU Delegation in Ethiopia which supports 13 resilience innovation projects in five regions of the country. This particular project aims to pilot a new integrated and multifaceted approach to Prosopis management in the Siti zone, Shinile woreda of the Somali region. OXFAM is the implementer.

What makes OXFAM’s approach unique is not just the perspective to seek opportunities from a long-lived problem in an integrated way, but also the relentless effort to bring and involve several organizations to co-create and innovate appropriate solutions. “This is not a one-actor initiative,” says Muluken Fisseha, Project Manager at OXFAM. “It requires diverse expertise and collaboration among concerned stakeholders”.

Beyond Reclaiming

Beneficiaries turning Prosopis into fuel wood using a carbonization technology.

OXFAM a cooperative with 15 members in Mermersa kebele. The cooperative aims to cut down Prosopis trees and to reclaim pasture lands, and of transform an existing problem into an income generating opportunity of making marketable charcoal. These has been tried before. And the communities were already engaged in producing charcoal from Prosopis, though in the traditional carbonization method. 

OXFAM introduced a new carbonizing technology that requires less heat and time to carbonize. Muluken and his team invited Dire Dawa Poly Technique College who welcomed the invitation and manufactured a modern Prosopis carbonizer that has proven to be successful. Compared to the traditional method, the new technology produces quality charcoal with significant decrease of smoke emission. In addition, the technology has the potential to double income of the cooperative members. 

Prosopis carbonization

The carbonizer has a “barrel-in-a-barrel” structure with a chamber to burn woods to create the required heat. Yet, the efficiency was not as expected due to the smaller production capacity – around 75KG at a time in four hours carbonization period. If they increase the size of the technology, the woods in the centre will not receive adequate heat to fully carbonize. On the other hand, Muluken and his team realized that the wood burning from the outer section to create the heat for carbonization should not be wasted. These indicated areas of improvement on the carbonizer

Multiple functions of Solar Panel

Beneficiaries engaged in grain mill service and briquette making using solar electric power

“There are several small-scale solar irrigations in the Somali region. However, except one or two times a day to pump water, solar panels are usually kept idle.”

Azaria Berhe, WASH and Solar specialist at OXFAM
Briquette making machine

The project has installed a solar panel in the Kebele for multiple purposes. It acquired electrical briquette-making machines from a company called Waterlife Engineering for the cooperative members to make briquettes from the leafy branches of Prosopis that cannot be carbonized as sizable charcoals. Moreover, OXFAM also provided them with a grain mill in which women beneficiaries will engage in income generating business. Moreover, members have started planting vegetable farming on reclaimed lands using the solar irrigation system.

OXFAM did not stop there. It invited many other stakeholders, such as Ethiothaly TVET College and Dire Dawa University, and exhibited its ongoing project activities, including the carbonizer with less efficiency. Within a few weeks, the creative experts of Dire Dawa University completed a prototype of an electrical carbonizing machine with ideally increased efficiency. The new machine is intended to utilize the idle time of the solar panel as a power source. Most importantly, it is expected to increase the efficiency of the wood-fueled carbonizer with a potential enlargement in size to accommodate and carbonize more Prosopis by providing adequate electrical heat from the bottom side of the machined.

Prototype of improved electric carbonizing technology
Prosopis carbonized by the prototype

We are honored to be invited by OXFAM,” said Dr. Girma Beka from Dire Dawa University while demonstrating the prototype to stakeholders. “My team and I are confident that we will manufacture the actual electrical carbonizer with the intended efficiency.”

Nutritious Feed

Though Prosopis is the dominant vegetation in this semi-arid area of the Somali region, no animal is interested in eating its green and attractive leaves. Instead, goats and camels try to eat the seeds, which have an uncrushable outer-cover. “Animals eating the seed from one place and disseminating to other places through defecation is believed to be the major cause of Prosopis multiplication and for the vastness of its invasion in pastoral areas,” says Muluken. “Invasion prevention effort should primarily focus on finding a way to crush the seeds, one way or another.

Crushed Prosopis seed and pod

Seeds and pods of Prosopis are highly nutritious, particularly for animal feed. Haromaya University and many others have previously conducted studies on the topic. In that regard, OXFAM invited Haromaya University to support the project for further analysis. Conducting lab tests and analysis, Haromaya University presented detailed nutrition content of Prosopis seed and pod and recommended the animal feed formulation in which the Prosopis seeds and pods may amount up to 40%. “This would have a significant impact on the ever-increasing price of animal feed cost in Ethiopia,” says Muluken. However, the remaining significant portion of the feed composition is recommended to be oilseed by product which is not easily available in the area.

On the other hand, finding a mill that can effectively crush the strong Prosopis seeds was another challenge. No ordinary grain mill is capable of grinding Prosopis seeds. Electronic, Technology, and Manufacturing Departments of Dire Dawa Poly Technic College are collaboratively working to customize the right type of mill for Prosopis seeds. And, according to the preliminary tests, they are on the verge of success.

Towards Institutionalization

Except OXFAM’s, all 13 resilience innovation projects under the RESET Plus Innovation Fund Programme are being implemented by consortium members. OXFAM does not have implementing partners or consortium members on paper for this project. However, the ongoing implementation is undertaken based on collaboration and co-creation with dozens of government offices, high education institutions, as well as private business organizations. This has shown a successful mobilization of efforts which will add value to sustainability the resilience innovation.

Furthermore, OXFAM is working towards reviving and coordinating the Prosopis Management Council, which the government has already put in place as a policy framework but has not been effectively functioning for the past years. Consisting of government offices at different administrative levels as members, the Council has a main objective of mobilizing, collaborating, and integrating Prosopis management undertakings. OXFAM has already organized and facilitated meetings of the Council. On top of the achievement to involve technical colleges/universities and private sector actors on the initiative, reviving and strengthening the Prosopis Management Council will successfully pave the way towards realizing sustainability and influencing the system in general.