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Animal impact tool for rehabilitating degraded rangelands in Kebridehar, Somali region

It is clear that a well-managed rangeland ecosystem potentially sustains the life of living organisms (livestock, wildlife, and edible fodders) in the pastoral areas. To this end, the primary attempt should be to increase and improve the availability of livestock feed resources through better management and rehabilitation of the degrading range vegetation. Nevertheless, such development interventions require emphasis and adherence to ecosystem-based mitigation and adaptation strategies that do support pastoralist’s livelihood and sustainability of the environmental resources in place.

To maintain and improve the rangeland ecosystem in a brittle/fragile environment, we need to think of the unthinkable, the livestock, which many of us blame the animals for causing overgrazing and degradation of the grazing area. But, the truth is not the livestock rather the blame should go to the way we manage the livestock in one hand and the grazing area on the other. This unscientific dogma of condemnation is because of the training we had at university, like all scientists of that era, that large animals such as domestic cattle could damage grazing land. Only keeping numbers low and scattering stock widely would prevent the destructive trampling and intense grazing one could expect from livestock. Under the present circumstances, thanks to Allan an ecologist for disproving the dogma that helps to reverse the millennia of damage humankind has inflicted on the rangeland in the more brittle environments by trying to protect it from the effects of trampling that were perceived as evil by many scientists and policymakers of different countries. Thus as a breakthrough, it is of paramount importance to play around the four fundamental processes of ecosystems (effective water cycle, mineral cycle, community dynamics, and energy flow) using livestock to sustain life in the rangeland. This reveals that it is the livestock that creates a favorable environment to stimulate plant growth and that increased yield of biomass production in the arid rangelands. This animal impact is attributed to dunging, urinating, and the trampling effect they cause on old plant growth crashing it to the ground as mulch to cover the soil surface. By so doing, there is the decay process that naturally occurs, which as a result soil fertility and water retention down the soil profile get increased for new soil seed bank re-generation that potentially rehabilitates the ecosystem. In such vital physical functions of the livestock or animal impact tool, we can reverse degradation and we can manage rangeland which is on the verge of losing vegetation cover. Therefore, livestock plays a key role in the restoration of degraded rangeland areas. This experience was observed in different arid and semi-arid areas in tropical countries of Africa, Australia, and America. From this experience, a total of 11 ha of land were cleared from Prosopis to rehabilitate the degraded rangeland in Kebridahar. From the 11 ha, one hectare was reserved for data collection to strongly testify and convince policymakers on how livestock plays a key role in the restoration of degraded rangelands. Kidane (PhD) reflected his concern on pastoral areas 3 years back on The Reporter of August 5/2017 where he adviced the government rectify the policy strategy designed to make use of the upland grazing areas (rangelands) for commercial agriculture that wrongly initiated to achieve pastoral food security ignoring the untapped livestock resources we have at hand within the pastoral communities.

Simultaneously, it was a move of total devastation of the ecosystem that was meant to be a niche of livestock. Thus, the animal impact tool was subjected as a treatment in a 30mx30m plot size in 3 replications with a control (no animal impact) in each replication. Then each plot was fenced by the cleared materials (branch of Prosopis) to have Krall or a holding area to crowd largely herds of animals every night for consecutive 10 days with the assumption that the high animal impact will bring immediate improvement on vegetation attributes (vegetation basal cover, diversity, density, biomass yield) and soil parameters.

After 10 days the animals were moved from the holding area keeping the experimental plot free from animal interference till the vegetation cover reaches a stage to utilize.

To enhance rehabilitation using animal impact tool in the 10 ha Prosopis encroached grazing area, we first cleared the Prosopis, and purchased Sudan grass hay from Gode. Then we distributed the grass at different spots to distribute the animal concentration throughout the field for the purpose of exploiting the physical action of the animals. This was undertaken to create what we call animal impact that breaks capped soil by trampling effect and the dropping of dung and urine for decomposition and nutrient cycling, which improves soil structure, fertility, and water retention of the rangeland ultimately enhancing biological community coming out from soil seed bank. But in this case, because of the limitation of feed source the animals were in the field for a couple of hours and the animal concentration used was not to the accepted level. This will have limitations to bring the expected change in the whole area size of the field because of the mild effect of the animal impact attributed to the stock density of the animals and the limited period of stay in the field which was almost for 8 days and limited hours per day. Nevertheless, within a month immediate improvement on vegetation attributes (vegetation basal cover, diversity, density, and soil parameters) was visually observed in the field with the limited amount of rain received.

Ed.’s Note: Kidane G/Meskel (PhD) is a researcher in Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research while Abdinasir Abdikadir and Abdirisak Ahmed are researchers in Somali Region Pastoral and Agro Pastoral Research Institute. The views expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter.

Contributed by Kidane G/Meskel (PhD), Abdinasir Abdikadir and Abdirisak Ahmed