Of Roads and Rain: Legume Diversity and Climate Adaptation in Northern Ethiopia

Authors: Morgan Ruelle*, Clark University
Topics: Agricultural Geography, Africa, Applied Geography
Keywords: Agrobiodiversity, conservation, ethnobotany, Tigray
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:45 PM
Room: 8228, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Agrobiodiversity provides smallholder farmers with options to adapt to increasingly variable climate conditions. However, agricultural development policies that promote market participation might incentivize farmers to devote their limited land and labor to crops with high market values and abandon those with climate-adaptive traits. In Ethiopia, the government has invested heavily in transportation infrastructure, with the goal of expanding the road network from 49 to 220 thousand km by 2020in order to expand market access for remote farming communities. In addition, roads facilitate visitation by extension agents, who tend to promote production of cereal using inorganic fertilizers rather than rotation with legumes. To determine how market access and contact with extension might impact legume diversity, we conducted 127 interviews along transects leading away from major roads in the Tigray Region of northern Ethiopia. Using cost-distance analysis based on topography, we estimated the time associated with travel to market on foot and by public transport. As expected, farmers located further from roads attend markets less often and meet extension agents less frequently. However, we found no correlation between market access or extension visitation and legume diversity. Rather, farmers who devoted more land to legumes planted greater diversity, including legumes with high market values and those with higher drought, disease, and pest tolerance. We conclude that farm size is fundamental to adaptive capacity, as farmers who can plant a greater diversity of legumes are better prepared for the uncertainties of climate change.

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