About Birr Adama

Birr Integrated Model Watershed Development Community Service Project, Mt. Adama, Quarit Woreda, West Gojjam, Ethiopia

A Model Watershed for BDU Community Services 

December 2017

Bahir Dar, Ethiopia

Community Services at Birr Watershed (Mt. Adama)


Birr watershed is found in Quarit Woreda of West Gojjam Zone, Amhara National Regional State. It is one of the watersheds at Mount Adama which is located 62 and 20 km away from Bahir Dar and Adet towns. It has got this name from one of the rivers, originating from Mount Adama, i.e. Birr. Birr Adama town (locally known as Arb Gebeya) is found at the southern outskirts of the mountain base. The town has got this name from the river and mountain.

The watershed covers a large area of 306,000 ha extending from southern side of Mount Adama to Temcha River junction, which ultimately joins to the Blue Nile River (BDU report, 2011). From the total catchment area, about 133 000 ha (excluding state farms) are under rain-fed agriculture and about 5000 ha are cropped under small scale irrigation (MoWR, 1995). The river crosses major bench sites like Gebezemariam, Genet and Jiga towns and Birr State Farm. In the watershed, more than 284000 people are dependent on rain-fed agriculture for their livelihoods. In addition, 457000 cattle and 174000 shoats and 77000 equines are dependent on free grazing on the existing pasture lands, shrubs and trees (MoWR, 1995). The major crops grown in the highland areas of the project site are barley, potatoes, wheat and faba beans and field pea.

The Birr watershed is characterized by uni-modal rainfall pattern with many small rivers and streams supplying water to Birr River. According to the BDU report (2011), land degradation, failure of crops due to pests, diseases and lack of resistant and high yielding varieties, overpopulation and shortage of land and animal feed are major problems in the area. It has been observed that shrub, grazing, forest, wood lands and steep slopes are being converted to farm lands for crop production which led to severe land degradation in the area. The prevalence of gullies in different areas of the watershed is a good indication for extreme land degradation. Presence of gullies leads to the draining of shallow water table, reducing available crop land. Therefore, implementing sustainable land management practices in the area is paramount importance.

It is at this juncture that Bahir Dar University took the initiative to intervene in the Birr watershed. This intervention is part of the community services being implemented by the university. By this, the University produced one important baseline report which contains development and management interventions in Birr Watershed (BDU report, 2011). After the baseline documentation, BDU managed to plant more than 150 ha of area closures with indigenous plants in collaboration with the local stakeholders. In 2009, the area became the focus of rehabilitation by the West Gojjam Administration zone. With the active involvement of the bordering Yilmana Densa, Sekela and Quarit Woredas in natural resources development it would be possible to protect and rehabilitate the ever-encroached mountain peaks in the locality. In addition to the nursery establishment for the rehabilitation programs, the community services activities of BDU also focused on livelihood improvement such as provision of apple, Washera sheep, food preparation, forage. Capacity building had been conducted for school teachers, students, agriculture experts and farmers.       

Major challenges in the watershed

1. Land degradation

Land degradation as a result of soil erosion, deforestation, and uncontrolled hillside farming and gully formation is serious problem in the watershed. Undoubtedly, this problem will further deteriorate the livelihood of the local community through its impact on food security. This also affects production and productivity of the crop-livestock sectors which are declining from time to time while the population pressure is increasing. As mentioned before, the land resource such as the soils, water and vegetation are dwindling due to inappropriate farming practices in the area. In Birr watershed, formation of deep gullies and landslides are the problems, reducing crop-livestock production. The active gullies are responsible for fast draining of the water within the watershed, affecting the water availability.

2. Loss of livelihoods

Mixed farming (crop-livestock farming) is the main stay of the local communities in the project area. However, these sectors aren’t in a position to support the local community. For example, the livestock sector is constrained by low productivity and production, due to feed shortage, diseases, lack of appropriate breeds, extension service, enough credit and lack of market access, and low price due to poor body conditions. Pasture land is becoming scarce due to the expansion of cultivation and land degradation. Scarcity of feed resources is the major bottleneck to livestock productivity and production, where natural pasture and crop residues are the major sources of feed supply to livestock. But, these feed resources are inadequate in quantitatively and qualitatively to support reasonable livestock production. The crop sector is also constrained due to low productivity, low soil fertility, disease, climate variability, lack of improved seed and market access, and lack of modern cropping system. Constraints in this sector are believed to deteriorate the livelihoods of the communities.

3. Energy constraints

Birr watershed is highly populated with few natural resources left to depend on. Natural resources such as fuel wood and cow dung are the only sources of energy in the area. However, these sources are found unsustainable due to severe degradation in the area. In these days, eucalyptus tree is the main source of fuel wood and construction material. The modern energy sources such as biogas, improved stoves and electricity are absent.

4. Lack of coordination and mobilization efforts

Though the communities in Birr watershed are enthusiastic to develop, there is lack coordination to mobilize their collective efforts in natural resources conservation and improved farming systems.

All these constraints called for integrated and multidisciplinary approaches to assist the local community for enjoying better livelihoods. It is the mission of BDU to assist such community efforts through integrated research, advice, consultancy and professional assistance. Thus, BDU will work with the major stakeholder to rehabilitate the fragile ecosystem at Mt. Adama and improve the livelihoods of the local communities.

III. Objectives

Here are some of the objectives set to address the above stated challenges.

Objective 1: To delineate and rehabilitate (step by step) the degraded areas of Mt. Adama.

Objective 2: To assist local community efforts towards the application of integrated natural          resources management and facilitate adoption

Objective 3: To contribute to the improvement of community livelihoods through training and     provision of appropriate technologies and follow ups

Objective 5: To build the Birr Adama First Cycle School and enhance the skill of teachers and     students

Objective 4: To assess the bio-physical and socio-economic status of area and develop a   strategic document

Project activities

This project will have four components (themes) 

  1. Natural Resources Management. It mainly focuses on Soil and Water Conservation (SWC) practices, area closures, gully rehabilitation, nursery support and afforestation programs. Material provision for the nursery. Different locally suitable seeds and seedlings like Koso, Decurrens, Bamboo and apple.
  2. Animal Production. Focus is given on training of farmers about pasture management, sheep rearing and management. Improved forage seeds and sheep will be given for individuals and groups. There is great interest to promote the existing Washera breed in the area.
  3. Crop and fruit production. Focus will be given for provisions of improved tubers like potato and highland apple.
  4. The school will be rebuilt again. There will be capacity building for Birr Adama First Cycle School. Training will be given for Birr Adama teachers.

Thus, the BDU RCS office would like to expand the area closures across the top hills and plant them with endogenous trees. It is also planned to intervene in alternative livelihoods such as animal-crop production services and energy. There are capacity building activities to school teachers, local communities and experts. In addition to this there is a plan to undertake a quick survey of the Mt. Adama and design a five year strategic plan for the selected watersheds.