Gendered Scripts and Declining Soil Fertility in Southern Ethiopia

by Michael Dougherty

Abstract

Enset (Ensete ventricosum) is a banana-like plant grown throughout the Southern Highlands of Ethiopia as the major staple food crop by many cultural groups. The issue of soil fertility among enset-growing farmers of Sidama, located in the Southern Region of Ethiopia, is embedded within the larger process of how a household makes a living. The traditional Sidama enset production and processing script presented in this paper describes how enset production and processing fit into the larger household livelihood process. Enset growing households of Southern Ethiopia have undergone a gradual process of impoverishment over the past three decades. This erosion of household assets has tested the ability of the enset script to continue to meet culturally established and emerging household consumption objectives. While socioeconomic production conditions and household objectives have dramatically changed, the traditional enset production and processing rules have not kept pace. The impact of insufficient enset script adaptation on female-headed households is examined. The argument is made that the enset production script must be modified through farmer planning to be able to meet existing (and anticipated future) household consumption objectives under new socioeconomic conditions. It is argued that new soil improvement technologies, which will be an important part of this new, modified enset script, must be evaluated in terms of how they fit into the larger household livelihood system. It is concluded that participatory farmer planning is necessary to help households adapt the existing enset script to address changes in socioeconomic conditions and to meet changing household objectives.

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