Diversity and conservation of enset (Ensete ventricosum Welw. Cheesman) and its relation to household food and livelihood security in south-western Ethiopia

A. Negash

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


</font><p>Agriculture in Ethiopia is characterized by diverse farming practices. Farmers with various ethnic background and cultural diversity living in the country's diverse agro-ecological zones have developed farming systems, characterized by a high degree of species diversity. The enset based farming system is one of these. It can be found in South-western part of the country. The research, on which this thesis is based, was carried out in the Kaffa Shaka zone among 240 households.</p><font size="2"></font><p>The domestication, production and use of enset is restricted to Ethiopia. Enset is a crop with multiple uses both for food and non-food applications. It is the most widely used staple food in the country, feeding millions of people. It plays a central role in the economic, social and cultural life of the diverse ethnic people in the south and south-western part of the country. Although it forms the core of the cropping system of many farmers, available information on the crop is limited, and largely descriptive and anecdotal.</p><font size="2"></font><p>The research, which is the subject of this thesis, was aimed at exploring issues of enset genetic diversity as related to use at a household level and its relevance for food security and sustainable livelihoods. It seeks to make an assessment of the diversity that exists in the crop and to identify of linkages between conservation and use based on the primary data on socio-economic and conservation issues collected at a household level. It attempts to test the following hypothesis: <em>by maintaining enset diversity, a subsistence farmer can secure food self-sufficiency and therefore a positive relationship exists between conserving the diversity in enset and household food and livelihood security</em> . The hypothesis constitutes the central theme of the study and the collection and analysis of the primary data converged upon it. While putting these issues in the wider context of the livelihood system of enset farmers, a number of research questions were raised and answered in the different chapters of the thesis.</p><font size="2"></font><p>The first research question dealt with whether enset diversity contributes to household food security and livelihoods of farm households. Our results confirmed that enset is a food security crop and also a status symbol in the study area. The ownership of a large number of enset plants and a diverse number of clones are major criteria for farmers in categorizing households according to different wealth status. Over a third of the studied households were found food insecure with little or no land, relatively few enset plants and with insignificant clonal diversity. On the basis of the research findings, this thesis argues that although households are food secure as long as they have enough enset plants and sufficient clonal diversity, they are not necessarily secure in terms of income and livelihood. Hence, food secure households, as indicated by enset wealth, are not always livelihood secure. The ownership of other resources such as livestock and land for the production of other crops for additional income is vital for livelihood security.</p><font size="2"></font><p>The second research question focused on valuing of local knowledge, i.e. how farmers encourage diversity in enset, and how they select or classify clones for various use aspects. Enset farmers since the domestication of the crop allegedly some 10,000 years ago, have used their traditional knowledge to maintain and enrich the diversity in the crop. The diverse ways in which the crop is used for (food, fiber, animal feed, construction, etc.) are examples of the use of the diversity by local farmers. Identification and selection of the various clones are done by both men and women farmers. The criteria for selection by men and women vary slightly. Men usually select for higher yield, longer maturity and disease resistance, while the women select for early maturity, good taste and quality of the product and disease resistance. However, both men and women are keen on maintaining as much diversity as possible regardless of the preferred characteristics. They also classify clones into male and female ones according to their characteristics. The female plant is selected by the women for daily household consumption or for sale. The number of female plants maintained is also slightly higher than the male plants, which confirms the characterization of enset as women's crop. As a tradition, farmers in Kaffa also exchange clones and knowledge associated with the crop with neighbors, relatives or kin to increase the diversity in their backyard.</p><font size="2"></font><p>The role of gender in the production, processing and marketing of enset was the focus of the third question. Our study shows that there are clear gender differences in the management of enset genetic diversity. Women play a dominant role in the production, processing and marketing of enset. They have a tremendous knowledge of the diversity in the crop. There is a slight difference between men and women when prioritizing clones according to uses, which is indicative of the difference in interest for different qualities of the crop. When data on the division of labor were analyzed, women clearly dominate in the production, processing and marketing of enset. Men are involved in land preparation, planting and transplanting. As regards decision-making, women are less involved in major decisions made at the household although they dominate most of the production activities in enset. Women decide on the harvesting time and on the use of income from the sale of enset products. Decisions on the purchase of agricultural equipment, adoption of new cultivation techniques, income from the sale of other crops and livestock are made by the men. Other decisions, such as purchase of clothing and additional food for the household, are shared. In general, men have more decision-making power and also control over the greater portion of the household's income.</p></font><p>The fourth question dealt with the impact of population increase on the cultivation of enset. Our results show that there is a high rate of population growth in the study area. Due to the existence of high forest coverage in the region, farmers up until now are hardly affected by land shortage as compared to farmers in other areas, because they extend their farmland by clearing the nearby forests. The availability of cultivable land has encouraged polygamy and having many children. Thus, we found a positive association between household size and landholding in the area. However, this situation is unlikely to continue as resources are limited and there are more and more new households formed each year claiming land. In one of the two <em>woredas</em> studied, which is also characterized by having more polygamous households and where there is more forest degradation, farmers are complaining that there is shortage of land. This result shows that the area devoted to enset and other crops is declining, exposing farmers to food and livelihood insecurity. We also recorded that there is lack of awareness about family planning and limiting the number of children in each household. This thesis concludes that: (i). The increase in family members should coincide with land availability; (ii). Farmers should be aware of family planning in order to limit their family size; (iii). Polygamous marriage should gradually be avoided; (iv). Farmers should be aware of conserving forests instead of burning to extend their farmland.</p><p>Research question five dealt with the use of tissue culture techniques such as micro-propagation and <em>in vitro</em> conservation for enset growing farmers. The importance of enset to Kaffa farmers from a social, cultural and food security perspectives , has been stressed in earlier chapters of this thesis. However, there are many problems surrounding enset production and farmers have lost a fairly large number of clones because of disease, selection pressure or to changes in land use systems. Our results show that over 95 percent of the farmers demand planting stocks of various clones. They need a backup system, which can complement the traditional methods of propagation and conservation. In our study the use of tissue culture was thus found indispensable to meet those needs. <em>In vitro</em> conservation through slow growth and rapid propagation protocols for enset were successfully developed. This will allow the conservation and rapid propagation of enset for the production of disease free germplasm and for efficient breeding programs. It will also allow farmers to get sufficient planting materials of interest, which will enable them to produce more and increase their selection options. When materials are stored <em>in vitro</em> , farmers will have an insurance against man-made and natural erosion, which threatens their production.</p><p>The last research question dealt with how farmers' classification of clones correlates with results of a scientific method based on molecular marker techniques. Farmers' methods of classification and selection have formed the basis for collections maintained so far, be it in farmers' or researchers' fields. Most of the genetic diversity in the crop is maintained <em>in situ</em> (on-farm) by farmers. The farmers' characterization system is functional and serves to characterize and maintain clones in view of their various purposes (food, fiber, medicine, etc.). Characterization and use are thus closely related. As part of this theses, the correlation between the farmers' characterization system and a molecular genetic study were analyzed. A mildly positive correlation was obtained between the two classifications providing the necessary information for an efficient strategy for the management of enset diversity. More duplication of clones (given in Chapter 11) was observed in the molecular analysis. In most of the cases, the names given by farmers based on the attributable characters of the crops are consistent and matched the molecular analysis. Lack of complete matching of the two systems might be attributed to the way farmers characterize the crop in more detail and the use criteria they apply in selection of the various clones. As the farmers' characterization system is functional, they select for specific genetic traits, whereas molecular approach scored neutral diversity as well. This thesis thus emphasizes that indigenous knowledge plays a vital role in selection, characterization and maintenance of enset genetic diversity in direct relation to its use.</p>
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
  • Niehof, Anke, Promotor
  • Visser, L., Promotor, External person
Award date26 Sep 2001
Place of PublicationS.l.
Print ISBNs9789058084668
Publication statusPublished - 2001


  • Ensete ventricosum
  • Ensete
  • Musaceae
  • biodiversity
  • conservation
  • agricultural households
  • farming systems
  • cultivation
  • utilization
  • food production
  • food supply
  • social welfare
  • rural areas
  • Ethiopia
  • cultural methods

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