Chris Flower is a doctoral candidate in the Geography Department at the University of Sheffield. His PhD project ‘Pastoral food security in the Horn of Africa: Shifts in livelihood, culture and natural resource governance’ evaluates how differential shifts in livelihood affect pastoralist and agropastoralist societies in Ethiopia.

He visited Addis Ababa for 2 weeks in July 2015, to carry out a short scoping trip ahead of longer term fieldwork in September 2015. This visit was made possible as a result of a successful application for research enhancement funding awarded by the Sheffield Institute for International Development (SIID).

As is increasingly common in academic research my PhD is collaborative with an external organisation – in this case the International Land Coalition (ILC). ILC are a member-based alliance made up of civil society organisations, multilateral agencies, NGOs and research institutes working in over 50 countries to promote a transformative vision for land governance. Having worked with the ILC on multiple occasions over the past few years, and as I found myself writing my application for a PhD focusing on livelihoods and land rights in rangeland areas of the Horn of Africa, ILC made for an obvious – and prestigious – research partner.

Not only was this collaboration crucial to obtaining research council funding in the first instance (through the ESRC’s Collaborative Award Scholarship), having just returned from a scoping trip to Ethiopia ahead of longer term fieldwork beginning in September, the value of facilitated access through ILC networks is becoming increasingly clear.

untitled A first taste of Addis Ababa

After two trains, two flights and two delays I finally arrived in the capital of Ethiopia. I was excited, and as ever with visiting a new place for research, a little apprehensive. My home for the two weeks was with the International Livestock Resource Institute (ILRI), a fellow member of the ILC who have kindly agreed to facilitate the fieldwork component of my project. Based in a leafy campus off one of the main roads to the East of Addis Ababa, ILRI is one of the leading organisations using research to promote better and more sustainable use of livestock in developing countries. With the primary focus of my research being pastoralism (the use of grazing across rangelands for livestock production), and with ILRI’s lead Rangelands Governance Scientist facilitating my time in Ethiopia, I was well set.

The first of the two weeks was spent largely in and around the ILRI offices in the capital. During this time I sat in on meetings, spoke to a variety of individuals and organisations, and got a much better feel for the role land and livestock have to play in the country’s development. Being my first trip to Ethiopia this was time well spent, helping contextualise the knowledge I had picked up in the literature. During this first week I also took the chance to explore Addis: a buzzing, sprawling, modern African metropolis. With Addis being a hub for international agencies and Ethiopia the third largest recipient of UK development aid, it was no surprise that the city was also playing host to the United Nations Financing for Development Conference that same week.

The city was not all foreign to me, however, with two former colleagues now living and working in Addis Ababa. Converging on a city some 4000 miles from home made for the perfect excuse to catch up over some injera and wat (the national dish of Ethiopia) and a beer.

Getting out and into the field

The aim of the second week was to travel out to the Afar region in the northeast of the country. First hand data collection for the project will involve two periods of sustained community-based participatory research there. As with all community-based research, gaining access would be the key. The Afar region, with its distinct geography, cultures and language, meant accessing relevant communities was a key concern ahead of my trip.

Following correspondence with one of ILRI’s national partners who have field offices and ongoing projects in pastoral areas of the Afar, I arranged to meet with one of their project staff at a café in the grounds of Addis Ababa University. Following a hugely informative conversation, a few phone calls and multiple coffees later, I had a car, driver and local facilitator arranged to take me out into the field. I would be picked up at 7am the next day.


The next three days served as a great introduction to the dryland areas of Ethiopia. The further from Addis we drove, the dryer, hotter and more barren the landscape got. After several hours on the road we arrived in the village of Gewane in the heart of the Afar region, one potential site for my upcoming fieldwork. Exploring the area by car and on foot it became apparent that, dependant on the July rains which had yet to materialise, local pastoralists were struggling to access the necessary fodder and water to see them through the dry season. With daytime temperatures pushing 40 degrees a delay in the onset of the rains was proving fatal for a significant proportion of the local livestock. River beds were running dry and cattle and camel carcasses littered the landscape. According to local facilitator Dubno, herders were being forced to travel up to 80km to access sufficient fodder so that their livestock could have a chance of making it through the dry season.


Conditions were visibly tough, and telling, and it was not difficult to see why the area has a long history of drought, food insecurity and famine. Speaking to just a small number of pastoralists over these three days it became clear that they were increasingly turning to sedentarised agriculture and camel herding (over the traditional cattle-based livestock herding) in an effort to increase their resilience. It is exactly these trends that focused my attention on this region in the first place, and that the upcoming fieldwork will look to interrogate further.

As I look forward to returning in September for my fieldwork proper, the remoteness and distance from the nearest town drove home the need to be prepared: in terms of equipment, but also in the form of a good long book, or two…


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