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This study aims at understanding the dynamic of the agrarian system of a small agricultural region of Kambatta, South Ethiopia. Many interviews carried out during five months in the field with farmers of this region, gave us a in-depth understanding of the historical evolution and of the present production systems. The technical and economic aspects of these systems were closely analyzed to better identify the diversity of farmers’ situations. When arriving in this region of Southern Ethiopian highlands, the abundance of vegetation and the very high rural population density are quite surprising. The predominance of enset (Ensete ventricosum) or “false banana” plantations combined with the omnipresence of hedges planted with trees surrounding small farms compose a unique landscape in Ethiopia. High amount of rainfall and good quality soils are indeed favorable to agriculture. Whereas food security relies mostly on enset and garden production, most annual crops (wheat, broad bean) are rather used as cash crops. Cattle breeding constitutes the keystone of the agrarian system, because of the diverse roles it plays in farms, as a means of production, a source of fertility and a capital asset. At the same time, maintaining cattle has become more and more difficult in a context of land and fodder shortage, which started in the 1980’s. So far, farmers have dealt with this problem by implementing a “cut-and-carry” system, allowing them to manage meticulously the decreasing source of fodder. Yet, today’s weakening of production systems is worrying, with very low family income, in which external activities play a great role (more than half of families’ incomes hardly reach the survival threshold). It is urgent to find a way to increase the added value per hectare in an area where many families face food insecurity. We carried out a discussion about association and diversification of cultivated species, which could increase food and fodder production while getting rid of yoking. Nevertheless, it would not be complete to devise possible changes without taking into account the particular history of this country. The “burden of the state” (J.Gallais, 1989) has always weighed on the shoulders of Ethiopian small-scale farmers, and still greatly influences the evolution of agrarian systems.

Authors: Aurélie CHEVEAU, Camille HOORNAERT, Hubert COCHET (NGO Inter Aide).