Ecological and Socio-Economic Implications of Free Grazing in Ethiopia: A Review
Keywords:Abiotic, Biotic, Ethiopia, Environment, Grazing, Livestock
Livestock production in the tropics (including Ethiopia) is mainly sustained on free grazing as a major feed source. It is a known fact that the practice of livestock grazing is important for the growth of green biomass and composition of plant communities on grazing-lands. Moreover, grazing has the beneficial impact on biodiversity as extensive grazing contributes to the aesthetic and leisure importance of pastures. The practice can also contribute to the production of healthy feed of high quality. Grazing by livestock can also be used as a tool to limit the expansion of weeds and shrubs in open landscapes, but in most cases cannot stop or reverse natural succession. The conservation and protection of pastures requires the careful selection of razing management and appropriate number of grazing animals. Grazing species differ in their preference of habitat and plant species, which can enable the effective use of mixed grazing systems with different animal species. Thus, for purposes of biodiversity conservation, grazing should be combined with other practices, such as mowing, cutting or burning. Improper use of pasture such as both overgrazing and under grazing creates a threat for its biodiversity. Thus, both abandonment and overly intensive management of pastured grassland are harmful for biodiversity and should be avoided. Optimum grazing can be a tool to maintain or enhance biodiversity of grazed areas. The question, of which method or combination of methods is most suitable and most feasible in a particular area, depends on local biological and socio-economic factors. Research findings suggest that existing agro-environment schemes based only on blanket stocking rates are too crude to increase plant diversity and that site conditions must also be taken into consideration. In Ethiopia, the increase in number of livestock coupled with increase in human population has resulted in shrinkage of grazing lands and animals are limited to graze on overgrazed communal lands, road side and aftermath grazing and limited supplementation of straw. Besides, soil erosion and deforestation has worsened the situation. In line with this, one of the contributing factors to poor soil fertility, land degradation and erosion is the free grazing of animals. Free grazing is common practice in Ethiopia except in areas where grazing lands are limited in size and where the farming system favors growth of perennial cash crops. Strategic research is required into methods of achieving compliance with environmental protection and sustainable agricultural practice in developing countries including Ethiopia. In order to increase outputs from livestock, conserve soil and moisture and reforest degraded and over grazed communal grazing lands, controlling animals from freely grazing can be taken as alternative option of the negative effect of free grazing. This paper reviews ecological and economic benefits of free grazing, the effect of over grazing on natural resources and techniques to reduce the negative effect free grazing in Ethiopia.