- “Bribing the Land”:An Appraisal of the Farming Systems of the Maccaa Oromo in Wallagga
Sustainable agriculture is one of the major themes that gained currency in the 1980s, together with macroeconomic reform, food security, and income generation, in response to the financial and ecological problems that imported, high-input modern agricultural practices, such as improved varieties of selected seeds, chemical fertilizers, and weed killers, have engendered. In developing countries, the emphasis on sustainability evolved from a reassessment of the role of indigenous systems of knowledge and practices in sectors such as agriculture, fisheries, and natural resources management, which, on a small scale, often proved to be more sustainable than some imported systems.1 Later, the concept of sustainable agriculture became integrated into the new strategy of Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development (SARD) and gradually replaced the previous approach, Farming Systems Research (FSR).2
Scholars, particularly agricultural economists, have defined sustainability in various ways. According to Vernon W. Ruttan (1988), "Any definition of sustainability which is appropriate to be used as a guide to agricultural practice should at least recognize the need for enhancement of productivity to meet the increased demands created by a growing population and rising income."3 In this article, sustainability refers to the capacity of a given farming society to survive over a longer period of time—from generation to generation in an area or region, resisting [End Page 97] shocks, strains, and stresses that are natural or man-made—and to be able to feed its growing population in an economically viable and socially acceptable human-oriented manner. An attempt will be made to assess the extent to which the indigenous Oromo farming system in Wallagga complies with such a strategy.
Over the course of several centuries, the Maccaa Oromo of Wallagga in Western Ethiopia have developed a highly diverse and complex qotiisa (farming system), using indigenous agricultural knowledge and practices. Through the application of their agricultural knowledge and practices, the Maccaa Oromo have been able to obtain surplus harvests and maintain harmonious and balanced relationships between crop cultivation, livestock raising, plant life, and the environment. Their farming systems and practices have also provided a certain degree of continuity and sustainability during periodic disruptions due to climatic variations and political upheavals. This article attempts to shed light on several aspects of the Maccaa Oromo farming system and their implications for sustainable development.4
An Overview of the Agricultural History of the Oromo
At present, the study of agriculture and the environment in Oromia is in its infancy. Written accounts of almost all aspects of Oromo history and culture are not only scarce but sometimes fragmented, misrepresented, and misinterpreted.5 In Ethiopian studies, there seems to be a lack of emphasis on farming systems and a dearth of adequate scientific documentation, especially on the agricultural history and indigenous agricultural systems of the Oromo.
The available oral and written sources indicate that the cradle land of the Oromo, the largest ethnonation in northeast Africa with a distinct culture and language, Afaan Oromoo, is located in present day south-central Ethiopia.6 Before the sixteenth century, which was marked by major population movements in Ethiopia and the Horn, the region is reputed to have been extremely fertile, suitable for grain cultivation and animal husbandry and sustaining a highly diverse flora and fauna. It had sufficient rainfall and enough water for people and their cattle. There was plenty of pasture for the numerous herds and flocks of the Oromo. [End Page 98]
Over time, however, the population of both people and domestic animals increased and the Oromo were forced to extend their habitat, as well as their agricultural and grazing lands. Written as well as oral evidence indicates that there was significant human and animal growth among the Oromo during the sixteenth century. It was at this time that the Gadaa institution, the socioeconomic and political system of the Oromo, reached its full maturity, leading to what may be referred to as an "Oromo Renaissance."7 In addition, external pressures, such as the continuous expansion of the Abyssinian Christian kingdom from the north, and internal demographic and ecological changes triggered the famed sixteenth-century "Oromo...