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Narrators date the beginning of the process of desertification to the severe drought of 1984-5, when widespread famine occurred. Ibrahim recalls how “people were forced to eat roots of trees… Large numbers of old people and children, in particular, died of hunger.”

Since then the seasonal rains have been unreliable and there is often drought for months on end. “Drought is serious now,” says Chuqulisa. As a result, “disease spreads; children fall ill, people can’t be well nourished; living becomes expensive; the price of animals falls. There is nothing good about desertification.”

Several narrators talk about the better climate of the higher land where they used to go. “The upland was everything for us. You can compare it to a mother,” says Rufo, an elderly woman. “[There] were shady trees, vegetation and grasses. We used to shelter ourselves when heavy rain poured down. Bees do not buzz any more in the forest and no honey is made in the stems of big trees.”

Like other narrators, Gurracha is well aware of the “direct relation” between deforestation and desertification: “As the volume of the forest dwindled, the rains also decreased in quantity and conversely the heat increased.”

Iyya too says they now understand rains and forests “go hand in hand”, and Ibrahim comments: “As a consequence of deforestation… conditions have changed… The heat is becoming a terrible threat.”


Desertification is a key theme of the Desert voices: Ethiopia oral testimony project.


Arima: punishment from God

Chuqulisa: love is lacking

Diramo: tied to our cattle

Duba: solutions to problems

Gurracha: conflict devastated it

Huqa: pleasure from family

Ibrahim: the crazy heat

Iyya: conserving the forest

Loko: farming from necessity

Rufo: goodbye to farmland

Key themes

Introduction to the project




Food security




Social institutions

Government assistance