The Boran took up agriculture relatively recently, when the productivity of livestock began to fall – in Duba’s words, these “problems forced us to become involved in farming”. Before then “cultivation was unknown”.
Several narrators say they learnt agriculture “from the Dergue”; Huqa says it was introduced to his community about “30 years ago”. The crops grown are barley, wheat, maize and haricot beans; the land is not good for growing teff, the staple grain of Ethiopia, according to Arima.
Narrators seem, at the very least, ambivalent about agriculture. Duba concedes that farming has had some positive aspects but says it has also “destroyed many things”. As the land was taken over for fields, they lost a particularly nutritious type of cattle feed, made from ‘black’ soil.
“The ploughing of land has also destroyed the grass,” Duba says, a point that several others (including Huqa) emphasise. Although adopted as a ‘solution’, agriculture has increased their problems in some ways by reducing the land available for pasture.
In addition, crop yields are very low because rainfall is erratic and insufficient. Gurracha says they can’t sustain a livelihood from farming and don’t produce enough to last through to the next harvest. Furthermore, as Iyya points out, when they clash with other clans and are forced to flee, they take their animals but “you can’t take crops with you”.
Like others, Iyya feels they are “spoiling” land for cattle by turning it over to farming, yet the future and their culture is still tied up with cattle: “[As] to your question whether crop cultivation could improve our life or not, definitely it will not… In our area one’s life changes for the better with animal rearing. It is the cattle that bring about such change in life.”