Ethiopian Village Studies: Korodegaga, Dodota, Arssi

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WIDE1 – research done 1994/5

Ethiopian Village Studies: Korodegaga, Dodota, Arssi

Ethiopian Village Studies: Korodegaga, Dodota, Arssi 1

Locating the Site In Time and Place 1

Geography and Population 1

Climate 1

Production 2

Infrastructure 2

Social Structure 2

History 3

Seasonal Activities and Calendars 6

The Farm Economy 7

Crops 7

Livestock 7

Land 8

Labour 9

Interlinkages 9

Technology 10

Innovations 10

Common Property Resources 10

Environment 12

Off-farm Activities 12

Within the community 12

Occupational Structure 12

Migration 12

Reproductive Activity 12

House management 12

Fuel and lighting 12

Water 12

Sanitation 13

Fertility 13

Childbirth and Childcare 13

Socialisation 13

Education 14

Training 15

Health 15

Consumption 16

Food and other day-to-day goods. 16

Saving and Investment 17

Housing 17

Household assets 17

Local services 17

Local Institutions and Organisations 17

Households 17

Marriage 18

Divorce 21

Inheritance 21

Kinship 22

Lineages/Clans 22

Age grading, life cycle changes and rites of passage. 22

Friendship contracts 22

Citizenship 23

Markets 23

Credit and Social Security 23

Community decision-making 23

Local Organisations 24

Redistributive mechanisms 24

Beliefs and Values 25

Land 25

Religion 25

Explanations of misfortune and illness 25

Community values 26

Political beliefs and attitudes 26

The Community 26

Community organisation 26

Politics 26

Social conflict 26

Poverty and wealth 27

Social mobility 27

Status 28

Social stratification 28

Dissent 28

Relationships with Other Communities and the Wider Society 28

Clans and tribes 28

Villages and regions 28

Relationships with wider Ethiopia 28

Effects of government policies 29

Government activities in the community 30

NGO activity in the community 31

Future 33

Bibliography 33

Glossary 33

Acronyms 34

Locating the Site In Time and Place

Geography and Population

The community of the Korodegaga Peasant Association is composed of different clans of Oromo people. The people have settled in 9 villages (see below). Alklellu and Amolla are 1 hour 50 minutes’ walk from Sefera and Buko while Chirota and Arda are 1 hour 30 minutes from these villages. Shallotta, Olati and Bowra are 35 minutes’ walk from Sefera and Buko. In national political terms Korodegaga is part of Dodota Wereda of Arssi zone of region 4 or Oromia. The boundary between Korodegaga and the neighbouring peasant associations in Shewa is the Awash river, which people cross on a raft manually hauled across the river on a steel cable. Korodegaga also shares a boundary with some peasant associations in Sire wereda of Arssi zone from which it is separated by the Qalata river (which prevents travel across the river during rainy months). But travel to Dera town (the capital of Dodota Wereda) is possible: the walking distance is 3 to 3½ hours. Korodegaga is remote. It is located at the north-east edge of Arssi administrative region, bordering on Eastern Shewa and is the farthest PA from the capital city of the region - Asela. Korodegaga is mostly in the lowland area with an altitude of less than 1000 metres above sea level. (Webb, et al 1992:34) but also the PA's altitude ranges from 1300 metres at Sefera/Buko to 1500 metres at Alellu/Amolla (RRA).

The community's livelihood is based on settled farming. (Ibid:35) Korodegaga has repeatedly suffered from hunger since the 1980s. For instance, IFPRI's Research Report by Webb and others (1992:35 and IFPRI, 1989:7-8) indicates the years 1983, 1986, 1987, 1989 and 1990 as years of crisis peaks in food supply. According to the Oromia Relief and Rehabilitation Commission Bureau Early Warning and Planning department, in Dodota Wereda 73,367 people or 11,785 households sought relief because of displacement and drought (Oromia RRC Bureau,1993:22). IFPRI'S report says "...Korodegaga...has been something of an anomaly in recent years in this otherwise grain-surplus province. ...The area forms part of a drought-prone belt that runs north-south through the floor of the Rift Valley at altitudes of between 1,200 and 1,500 metres" (IFPRI,1989:7). The soil is sandy and clay loam. On the extent of soil degradation IFPRI's 1989 report reads "...the longer-term dangers of continued deforestation are great... The likelihood of increased erosion over the medium-term is substantial, with both arable and grazing lands under threat". (IFPRI, 1989:21)

There are 304 households at the site and the total population is 1400 according to PA sources. The supervisors of the survey thought the population was larger. Compared to surrounding villages Korodegaga is larger in area but it is poorer.


Although Korodegaga is on the Arssi side of the Awash river (one of the largest rivers in Ethiopia), "...the locality through which it runs at this point is dry, receiving an average of between 600 and 700 mm of rainfall per annum". (IFPRI,1989:7) What makes agriculture precarious in this locality is its reliance on rainfed production. But, the success of the Wonji and Metahara sugar estates and the fruit and vegetable plantations of Merti Jeju and Nura Era testify to the local potential of irrigated farming. (IFPRI,1989:7)

The rainy months are June, July and August. Except during the rainy months the area is very hot, making it very difficult for people to subsist given their low food intake. When the rains stop short, the heat dries the crops. In summer the air is a bit colder than in the winter season. But from November to January the range of temperature is very high. The night is very cold as the day is hot.

The population get their water either from the Awash river or the Keleta river. The Awash river is a steady water supply the people use all the year. There are no fluctuations except for flooding sometimes in summer. It is also used for washing clothes and livestock. It takes 5 to 10 minutes to walk to it from Sefera and Buko and 30 minutes from Bowra, Olati and Shallotta villages. The Keleta River is also a steady water supply all year. It takes 10 minutes to walk to it from Allellu and 25 minutes from Amolla, Arda and Chirota.


The principal crops in the area include maize, tef, sorghum, beans, and sometimes chickling peas (especially during good rainy months). The economy of the population is based on subsistence farming, characterised by small farm size, limited fertiliser use, and the area is prone to climate- related production fluctuations (Webb,1992:35 and Gadisaa Birru interview, Feb.17, 1994). Maize and tef are the principal crops in Korodegaga (IFPRI,1989:37). "(F)irewood collection [and marketing] is the principal non-farm source of income for poorer farmers" (IFPRI,1989:21). People do not market their output as this is not sufficient to cover subsistence needs.

There is no belg cropping season in the area, due to the absence of rain. Farmers can only produce during the meher season. After May or June most people do not have enough food to eat until the next harvest. The 1993 meher harvest was very low (the worst when compared with the best of the last five years). The 1992 harvest was better than that of 1991.

There was an irrigation system which was damaged. There is now a new irrigation channel which is not finished. This is a UNICEF-sponsored irrigation scheme started in 1989 but suspended on completion due to technical design faults.

The main livestock kept in the area are cattle, sheep and goats. Goats are the most numerous. Due to shortage of rain there is a problem of fodder in the area. Households do not get any income from the sale of animal products such as milk, butter and eggs. While they sell firewood collected from communal woodland, they do not get any income from tree crops such as gesho or eucalyptus.


The nearest towns are Dera (25 km south), Bofa (10 km north) and Awash Melkasa (8 km west). There is a dirt road from the PA that runs 18km from the local town of Dera and a manually hauled raft (steel cable) to cross the Awash (see picture). The raft is constructed of oil drums lashed to a wooden platform and crosses the Awash 2km downstream from Sodere.

There is no market in the village. The nearest weekly market (Mondays) is in Dera. This is also a grain and livestock market. There are grain and livestock marketing problems related to transportation, since the PA is surrounded by the Awash and Keleta rivers. The PA is a member of a Service Cooperative and has set up a shop.

On electricity, IFPRI's report says "The school (along with the grain mill and the PA offices) is supplied with electricity by a single power cable". (IFPRI, 1989:21)

Social Structure

The only ethnic group living in the site are Oromo. There has not been any ethnic conflict at the site in recent years. The main language spoken is Oromiffa. A few people speak Amharic.

The majority (58.4%) of the population in rural areas of Arssi region are Muslims, followed by 40.8% Orthodox Christians (CSA, 1989:27). Although the infiltration of Islam into the present day Arssi region goes back to the sixteenth century, it became the dominant religion only during the last decades of the 19th century. (Braukämper, 1988:769) The Ethiopian Orthodox Church adopted an offensive missionary strategy to challenge Islam since the restoration of the Ethiopian rule in the 1940s. (Ibid:770) Braukämper adds " Arssi informants reported that abuna Baselyos travelled in the Lake Regions as far as Gadab in 1957 and baptised a considerable number of people... However, almost all Christian Arssi opted to turn to Islam shortly afterwards" (ibid). It is because of this that Braukämper concluded that by the beginning of the 1970s Arssiland was almost completely Islamicised. IFPRI's report on the religion of the Korodegaga community concurs with this observation. "All 186 households currently in the village are Muslim" (IFPRI, 1989:23). There have never been any religious conflicts at the site.

Among the Oromo society, like most of the rest of Ethiopian societies, male dominance in almost all spheres of human activities is clearly observed. The Central Statistical Authority's report of the 1984 Housing and Population Census revealed this fact. "The headship rate was found to be lower among female than male at all age-groups, a finding not unexpected given the dominance of the patriarchal and patrilineal family system in Ethiopia" (CSA, 1989:49). It is, therefore, clear that crucial farm management decisions are made by men unless that particular household is headed by a woman.


The history of the Arssi Oromo is not exceptional as far as their place in the history of Imperial Ethiopia is concerned. They suffered a similar fate as most of the people placed under Ethiopian imperial rule towards the turn of the last century. People recall that the introduction of the Imperial Ethiopian rule by Menelik II and the strengthening of the system by Emperor Haile Selassie I denied people their right to farm the flat, fertile and cool areas of Arssi land and forced them to move to the arid, hot and ragged lowlands. The introduction of the alien political system converted them to tenants and replaced their traditional social, political and cultural system called gada.

The earliest event people in the village could recall being told about was 1880EC when there was a conflict between the richest Arssi Oromo Gossa Dollemo and the Amhara occupier known as Ras Abate Bellew. In 1885ET there was a conflict between Menelik's soldiers and the Arssi Oromo organised by Lenjiso Diga (the Kedida war). In 1927EC local strong men were chosen and ordered by Haile Selassie to go to Ogaden to fight the Italians who were coming into Ethiopia through Somalia. In 1936EC Haile Selassie returned from England.

In 1954EC the day became dark. The people did not know if it was an eclipse or not but it was from 11am that the day became dark and all those who were looking after cattle in the fields could not return to their homes. In 1960EC Haile Selassie made Sahilu Difaye leader of the Arssi Administrative Region. In 1966EC Haile Selassie was detained. In 1975EC National Military Service was declared. In 1977EC the drought forced many people to sell their cattle, to start selling firewood and to migrate to other areas. In 1978EC the farmers started to organise under the Producers' Co-operatives. In 1983EC came Transformation (the end of the Derg).

There was villagisation at the site in 1978EC. Since 1991 people have moved back to their original homes, either voluntarily or with some pressure.

Major events in the last ten years that stick in most people's minds are:

- road construction in 1977/8EC

- villagisation in 1978EC

- the death of Haji Bosie in 1979EC

- the school was built in 1981EC

- land redistribution in 1983EC

- death of Haji Kedir Detie in 1985EC

Maize is the oldest crop grown in Korodegaga and the surrounding areas. Although the life of the earliest residents was based on cattle-rearing they ate maize together with milk. But they only ploughed one-tenth of a hectare because they used wood as a hoe and could produce enough maize for the family from that much land. The quantity consumed by a family in 1880 was not more than half a quintal per annum.

Wheat and barley were introduced when Emperor Menelik sent his soldiers as a form of migrant (as if they were people attacked by famine) into Arssi land and begged the surrounding rich people to help them. These migrants got land and started to plough and plant wheat and barley. The local people imitated their farming system and began to produce these crops. However, the need of the Emperor and his followers to make these soldiers landlords in Arssi (because the soldiers became tenants of the Emperor and his followers if this strategy was effective), and the discomfort of the new life for the Arssi Oromo when they were sedentary compared with nomadic, led to disagreements between the two. The new soldier settlers who were assisted by the government began to extend their farmland by force, and in 1912 the Oromos led by Lenjiso Diga organised themselves to attack the soldiers. The conflict happened at a place called Kedida and lasted 2 days. The soldiers won, and afterwards the representative of the government came to the area and made an agreement between the two groups. The Oromos allowed the new settlers to keep the land they controlled until the conflict began, while the soldiers agreed to give their weapons to the representatives and not to fight in future.

Tef, haricot beans, millet, lentils, horsebeans, and cowpeas were introduced around the end of the reign of Menelik. The Amhara settlers knew how to prepare injera, bread, tella, wat etc which were not known to the Oromos. The Amharas also had contact with other Amharas living elsewhere which gave them access to different types of crops. The Italian Occupation helped the Amhara to increase their farm size and grow different kinds of crops. When the Italians began to take the cattle owned by the Oromo nomads by force most of the richest Oromos were forced to migrate to other areas and then the Amharas took their land and became landlords.

In 1953EC (when General Mengistu Neway the Defence Minister tried to get rid of the higher officials in Haile Selassie's government) most of the nearby towns (Dera, Boffa, Awash Melkassa and Sodere) started their weekly markets. The peasants sold livestock, grain and other farm products and bought finished goods like clothes, salt, sugar, edible oil, spices etc.

Crop History

1880 1885 1927 1936 1954 1960 1966 1975 1977 1978 1983

Maize x x x x x x x x x x x

Wheat x x x x x x x x x x

Barley x x x x x x x x x x

Teff x x x x x x x x x

Haricot beans x x x x x x x x x

Millet x x x x x x x x x

Lentils x x x x x x

Horsebeans x x x x x x

Cowpeas x x x x x x

Banana x

Papaya x

Orange x

Tomato x

Sweet potato x

Onion x

Green pepper x

Source: Rapid assessment

The construction of Sodere Resort Hotel 3 kilometres from the PA enabled the local people to use the public transport following the road from the hotel to Awash Melkassa, then towards Asella (the capital of Arssi administrative region) and Nazreth. The downfall of the Imperial government and the coming to power of the Derg emancipated them from tenancy by nationalizing all rural lands in March 1975. Under the Derg agricultural producers' cooperatives, service cooperatives and collectivised villages were established. Korodegaga Peasant Association is composed of two PAs which were called Korodegaga and Burkunteedagaga. Haji Gabbi, the current chairman of the PA recalls that the reason why the two PAs joined was the quota system of military conscription. He says: "the two PAs were required to recruit 10 militia men each, which was too much for such sparsely populated kebeles. Then leaders of the two PAs and elders sat together and decided to assimilate the two PAs and formed Korodegaga PA which has 1,400 ha instead of 800."

In 1978 (EC) the government ordered the PA to organize the farmers under the Co-operative farming to be able to help them by introducing new technologies. The farm lands of the cooperatives and the collectivised villages were established on the edge of Awash river at a place called Koro. About 85 farmers, of whom 3 were female, became members of the PC. Most of the fertile land came under their control. There were farmers who were not members of the association who owned land privately. UNICEF introduced irrigation for the co-operative farmers by installing a motor generator. The Co-operative farmers grew bananas, papaya, oranges, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, onions and green peppers and shared the produce at harvest time. One farmer could gain up to 2000 birr from the sale of these crops. The amount of birr given to each farmer was based on the number of days worked. There was no farmer who obtained less than 1000 birr in addition to the food crops grown. They were by and large richer than the farmers not organised into an association. The PC was abolished with the abolition of the Derg regime in 1983EC. No-one was responsible for maintaining the generator and organising the farmers to continue their membership. But they hired someone to maintain the generator and shared the land to use separately. They continued to grow these crops until 1985EC but stopped when the generator became useless due to flooding from the Awash river.

The 1977EC drought changed the productivity of people. Since this time there has not been sufficient rain, and the crops, especially lentils, horsebeans, and cowpeas, began to dry at the time of their growth. The farmers decided therefore to stop producing these crops. Currently, the people of Korodegaga have nothing in common except the Service Cooperatives shop located roughly 100 meters away from Awash. A significant number of the population abandoned the new villages and the members of the producers' cooperatives divided their collective properties among themselves and started working on their individual plots. For about the last 10 years there has not been any history of good harvests. The people recall that the area has been food deficient since 1980/81.

There was no farming using oxen until the occupation by Menelik's soldier. Sowing of crops also began at that time. The life of all the Arssi Oromo was based on cattle-rearing. The fertility of the soil was "100%" until the Italian occupation. An informant produced 10 quintals of maize on ¼ hectare (1 timad) of land a year before the Italian occupation. There were changes in consumption habits because most people started to eat injera, bread etc, and the extension of farmland as well as deforestation during and after the Italian occupation decreased the fertility of the soil.

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