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Counting the costs: replacing pastoralism with irrigated agriculture in the Awash valley, north-eastern Ethiopia

For planning purposes, it is important to not only determine the economic viability of a development scheme, but also that it produces economic benefits that exceed those that were already being obtained from the pre-existing production systems. This study undertakes these calculations with regards to grazing lands on the banks of the Awash river in north-eastern Ethiopia. These areas were converted into large-scale cotton and sugar plantations in the 1960s. It quantifies the economic benefits generated by three alternative agricultural systems (pastoral livestock production versus cotton and sugar cane estates) and concludes that despite considerable investment by the government, pastoralism is more profitable than either cotton or sugarcane farming while avoiding many of the environmental costs associated with large-scale irrigation projects. The findings suggest that pastoralism is a surer investment in the longer term resilience and economic stability of Ethiopia’s dry lowlands.