Agriculture is the backbone of East Africa’s economy,and the most important livelihood strategy for mountain communities is to ensure regional food security. East Africa’s mountainous areas are known for their favourable agricultural conditions due to their fertile volcanic soils, cooler temperatures and more stable rainfall patterns (FAO, 2013; FAO, 2014). As a consequence, the population densities in the mountainous areas of East Africa are much higher than in lowland areas. While Africa has an average population density of 35 people per km_, the mountain slopes of Mount Elgon in Uganda have a population density of 900 people per km_ (UNEP, 2014). Similarly, the majority of Ethiopia’s population, nearly 90 per cent, live in the Ethiopian Highlands, which has the country’s most productive agricultural land and receives the highest rainfall (Alweny et al., 2014; Josephson et al., 2014). Due to the intense population pressure, farm sizes are small – generally below 2 hectares (FAO, 2013). In Rwanda, 25 per cent of families have less than 0.2 hectares of arable land (UNEP, 2014). As a result of the small size of land holdings, 50 to 60 per cent of the population lives in poverty in East Africa’s mountains (FAO, 2013) and food insecurity is widespread (UNEP, 2014). The pressure on limited land leads to deforestation and, as a consequence, land degradation through soil erosion is a common feature on the fertile mountain land (Alweny et al., 2014). Coupled with other risk factors such as remoteness and poor infrastructure, mountain communities and the agricultural sector are extremely vulnerable to climate change.
From collection: Sustainable Mountain Development in East Africa in a Changing Climate
Nieves Lopez Izquierdo