Rufo is 70 years old and describes what the highlands used to be like. There were “shady trees, vegetation and grasses. We used to shelter ourselves when heavy rain poured down… The highland was everything for us. You can compare it to a mother”.
She says that excessive population pressure – both of people and animals – is caused by the Boran now sharing their land with other ethnic groups, and has led to overgrazing and destruction of natural resources. She also talks about women”s increased workload, saying they are “exhausted” from spending hours grinding grain and walking long distances to collect water and firewood in tremendous heat.
Although her community has “not absolutely stopped using milk and its products”, it largely depends on growing food crops, which is precarious because of the drought. “We grow crops when we get rain. When the rains fail we do not grow crops, goodbye to farmland.” The cattle “are all skinny”, she says, and they perish in the dry season.
Things that were available in the old days are not available now. Is there anything left from the past? The higher land where we used to breed sheep, the forest where we used to hide ourselves for self-defence during enemy attacks, they do not exist.
The upland”s features were shady trees, vegetation and grasses. We used to shelter ourselves [there] 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. The higher land was everything for us. You can compare it to a mother…
I am not smart enough to calculate time by the calendar [but] I think three gadaa (traditional political and administrative system; a gadaa lasts eight years) cycles have elapsed [since]…the rains have faded away, the pastures have diminished, the quality of life has declined…
Pressure on resources
It is because of the absence of rain and forest that desertification became serious. It was after the decline of forest density that [lack of] pasture became a problem. Of course the increase in population numbers is another factor in the failure to meet life”s requirements.
Now there is no rain, no grazing land and no milk in the cows’ udders. Even physically, the cattle are not looking healthy. They are undernourished. They perish in the dry season. They are all skinny – old cows, calves, bulls and heifers, all are skinny. Earlier we had rain; when we were short of rain in the lowland we moved to the higher land. When we felt there was inadequate rain in the higher land we moved back to the lowland. Now both [areas] are alike; they are overpopulated; there are no pastures in either area.
In the past the Boran alone used to posses the grazing land. Now the Sidi, Mariyana and Digodi share our land. They also share the water, so we do not have enough… We had conflicts until recently.
“If you lack both animals and grain”
We have not absolutely stopped using milk and its products. But principally we use crops. We grow crops when we get rain. [But] when the rains fail we [say] goodbye to farmland… [If the crops fail] our only choice is to depend on our cattle. As I said, we have not completely detached [ourselves] from cattle. If we lacked both animals and grain, what else would we have? There would be miserable consequences…
New troubles for women
There was no [grinding grain before]. [Now] we are always grinding grain. And we are exhausted from fetching water. Firewood collection is another trouble for women. You have to walk long distances. The heat is so burning.
In the past all this place was covered by trees. Everywhere you went you found firewood in the old days. If you could not find firewood you would chop down big trees and use them. Now those days are gone.
This interview has been specially edited for the web and cut down by more than half. Some re-ordering has taken place: square brackets indicate “inserted” text for clarification; round brackets are translations / interpretations; and dots indicate cuts in the text. The primary aim has been to remain true to the spirit of the interview, while losing questions, repetition, and confusing or overlapping sections.