by Mesfin Woldemariam
Professor of Geography

Coffee beans collectingComing to Ethiopia’s natural resources, the location of the country between the equator and the tropic of Capricorn is important.

This location makes Ethiopia a tropical country. But the altitude modifies the temperature conditions so much that the highlands of Ethiopia are cool to cold throughout the year.

Altitude also affects rainfall, the leeward sides of mountains receiving considerably more than the lowlands. Because of the rugged topography and the considerable variation of altitude, even within short distances the climatic variations are significantly great in less than 50kms.

One may experience great extremes of temperature, from very cold and misty weather to a very hot and scorching tropical conditions. The great variation in climate is the basic indicator of the immense agricultural potential of the country.

Warm weather crops grow in different parts of the country. Moreover, differences in the seasons of rains in different parts of the country allow different harvesting seasons. With the introduction of new technology, water conservation and irrigation, much more land could be brought under cultivation.

Ethiopia is the water – tower of Eastern Africa, dominating the drainage systems of the Mediterranean Sea, the red sea, and the indean ocean. The baro, the abbay (blue nile), and the gash are the major  Ethiopia components of the nile river. In the summer months Ethiopia’s contribiution to the nile from the abbay alone may reach 80% or more.

The Ethiopian rift valley has seven lakes at elevation ranging from 1200m to 1850m above sea level. With their wealth of fish, crocodiles and water birds these lakes provide exciting experience for naturalists and bird watchers. But the most famous lak in Ethiopia is lake tana, in the north – western part of the country.

It is the source of Nile. At an elevation of over 1800m above sea level this heart shaped lake has islands with ancient monasteries which have preserved some of the precious historical treasures of the country.

The great diversity of altitude and climate has made Ethiopia, inspite of its relatively small  size, home of many plants and animals.

Ethiopia is the home of numerious endemic mammals, such as the simien red fox, the walia ibex, the gelada baboon, the mountain nyala, and others. Both as tourist attractions and for the protection of these endangered species of animals, there are several national parks.

The awash national park, the bale mountains national park, the simien mountains national park and the omo national park are the important ones.

Ethiopia’s importance and being an independent centre of cultivated plants has long been established. N.I. Vavilov, a famous Russian botanist wrote;

According to the number of its botanical varities of wheat, Ethiopia occupies the first place…This is also the centre of origion of cultivated bareley. No where else does exist in nature such diversity of forms and genes of barley. A number of genera of cultivated plants are found only in Ethiopia, for example, the bread grain Eragrostis Abyssinica and the oil bearing Guixotica Abyssinica.

In these connection, it may be noted that many authorities believe that Ethiopia is also the origien of coffee. Infact, some say that the word ‘coffee’ comes from Kafa, the Ethiopian region most famous for its wild coffee forests. Coffee grows wild in many of the western parts of Ethiopia, including Kaffa, illubabur and wollega.

In addition, there are coffee producing regions in the south, in a belt extending from Guraghe through kembata and hadiyya to welayita, sidamo, Ghidewo, and Gamo Gofa. The pecuculiarity of these coffee producing regions in southern Ethiopia is that coffee plantation is associated with inset (the so called false banana) cultivation.

Some of the best Ethiopian coffee are from yorga chefe, in ghidewo, comes from this part. There is also coffee producing region in the east – Harer.

In the literature on famine, there are many writers who point to the dominance of cash crops and the decline of food production as one of the reasons. In the case of Ethiopia, this is far from the truth. Even including the so called wild coffee forests, the land under coffee is small.

In the major coffee producing regions where the geographical conditions are very favorable, the land under coffee is  in the range of 6 to 14% of the total cultivated land. More over the major coffee producing regions have not sofar been vulnerable to famine.

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