Sengade Pasture

Irob's Sengade Pasture
(Submitted by Dr. Ann Waters)

The indigenous Irob institution for managing the Sengade pasture

Among the Irob people – a minority group of Irobigna-speaking agropastoralists in northern Tigray on the border to Eritrea – there are close links between traditional democratic institutions and management of natural resources. Clan membership is a key factor in regulating and accessing grazing areas. As one example: several decades ago, the Boknaito clan of the Irob drew up oral rules to govern the care and use of the grazing area called Sengade, and established structures to enforce them. These rules were written down in the early 1970s. Until today, two subdistricts – Alitena and Weratle – have rights to graze their livestock in Sengade. The area is closed to grazing from mid-June to mid-October, during the rainy season, so that the grass can bulk up and the ground is not trampled and compacted. The rainwater can then infiltrate better into the soil. During the pasture-opening ceremony each October, the pasture is blessed by priests from the Church (most of the Boknaito are Catholic). This ceremony has significant moral power in motivating people to adhere to the agreed rules.

The Sengade pasture, estimated at about 600 ha, is divided into five sections, each with a guard nominated by the clan leaders and coordinated by a judge elected by all families using the pasture. The guards are paid in kind: they are allowed to graze six head of cattle each during the time of pasture closure. Fines are charged for any unauthorised animals found in the pasture during this period. The amount is made public and invested in something decided by the users of the pasture. It is forbidden to cut and carry away any grass from the pasture area, even during the grazing season. One may, however, use the pasture during the closed season for beekeeping. The best Irob honey reportedly comes from this area. The Boknaito Irob are proud that their management of the Sengade pasture has stood the test of time. They value the economic benefits (well-fed cattle and good honey that provide both food and income) as well as the spiritual satisfaction: “they consider it a glorious part of their history of consciousness and civility”.

Source: Mengistu Hailu. 2003. The soil makers: analysis of local socio-technical innovations and transformation of Irobland farmers, northeast Ethiopia. MSc thesis, Wageningen University, Wageningen, The Netherlands.