The leathery scent at the venue hall was nothing more than the confirmation that we were working in rural Ethiopia, in a village called Telecho, some 30 kilometres north of Holeta. We had just gathered with 20 delegates coming from Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Uganda, Cameroon and Benin to co-facilitate a participatory mapping exercise implemented by more than 130 villagers coming from 28 kebeles located within the area and foothills of a mountain known as Foata.
The exercise – organised by MELCA-Ethiopia, a national NGO and supported by the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation ACP-EU (CTA), was a response to a call by the community for assistance in rehabilitating its environment which suffered heavy deforestation and soil degradation over the past decades. After several month of preparation, the exercise took place on 8-18 December 2010 in the village of Telecho amidst a golden landscape shimmering with wheat, teff and rye at maturity stage intersected by dark brown strips of ploughed land and exposed soil cloths weltering in the choking sun.
Close to 140 people worked in shifts on the model which covers – at a 1:10,000-scale - a total area of 672 sq km including portions of four woredas namely Welmera, Ejere, Adea berga and Mulo. Assisted by the trainers, 14 students, three teachers and the foreign delegates (the trainees) manufactured the blank model. Approximately 110 elders representing 28 kebeles contributed in overlapping groups to the elaboration of the map legend and the depicting of their mental maps onto the model. A number of representatives from local government units contributed to the exercise as well.
The assembling of the blank model using 3-mm thick sheets of carton board and measuring 2.8m x 2.4m, took three days while the depiction of the landscape and the location of features relevant to the community, took additional six days.
Selected elders introduced the first group of participants to the draft legend which was verified and further enriched in terms of items and their descriptors. Once completed, the model stored 48 layers of information including 25 point-, 5 line- and 18 area types. A count of point data done at the end of the exercise revealed that within the area there were 38 schools, 23 health posts, 113 sacred trees, 8 markets, 861 settlements and much more.
Written statements made by villagers (in Amharic) while working on the 3D model:
“I felt that - as we destroyed the natural resources in our surroundings, we lost the soil, the forest, wild animals and more. This in turn is harming ourselves and creating problems to coming generations”.
“I felt that I could compare what we did on the map with what existed in the past [in the real world], and this makes it clearer about what to do in the future”.
“I noticed that it [the process] helped me understanding the importance of participation. I also realized that the community has valuable knowledge that we were not aware of.”
“I noticed that the P3DM process enables the community to look at itself using the model as a mirror. It builds capacities and that is important for the development of the country.”
Source: Democracy Walls, Telecho, 17 December 2010
Last but not least, the national and international trainees expressed their intention to replicate the process in their areas.
Authors: Giacomo Rambaldi / CTA and Million Belay MELCA-Ethiopia
Images: G. Rambaldi / CTA© and Damian Prestidge / CTA©