A field report from the Lower Omo Valley, Ethiopia
The Lower Omo Valley in Southern Ethiopia is internationally renowned for its unique cultural and ecological landscape. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Lower Omo Valley contains two national parks and is home to approximately 200,000 agro-pastoralists made up of some of Africa’s most unique and traditional ethnic groups, including the Kwegu, Bodi, Suri, Mursi, Nyangatom, Hamer, Karo, and Dassenach, among others. Historically, the area has been very isolated, and the agro-pastoralists have little experience with industrial agriculture. While livelihoods differ along the length of the Omo Valley and between ethnic groups, the majority are agro-pastoralists who practice flood-retreat agriculture on the banks of the Omo River and also raise cattle where the annual flooding of the Omo River replenishes important grazing areas. For many of these ethnic groups, cattle are a source of pride, wealth, and food, and are intimately tied to cultural identity. The annual flooding of the Omo River dictates the rhythms of life and culture that permeate the area. But with the announcement of the Gibe III dam, the livelihoods and culture of the indigenous people of the South Omo Valley face decimation.
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