Human Activities and Ecosystem

An Evaluation of the Effect of Termites on Rangeland Degradation: The Case of Yabello, Southern Ethiopia

  • Yeneayehu FENETAHUN 1, 2 ,
  • XU Xinwen 2 ,
  • WANG Yongdong , 2, *
  • 1.University of China Academy of Science (UCAS), Beijing 100049, China
  • 2.State Key Laboratory of Desert and Oasis Ecology, Xinjiang Institution of Ecology and Geography, Chinese Academy of Science, Urumqi 830011, China
* WANG Yongdong, E-mail:

Received date: 2018-10-26

  Accepted date: 2019-01-30

  Online published: 2019-10-11

Supported by

Science and Technology Partnership Program, Ministry of Science and Technology of China(KY201702010)

China-Africa Joint Research Center Project of the Chinese Academy of Science(SAJC201610)


Copyright reserved © 2019


The infestation rate of termites in the Yabello rangeland, caused by both climatic and human factors, is of interest at certain times. This study was conducted in order to evaluate the impact of termites and determine appropriate management measures in the study area. Data was collected from three kebeles of the Yabello district (Dida Tuyura, Danbal-Waccu and Arero), the selection of which was dependent on the extent to which the termites had spread. A field survey method and semi-structured questionnaires were used for 40 community representatives from each of the selected kebeles. A total of 120 community representatives were interviewed and the interviews were supported by direct observations and informal discussions to understand the impact of termites on rangeland degradation, and to explain the trends. Historical background data of termite infestation rates in the study area was collected and evaluated .In addition to the direct impact caused by termites on forage products, buildings and crops, the linkages of termites with the environment and management mechanisms were identified. Yabello rangeland has often been under termite infestation stress and problems are increasing at an alarming rate. So in order to minimize the impact of termites on rangeland degradation identification of exact termite species and take appropriate management together with the community knowledge and scientific management system was recommended.

Cite this article

Yeneayehu FENETAHUN , XU Xinwen , WANG Yongdong . An Evaluation of the Effect of Termites on Rangeland Degradation: The Case of Yabello, Southern Ethiopia[J]. Journal of Resources and Ecology, 2019 , 10(5) : 525 -529 . DOI: 10.5814/j.issn.1674-764X.2019.05.008

1 Introduction

Insect infestations particularly of termites have been increasing over time in the tropical areas. Local livelihoods fail under the pressure from infestation rate, extent of spread and termite problems on the rural pastoralist communities. Ethiopia is diverse both climatically and geographically, and as a result there is diversity of insect species exist in different parts of the country. According to Fenemore and Prakash (2006), termite infestations impact economic, social, agronomic and other factors. The economic impacts of termites include the damage to forage and wood products which cause economic hardships for individual pastoralists. On the other hand termites contain plant nutrients and the use of mound materials as soil additives has great potential to improve soil fertility (Tilahun et al., 2012).
The effect of termites on rangeland areas is complex. Both climatic and anthropogenic factors in the Yabello rangelands can contribute to explanations for termites and for the impact termites have on rangelands. However, recent increase in infestations of termites and their impact on pastoralist livelihoods are not well understand and documented. Most earlier studies (Tilahun et al., 2012; Dalle et al., 2015; Billi et al., 2015) were not focused on understanding of root causes of the termite expansion nor the impact this expansion had. Developing appropriate methods to manage termite damage, the lacks of which represent a bottleneck to limiting the degradation of Yabello rangeland requires knowledge and understating of the historical background and impacts of termite infestations. In addition it is also necessary to identify potential social and informal institutions (like the local elders or Aba Geda, and the One to Five group in the local area) that are responsible for controlling the impact of termites, and making sure that pastoralists have access to resources, technical support and other assistance. Therefore, this study had the following basic objectives:
$\bullet$ To evaluate the impact of insects (termites) and infestations on rangeland degradation in the study area.
$\bullet$ To identify social and informal institutions with the potential to be responsible for managing the system.
$\bullet$ To assess the extent of termite damage, local indigenous knowledge and trends, and the ecological impact of termites on rangeland.

2 Materials and methods

2.1 Study area

The study area included Dida Tuyura, Danbal-Waccu and Arero kebeles of the Yabello district, Borana zone in southern Ethiopia. The study took place in 2018. The study area is situated 566 km south of Addis Ababa along the Addis - Moyale road. The area of Yabello town is 5426 km2, and is located between 4°30ʹ55.81ʺN and 5°24ʹ36.39ʺN latitude and 7°44ʹ14.70ʺE and 38°36ʹ05.35ʺE longitude. The elevation of the area is mostly 1000-1500 m with the maximum elevation 2000 m. The area has a bi-modal rainfall regime, with mean annual rainfall ranging from 400 mm in the south to 600 mm in the north. Roughly 73% of the rainfall occurs from March to May, and the remaining 27% from September to November (Dalle et al., 2015). The potential evapotranspiration is 700-3000 mm (Billi et al., 2015). The study area is dominated by savannah vegetation containing a mixture of perennial herbaceous vegetation. The area is currently facing the problem of bush expansion into the native savannah grass lands. With the exception of the area characterized by savanna grass land, there is no detailed information for the soils of the Borana rangelands. However, the main soils of the region are comprised of 53% red sandy loam soil, 30% black clay and volcanic light colored silty clay, and 17% silt and vertisols (Coppock, 1994). Four major vegetation types have been described (AGROTEC, 1974): 1) Evergreen and semi-evergreen bush land and thickets found north of Yabello, Arero and Negelle; 2) Rangeland dominated by Acacia and Commiphora trees, covering most of the rangeland area extending from the central area to the south and west; 3) Rangeland dominated by shrubby Acacia, Commiphora and allied genera living around and near water sources and depressions covering some portion of the western parts of the rangeland and interspersed with barren lands; and 4) Dwarf shrub grassland or shrub grassland in the eastern parts of the rangeland where the soil is very shallow and sandy. According to Coppock (1994), woody plants contribute from 5% to 75% of total plant cover on the Borana plateau depending on location.

2.2 Methods and data

2.2.1 Questions
Applying purposeful sampling methods to a total of 120 respondents, 40 people from 3 kebeles were interviewed for assessment. Two pastoral areas PA from each kebel were selected and 20 respondents for each PA were chosen. Face to face interviews were carried out by translating in to the local language by the help of the local experts were carried out by the researcher and the questionnaires given to each respondents in the local language (ormoigna) and filed what they know and understand and then collected it. To ensure that respondents had some experience with infestations of termites in the area, the respondents were at least 28 years of age or older.
2.2.2 Field observation
To understand the existing conditions of termites in the study area during the study period, the research team undertook intensive field observations. Observations allowed infestation trends and the current status of termites to be evaluated in depth.
2.2.3 Key informants
The key informants were local chiefs, elders, stakeholders of rangeland holding different offices. The basic aim was to solicit data on the local community’s perception of conflict and its management. Informal discussions were also held with key informants.

2.3 Data management and statistical analysis

The data was managed using Microsoft Excel, while computer based data coding, storage and retrieval mechanisms were implemented. Both quantitative and qualitative statistical analysis was completed using SPSS (statistical package for social science) software.

3 Results and discussion

3.1 Infestation history of termites in Yabello

The data obtained from respondents indicated that the appearance of termites and the problems they bring were a basic concern in the study area. Forty percent of the respondents said that termites affect all aspects of the situation in the rangeland area, while 60% of the respondents said that termites do great damage to grass species resulting in degradation of rangelands. About 47% of respondents estimated that termite infestations had been occurring for 35 to 40 years, while 53% of the respondents were unable to estimate how long infestations had impacted the study area. Local communities tried to identify the common species of termites based on mound building base as mound builder, non-mound builder and also based on size small, medium and large. Seventy nine percent of the respondents indicated that both mound builder and non-mound builder termites were found in the Yabello rangeland, while 13% of them evidenced that the occurrence of only mound builder termites and the rest 8% of them evidenced that occurrence of termites based on their size small, medium and large.
The respondents tried to compare current termite infestation conditions in the study area to those that existed 35 or more years ago. In the period 35 or more years ago, 28% said the trend for termite spread was good, 59% said fair, and 13% said worse. This result indicates that most local people, when comparing termite infestations today with those of more than 35 years ago, believe that the situation is worse today, with only 13% believing it was worse in the past. And almost all of the respondents (96%) agreed that there has been a worsening of the termite infestation situation from the time 35 years ago to now. While there infestation methods to new uninfected area have been by underground tunnel, following cow and camel urine which increase soil moisture during day period, tressing cattle dug as a source of food and spreading over surface by building tunnel are the major system in the area. According to the respondents, the major causes of termite infestations are climate change, as evidenced by repeated occurrences of drought in the study, and overgrazing.

3.2 Impact of termites

The majority of the respondents think that both mound building and non-mound building termites are affecting the rangeland by eating grass species. Ninety four percent of the respondents believe the eating and disruption of grass, as well as degradation of rangeland, are the main impacts of non-mound building termites. The severity of termite infestation is greatest in communal grazing areas, followed by degraded rangeland. However, respondents make certain assumptions concerning termite mounds and production. Twenty eight percent of the respondents argued that dead or destroyed mounds result in high production due to their high level of plant nutrient content (a claim supported by Tilahun et al.: 2012 findings). Based on the data obtained from more than 98% of the respondents there were no termite resistant fodder (grass) species in the study area, either indigenous or introduced.
In general, according to information provided by the respondents, the most susceptible/resistant fodders and other tree species are listed below in Tables 1, 2, 3, and 4.

Fig. 1 The effect of termites on Yabello rangeland

Table 1 Susceptible/most affected fodder
No. Scientific name Local name
1 Cenchrus ciliaris Matagudessa
2 Plectranthus cosmosus Barbaarersa
3 Bidens hilderrandti Abune
4 Digitaria milanjiana Hiddoo
5 Themedatriandra Gaaguroo
6 Cynodon dactylon Sardoo/qarcaa
7 Bothriochloa insculpta Luucolee
Table 2 Resistant fodder species
No. Scientific name Local name
1 Pennisctum mezianum Ogondhichoo
2 Elcusina intermedia Coqorsaa
3 Cymbopogon commutatus Alchiisoo
4 Bothriochloa spp Saalaa
Table 3 Susceptible/ most affected tree/shrubs
No. Scientific name Local name
1 Combretum molle Rukeessaa
2 Acacia bussei Halloo
3 Commiphora spp Hameessaa
4 Commiphora kua vollensen Calanqaa
5 Dodonea angastifoli Dhitacha
6 Ehretia cymosa Ulaagaa
7 Acacia nilotica Burquqqee
Table 4 Resistant tree/shrubs
No. Scientific name Local name
1 Olea europaea Ejersaa
2 Grewia bicolor Harooressa
3 Boscia mossambicensis Qalqalchaa
4 Croton macrostachyus Makkanisaa
5 Juniperus procera Hindheensaa
6 Cordia gharaf Mandheeraa
7 Acacia tortilis Dhadachaa
In addition. 91% of the respondents noted that termites also serve as hosts for certain diseases like Awarsa (snake disease), and that ‘luxa’ (body weight loss) problems caused by a shortage of feed as a result of termite disruptions also occur on the rangeland. These kinds of damage are caused by both mound builder and non-mound builder termites. From this we can conclude that termite infestations are linked indirectly to livestock diseases in the study area.
Based on the data obtained from the respondents, the major problems caused by termites were shortages of feed (due to the space occupied by mounds, the eating of grass and land degradation), and physical damage to livestock. Both of these problems have a high impact on the economic and social life of local pastoralists. More than 73% of the respondents agree that termites have an impact on grass disruptions by affecting seeds conserved in the soil, and over the long run this becomes a major cause for rangeland degradation in the Yabello area.

3.3 Linkage of termites with the environment

More than 49% of the respondents informed that absence of relation between bush encouragement and termites infestation and spread, while about 51% of the respondents justified that due to the fact that bush serve as feed source for termites, it aggravate infestation and spread. On the other hand, 64% of the respondents indicated that bush clearing reduces the occurrence of termite infestations because the bush serves as a food source for termites. Land type and location, as well as the season of the year, also affect the severity of termite infestations and the infestation rate, according to data obtained from most of the respondents. The impact and the infestation rate of termites is higher in flat rangelands than in hilly areas and valley bottoms. Termite infestations in new or uninfected areas are high during the long rainy season and also during the cool dry season. Red deep soil is the type that has the most severe termite infestations and impacts. Fifty six percent of the respondents believe that drought and termites are linked because termite infestations increase during the cool dry season, while 44% see no relationship between termites and climate because termite infestations decrease during drought seasons.

3.4 Management techniques

The principal methods used by local communities to control or mange the impact of termites are physical destruction of the insects, ash, olio, manure and salt application. However these local methods and skills were not supported by any extended activities, research, or policy measures in order to minimize the effects of termite infestations and the impact they have on pastoral and agro-pastoral areas of the Yebello rangeland. This is the case despite the fact that the majority of respondents agree that better rangeland management is needed to reduce the spread and impact of termites. Finally, during field observations for this study, we tried to identify termites predators like Gandulessa (large ants) and other ants, birds, and chickens.

4 Conclusions

The Yabello rangeland has been suffering from termite infestation for the past three or four decades, with the number of infestations increasing over time. Even if termites believed as ecological engineers, its impact on destruction of forage needs to minimize at optimum level. Currently the most challenging issue with regards to rangelands is how to overcome hot and highly disruptive situations by applying appropriate restoration methods that help to build sustainable
rangeland ecosystems in the Yabello district and Ethiopia as a whole. One challenge is to increase the awareness of both local people and governments. Today, the impact is increasing rapidly and this is not only a problem in the Yabello area, but one faced by the whole country. There is still time in Ethiopia to collaborate and identify methods that can be used for technologically integrated, sustainable rangeland management, and to develop regional strategies that link grazing/cropping/forage systems to relieve disturbances to rangelands and permit the repair of stressed and dysfunctional rangelands. Management methods must bring together both scientific and indigenous knowledge, and build the capacity of communities to control termites. In addition, the introduction and adaptation of termite resistant forage species to the rangeland area is mandatory. From our examination of both local and international research results, we conclude that there is a high possibility of restoring degraded rangelands especially by means of reseeding Yabello rangeland areas with domestic grasses and using simple tillage and manure applications. Based on our findings, we make the following basic recommendations: 1) The infestation rate of termites must be quantified using remote sensing techniques; 2) Identification of termite species is important because this allows quantifying the rate of infestation for each species; 3) Local knowledge that can be used to control termites must be evaluated and documented to be used alongside scientific control methods.


We would like to acknowledge University of the Chinese Academy of Science for supporting our work on this paper with facilities and financial support. We also thank other researchers who contributed and made their papers available online to help us. Our thanks go as well to local communities in the Yabello district for providing the basic information about the challenges they face.
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