This study focuses on community-based knowledge to analyze the impacts of range enclosures, crop farming, fire suppression and bush encroachment on the communal rangelands of Borana, southern Ethiopia. The knowledge of local herders is the basis for decision making in the utilization and management of grazing lands. We used Borana oral history associated with the period of the gada system to reconstruct environmental change that spans a period of 48 years. Our results show that the use of communities’ perceptions as a basis for evaluating the impacts of land use change on the environment makes an important methodological contribution. Communities’ responses to changing land use resulted in the development of range enclosures, the expansion of crop farming and the fragmentation of the communal rangelands, while the suppression of fire contributed to the expansion of bush encroachment. The overall impact was forage scarcity and greater vulnerability of stock during drought years. We conclude that policymakers could use communities’ knowledge of environmental change to improve the use of the rangelands. We propose that sustainable use of the southern rangelands in the future will require a greater focus on regulating the expansion of enclosures, crop farming and ranching, as well as reintroducing fire where necessary, to control the expansion of bush cover.
KeywordsKey words: Bush encroachment Community perception Environmental history Fire ban Land use Policy Rangeland development