In the late 1970s and early 1980s the group of closely-related woody plant species and hybrids known as Prosopis were seen as a ‘saviour’ for millions of pastoralists and agro-pastoralists in East Africa whose very livelihoods were threatened by the degradation of dryland ecosystems spurred on by overgrazing, and by deforestation and a shortage of firewood.
Mohamud Abdu stands tall in his maize field in Alaba, Ethiopia, a small agricultural district over 200 kilometers south of the country’s capital, Addis Ababa. Smooth green leaves reach up to his waist. The field is off a dirt road where children ride old bicycles and the occasional wooden cart, pulled by donkeys and piled high with people, passes by.
The sea of green where Abdu stands looks lush and healthy at first glance. The maize stalks are planted closely together and the leaves rustle gently in the wind. But upon inspection, these leaves are riddled with holes and plant detritus litter the remainder. Abdu pries open the whorl of a nearby maize plant with his fingers, and takes out a small caterpillar, roughly an inch long. It squirms on his palm.