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No Mercy for the Mursi

As Cultural Survival reported in the summer 2005 issue of Cultural Survival Quarterly, the Mursi of Ethiopa are threatened by the management plans for Omo National Park set up under the auspices of the African Parks Foundation (APF). Those plans have now moved forward in a direction that does not bode well for the Mursi.

According to Will Hurd, who wrote the earlier story, the APF has extinguished hunting rights in the park and has instituted a "no tree-felling" policy. Although hunting makes up a small part of the local tribes’ economies, it is a significant practice that acts a vital food buffer in times of scarcity. The Mursi will find it very difficult to survive during periods of crop failure, caused by sporadic local rainfall, without the option to hunt on the land. Since hunting is now subject to arrest, it is no longer an option. Suri, Dizi, and Me'en will be highly affected by the "no tree-felling" policy, as they practice shifting cultivation. Mursi, who frequently need to clear new riverbank cultivation sites and rain-fed cultivation sites off the river, will struggle to grow crops.

As part of their strategy to control the impact of these restrictive measures, the APF has set up a Community Conservation Partnership Fund (CCPF). This fund allocates monthly payments to the eight local indigenous groups, with deductions taken for hunting or "tree-felling" practices. Based on a conservative population estimate, a Mursi family of eight would receive a meager US$6.85 per year.

The CCPF, along with the hunting and "no tree-felling" policies that prompted its formation, was not designed with the input of local tribes. According to the World Bank operational policy 4.12, "restriction of access" is equal to displacement and thus is subject to adequate compensation. Hurd said that one suggestion has been for the APF to keep grain stores or provide financial assistance for the purchase and transport of grain in the groups’ times of need.

Victoria Arend contributed to this story.