Choke Mountain Watershed

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Choke mountain

 Ethiopia is a mountainous country. More than 70% of the landmass above 2000m asl. in Africa is found in Ethiopia. These mountain ecosystems are, however, rapidly changing. They are susceptible to accelerated soil erosion, landslides and rapid loss of habitat and genetic diversity.

The Choke Mountains are a large block of highland found in central Gojjam, from Aba Felassie forest (near Debre work) in the east and close to Tillili town in the west. The mountain range is located on a plateau that rises from a block of meadows and valleys at 2800m asl. rising to the highest point of the range, mount choke, at 4100m asl, located north of Debre Markos. The mountain is about 40 kms North of the University.

Choke Mountain is a known bio-diversity rich hotspot area found South of Lake Tana in Amhara Region, east Gojam Zone. It is a water tower of the upper Blue Nile Basin and a source of over 60 rivers and 270 springs. Choke watershed extend from tropical alpine environments at over 4000m elevation to the hot and dry Blue Nile gorge that includes areas below 1000m elevation, and contain a diversity of slope forms and soil types. The watershed has six different agro-ecology zones with various bio-diversity and the source of many tributaries to the Nile. Majority part of it is coverage by mountain and gorges, which are source of river waters that are mostly tributary to the Blue Nile. Choke Mountain by itself contributes more than 10% of the Nile water, so the ecosystem is not invaluable for just Ethiopia the downstream countries.

In addition to approximately 3386 km2 wetland area, the mountain is endowed with resources for potential recreation. The watershed covers most part of Upper Blue Nile Gorge, historical places and heritages, and partly fertile arable land in east Gojam zone of Amhara regional state. The area has physical diversity and accompanying socio-economic contrasts.

Potentials of the Choke Mountain watershed

Choke watershed has huge potential of socio-economic value to the society both in the near and at a long distance. It has many potential to be an economic and livelihood to the society, it has the following potentials.

Water: the watershed is the main source of many rivers that are tributaries to the Blue Nile.

Forest products and livestock feed: the area is the one that is blessed with shoats and equines as compared other part of Gojam. Households in the area mainly collect cash from selling sheep and mule, which are dominantly managed in the area due to climate conformability.

Tourism:- The main attractions of the area include existence of an impressive landscape, unique and common biological diversity and the cool temperate agro-ecological (Wurch) zone. It encloses Molale cave, Woi-Beyign cave, Arat Mekerakir, the biodiversity, religious practices and the holy water in Zilan Zerabiruk Church, cultural events, and other small caves and historical places.

Agricultural land:- Choke watershed is home to more than 150,000 people living in six districts of east Gojam Zone. Households of the area highly depend on mixed farming (crop production and animal husbandry), wherein livestock especially the shoats are main source of cash. Potato, barley and bean are mostly common crops in the area. Smallholders in the area farm at the step sides of the mountain, and they practice the farming in a most traditional mechanism through oxen and horse plough.

Biodiversity:- It is home for few endemic birds and mammals, and it has huge potential of biodiversity. It was one of the most productive cropland and natural resource of the country. However, currently the productivity of the area is continuously decreasing at alarming rate due to different reasons.

Research potential:- The immense biodiversity, the unique cultural and religious practices do have huge potential to do researches works. The watershed may allow our researchers to do more if we utilize the potential what it has.

Threats of Choke Watershed

The natural vegetation of Ethiopian highlands has been altered and destroyed by intensive human use over millennia and now only fragments are left. Choke watershed is one of the areas among the different topographic and climatically varied areas of Ethiopia and harbors many endemic wildlife. These pressures have taken a toll on the natural resources of the region. Extreme rainfall and flooding in the watershed have carved out gullies on steep slopes, and caused significant damage to agriculture, infrastructure and property along the Nile. Choke watershed is under threat from multiple sources, each posing its own current and future challenges. The natural resources base (land, water, and biodiversity) is under intense pressure from population growth and erosion-inducing traditional farming and management practices.

Reduction livestock feed:- Livelihoods of the farming communities face severe constraints related to intensive cultivation, overgrazing and deforestation, soil erosion and soil fertility decline, water scarcity, livestock feed, and fuel wood demand. However, the resources are facing critical problems of high degree of exploitation and environmental degradations.

Vegetative degradation:- The alpine zone was, historically, covered in forest and natural grass and shrub-lands, but the continuous population pressure and associated deforestation and land degradation caused crop production practices to be extended as high as 3800 meters elevation. In addition to this much fauna and flora species also disappeared.

Extensive soil erosion:- The extensive land use pressures in the watershed affect the vulnerability of agricultural systems, as land degradation associated with over-cultivation of headwater regions impacts watershed wide erosion rates and water value for downstream users. But severe slope erosion in the watershed – partly due to erratic and intense rainfall, and high livestock numbers – has affected this region and countries downstream on the Nile River.

Water resource reduction:- two decades back, choke was very cold and it was covered by glaciers. But now all the ice has melted, and it is becoming difficult to find native vegetation such as the giant lobelia tree. Consequently, 607 km2 of seasonal wetland with low moisture and 22.4 km2 of open water of the mountain have lost within the last 20 years.

Choke Watershed Research and Development Directorate

In view of this, the preliminary reconnaissance surveys to the Choke Mountains and discussions with the relevant stakeholders at various levels have been made by Addis Ababa University in collaboration with John Hopkins University. Finally, the Choke Research and Development Project Directorate has become to be established and launched as a project entitled “Agro-ecosystem-based Climate Resilience Strategies in the Blue Nile Headwaters of Ethiopia/The Choke Mountain Watersheds” in Debre Markos University under the Research and Community Service Vice President Office since 2013 due to its geographical importance and proximity.

Some of the Choke mountain areas of its environmental and socio-economic importance mentioned herewith.

  • Choke Mountains have a special role in the conservation of biodiversity. The mountain ecosystems are home to a high diversity of plant and animal life.
  • Recent studies of the Choke mountain ranges in the Nile Basin has identified that it makes part of the Afromontane Biodiversity Hotspot area.
  • Choke Mountain is the water tower of the region and serves as vital water catchments of the upper Blue Nile Basin. Therefore, it is the source of freshwater and agricultural water supplies for the millions of people in Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt.
  • Many rivers and streams (small and big) that are tributaries of the Blue Nile originate from these mountain ranges.
  • The rural communities inhabiting the mountain derive their livelihood, directly or indirectly, from plant and animal resources found in the mountain areas.
  • Choke Mountains have aesthetic value. The magnificent landscape of Choke could be used for recreational purposes (ecotourism)if the infrastructure is well developed.
  • Plant biodiversity currently available in the mountain landscape are very important sources of traditional medicine and have a potential for new pharmaceuticals drugs. Indigenous plant species such as Hagenia Abyssinica and lupin provide traditional medicine with proven efficacy for treating tapeworm and hypertension. The bark of Prunus africanum could be an important commodity in world trade as a pharmaceutical for the treatment of prostate disorders. The Choke Mountains provide the necessary environmental setup for diversifies agriculture (production of cereal crops, pulses, fruits and vegetables).

Therefore, the office of Choke Watershed R&D Project Directorate has officially been launched in October 2013 under the Research and Community Service Vice President Office of Debre Markos University.

 Debre Markos and Addis Ababa Universities believe that improving livelihood of the community in the area will directly reduce the burden and degradation of Choke Mountain ecosystem. Since the foundation of the directorate the following activities have been accomplished in the respective fiscal years up to date. The directorate identified the agro-ecologies (1-6) in the area with the potential activities to be done and the direction of interventions needed.

Agro-ecology 1. (Crop production); area coverage of 7,200km2

It is east of Choke Mountain from low land of Abay river up to an altitude ranges 800-1400m with a temperature range of 21oC and 27.5oC. Common crops produced include Sorghum, Teff, Haricot bean, Vegetables and Fruits. Moreover it is possible to manage livestock such as goat, and beehives. Main threat of the agro-ecology is land sliding and moisture stress.

Technologies needed: Plant multi-benefiting trees practice. Diversified crop production, natural resource conservation having a focus on the water harvesting should do. Biological fertilizers from green plants and shrubs should been practiced. To conserve degraded land planting jatirofa. Prepare compost and water conservation and applying drip irrigation. To diversify income sources of the households there should be behives and poultry farming practice.

Agro-ecology 2. (Clay Soil Management and Utilization); area coverage of 3,200km2. It covers the plateau area east of Choke Mountain above the low land of Abay river with an altitude range of 1400-2400m. This agro-ecology includes Dejen, Awabel, Bichena, Debay Tilatigin. It has a Temperature that ranges from 11oC to 15oC. The agro-ecology has rainfall range of 900 to 1200mm. Common crops of the area include Teff, Wheat and chickpea. It has the potential for dairy farming. Water logging is the main threat and problem of the area.

Technologies needed:-

The agro-ecology needs shifting the crop production, preparing wider blocks to reduce the water logging, compost to supplement the inorganic fertilizer application. Moreover, mixed cropping, vegetables preparation, planting trees, drip irrigation, livestock fattening, shoat farming, and managing degraded land to make them productive.

Agro-ecology 3. (Mixed farming); area coverage 1,600 km2.

It is plainly area in the south west of Choke Mountain with an altitude range of 1400-2400m that covers the district of Basolibel, Elias and Machkel. Temperature 16oC and 21oC, Rainfall range 900-1200mm. Common crops in the area are Maize, Bread Wheat, Teff and Bean. Soil acidity is the main problem of the area.

Technologies needed:-

Application of the recommended rate of fertilizer; improved crop varieties, managing diversified crop production, shifting the crop, utilizing organic/compost/ and natural fertilizer. Mixed crop production and bio-fertilizer utilization is recommended. Drip irrigation ought to be there for producing vegetables and fruits. Mixed farming, fattening, shoat farming and beehives, seed multiplication, conserving degraded cropland is also recommended technology.

Agro-ecology 4. (Steep land management); area coverage – 1,300 km2

It is steep land area south of Choke Mountain with an altitude range of 2800-3800m. It covers districts of Enerata, Yeted and Giraram. It has temperature of 7.5oC to 10oC and rainfall ranges of 1200-1400mm. Common crops in the area are potato, wheat and Engido. It is also favorable for Barley, Potato, and Cold weather fruits, Bamboo, Sheep and Horse Management. Common problems in the area are serious soil degradation and acidity.

Technologies needed:-

Shifting the crop production, fertilizer application, improved crop varieties application of natural and organic fertilizer and mixed farming.

Agro-ecology 5. (Mountainous and steep land management); area coverage – 2,400 km2

It is a temperate them south of Choke Mountain with an altitude range of 2800-3800m. It covers areas in Sinan districts. The community innovative platforms in the agro-ecology includes Abazazg, Gedamawit, Tach chabi and Lay chabi. Temperature 7.5oC and 10oC and rainfall range of 1200-1400mm. Common crops in the area are Potato, Barley, Wheat and Engido. It is suitable for Barley, Potato, cold weather fruits, Bamboo, Sheep and Horse Management. Common problems in the agro-ecology are serious soil degradation and acidity.

Technologies needed:-Shifting cultivation, proper fertilizer utilization, intercropping, mixed cropping, natural fertilizer, bio-fertilizer, shrubs management to increase fertility.

Agro-ecology 6. (Conserved land (Afro-Alpine); area coverage – 250 km2

It is the afro-alpine part of Choke Mountain with an altitud range of 3800-4200m. Rainfall range 1200-1400mm. It is an area of diversified biodiversity and marsh area with huge of water potential. The area has not the potential for crop production; rather it should be conserved to rehabilitate the afro-alpine biodiversity.

Technologies needed:- Protecting the area to conserve the Afro-alpine.

In addition to classifying the agro-ecologies the watershed and identifying potential interventions and constraints, developmental task forces were organized in the following structure.

  1. Crop science research team

The problem in each agro-ecology were identified and the potential interventions to enhance the crop (maize, teff, wheat, barley, triticale, bean, sorghum and others) productivity of the agro-ecologies. The fertilizer application gap and data utilization strategy has been identified. Moreover, the meteorological data (including rainfall, moisture, wind speed, soil behavior) have been collected for a long period.

  1. Soil science research team

To study on soil structure in connection to this the team collected 74 soil types. Detail investigation on soil behavior and structure of the watershed had been done. In this regard, the main problem and potentials of the area has been identified.

  1. Socio-economic research team

The team identified and selected kebels for this investigation and intervention. Moreover, sample kebeles in the watershed has already been selected. Based on the preliminary survey and agro-ecologies 13 community innovation platforms has been selected. The socio-economic data collected from the platforms had been interpreted and analyzed. Training on technologies need resource utilizations, agricultural productivity and marketing has been delivered to members in each and community innovation platforms.


Choke Mountain Watershed:

The university is located in the area endowed with potential resources, such as the Choke Mountains. Choke Mountains are a large block of highland found south of Lake Tana in the centre of Gojjam. The neighboring towns are Bahir Dar in the north and Debre Markos in the south.

The central area is located at 10042’ N and 370 50’ E. The highest peak rises to 4100 m.a.s.l. The area is the source of 59 rivers and 273 springs and it is the water tower of the upper Blue Nile Basin. The Choke Mountain ecosystems are home to diversity of plants and animals lives with high level of endemism.

The Choke Mountain Watershed has a total land surface area of approximately 15,950 km2. There are eight main types of soil groups found in the watershed, i.e. Alisols, Andosols, Cambisols, Leptosols, Luvisols, Nitosols, Phaeozems and Vertisols. The Choke Mountain Watershed makes part of the Afromontane Biodiversity Hotspot, which deserves concerted action in preserving and rehabilitating the flora and fauna of the area. They could be a source of inspiration and adventure destinations for people around the world if properly conserved and developed.


There are different plant species in the Choke Mountains range. These include Giant Lobelia (Lobelia rhynchopetalum), lady’s mantle (Alchemilla humania), Guassa grass (Festuca spp.), Red hot pocker (Kniphofia spp.), St. Jhon’s wort (Hypericum revolutum), Helichrysum spp., Arundinaria alpina, Erica arborea, Euryops pinifolius, Hygenia spp., Cordia spp., Ficus spp., Echinopis spp. and others.


Choke Mountains are home to different species of mammals including leopard (Panthera pardus), common jackal (Canis aures), colobus monkey (Colobus gureza), common duiker (Sylvicapra grimma), Anubis baboon (Papio anubis), bush pig (Potamochoerus larvatus) and small mammal species. The site is also an important bird area containing Erckel’s Francolin (Francolinus erckelii), Wattled Ibis (Bostrychia carunculata), White-collared Pigeon (Columba albitorques), Dusky Turtle-dove (Streptopelia lugens), Thick-billed Raven (Corvus crassirostris), Abyssinian longclaw (Macronyx flavicollis), Streaky Seedeater (Serinus striolatus) and others. Of these, Abyssinian longclaw is endemic to Ethiopia.

The Choke Mountain Watershed has a severe land degradation problem resulting from overgrazing, deforestation and unsustainable agricultural practices. Land degradation has decreased land productivity and increased poverty. Most of the biological diversities, ecosystems & functions in Choke Mountains are heavily threatened. Even most of the species are disappeared. Thus, Debre Markos University has taken an initiative and established a project office to conserve this fragile ecosystem.

The directorate has officially been launched in October 2013 under the Research and Community Service Vice President Office, Debre Markos University.

The main purposes of the directorate are to:

  • Qualify Debre Markos University by using Choke Mountains as a brand (location advantage).
  • Design multidisciplinary research and development projects concerning Choke Mountain Watersheds to solve the problem of the community living in and around the area.
  • Conserve the biodiversity of the Choke Mountain Watersheds and ensure sustainable utilization of the resources.
  • Manage the overall research and development project activities of the University on Choke Mountain Watersheds as the area needs special attention because of its greater importance for the region around Blue Nile Basin.

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