Oromia and the Oromo People*
Potentially, Oromia is one of the richest countries in Africa. Agriculture is the backbone of its economy. Still employing archaic methods, subsistence agriculture is the means of livelihood for more than 90% of the population. There are a variety of farm animals and crop plants. Farm animals include cattle, sheep, goats, donkeys, mules, horses, camels and chicken. The Cushitic speaking communities of this region, perhaps Nubians, are credited with the domestication of donkey and were the first to breed mules, an offspring of a cross between a donkey and a mare. The Oromo are expert in animal husbandry through their long tradition as herdsmen. For some, cattle-rearing (pastoralism) is still the main occupation.
Because of Oromia's favorable climate and rich soil, many types of crops are cultivated and normally there is little need for irrigation. Normally one and sometimes two crops can be harvested annually from the same field. Among the major food crops are cereals (wheat, barley, teff, sorghum, corn, millet, etc.), fiber crops (cotton), root crops (potato, sweet potato, yam, inset, anchote, etc.), pulses (peas, beans, chick-peas, lentils, etc.), oil crops (nugi, flax, etc.), fruit trees (orange, mango, avocado, banana, lemon, pineapple, peach, etc.), spices (onion, garlic, coriander, ginger, etc. - coriander and ginger also grow wild) and a variety of vegetables like okra, which is indigenous to Oromia.
Many varieties of these important crops occur naturally in Oromia. These diverse crop plants are very valuable natural resources. Oromo farmers have contributed to world agriculture by cultivating and developing some of the world's crop plants and in this way have discovered new domesticated varieties. The main cash crops are coffee and chat (a stimulant shrub). Coffee, a major cash earner for many countries, has its origin in the forests of Oromia and neighboring areas. Specifically, Kaffa and Limmu are considered centers of origin for coffee. It is from here that coffee spread to other parts of the globe. Coffee was one of the export items of the Gibe states. Wallagga and llubbabor regions of Oromia exported coffee to the Sudan through the inland port of Gambella on the Baro river and border towns of Kurmuk, Gissan, etc. Hararge, because of its favorable location for communication with the outside markets through the Red Sea, has been producing one of the finest coffees for export. Coffee has remained the chief export item, representing more than 60% of the foreign earnings of successive Ethiopian colonial regimes.
The country is also rich in wild animals and plants. Many different species are found in the waters and forests of Oromia: different kinds of fish, hippopotami, and crocodiles. Land animals include lion, leopard, rhinoceros, buffalo, giraffe, wild ass, zebra, Columbus monkey and elephant. There are a number of wild animals that are found solely in Oromia, such as nyaala, bush-buck (special type), fox (from Baale), etc.
Various types of birds, many of them unique, are found around lakes and elsewhere. These creatures are a source of attraction for tourists and natural scientists alike. The forests of Oromia are a source of excellent timber. Although the major portion of the forests has been destroyed since its occupation, some still remain in the south and west. However, this is threatened by mismanagement, particularly through the fast expanding mega commercial farms and resettlement programs. At the time of colonization a large part of Oromia was covered with forest. This has been reduced to the present 5-7%. In addition to timber trees, medicinal plants and trees producing different kinds of gums, grow in abundance. Myrrh, frankincense and gum Arabic are gathered from the wild trees. Forests, besides being a source of timber, medicine and gum, are useful in the conservation of water and soil, and as shelter for wildlife. They also have an important aesthetic value.
Oromia has important mineral deposits. The gold mines at Adola and Laga Dambi in the Sidamo and around Nejjo, Assosa and Birbir river valley in Wallagga regions, which were the major sources of revenue for Menilek and Haile Selassie, are being exploited using modern machinery. Other important minerals found in Oromia are platinum, sulfur, iron-ore, silver and salt.
As early as 1900 Menilek granted concessions to a Swiss company to mine gold, silver and other minerals in Nejjo, Wallagga region. Later the Germans took over. English, Russian and Italian companies extracted gold and platinum at Yubdo and neighboring areas in the same region. It is known that large deposits of natural gas and oil exist in Baale and Hararge regions. The Ethiopian government announced as 1986 the discovery of a new deposit of natural gas in Baale.
The hundreds of hot springs scattered over Oromia are also of economic importance. Thousands of people, including foreigners, visit these springs for their medicinal and recreational values. They are great potential sources of thermal energy. Rivers, streams and springs are plentiful. The rivers have many falls that could be used to generate electric power with little effort. The extent of this electric power could easily satisfy the power needs of Oromia and several neighboring countries.
*Excerpted from "Oromia: an Introduction," by Gadaa Melbaa, Khartoum, Sudan 1988.