Ethiopia country overview

The land of Ethiopia

Geography, People, Culture, and Economic Profile

Ethiopia information index

Soils, plant and animal life of Ethiopia


The soils in Ethiopia can be categorized into five main types. The first type consists of euritic nitosols and andosols and is located in parts of the Western and Eastern highlands. These soils, formed from volcanic material, have a moderate to high potential for rain-fed agriculture if managed properly.

The second group includes eutric cambisols and ferric and orthic luvisols, which are found in the Simien plateau of the Western Highlands. These highly weathered soils have a subsurface accumulation of clay and are characterized by low nutrient retention, surface crusting, and erosion risks. However, with appropriate management, they have a moderate agricultural potential.

The third group is composed of dark clay soils found in the Western Lowlands and at the foothills of the Western Highlands. These vertisols have a medium to high potential for both food and agriculture, but they present challenges for tillage as they harden when dry and become sticky when wet. Some of Ethiopia’s fertile coffee-growing regions are located on these soils.

The fourth group consists of yermosols, xerosols, and other saline soils that cover the desert areas of the Eastern Lowlands and the Denakil Plain. Due to lack of moisture and coarse texture, these soils are not suitable for rain-fed agriculture. However, the wetter margins are suitable for livestock, and even the drier margins can be productive with irrigation.

The fifth soil group, lithosols, is primarily found in the Denakil Plain. These soils cannot be cultivated due to their lack of moisture and shallow profile.

Soil erosion is a significant issue in Ethiopia, particularly in the northern provinces where sedentary agriculture has been practiced for thousands of years. The high population density has led to extensive damage to the soil’s physical structure, organic and chemical nutrients, and natural vegetation cover. Even in the cool plateaus with abundant volcanic soils, improper cultivation methods have exposed the soils to heavy seasonal rain, resulting in widespread gully and sheet erosion.

Plant and animal life

Ethiopia’s natural vegetation is influenced by four biomes. The first biome is savanna, which consists of montane tropical vegetation with dense forests and rich undergrowth in the wetter portions of the Western highlands. In drier sections of the savanna, found at lower elevations of the Western and Eastern Highlands, there are tropical dry forests mixed with grassland. The second biome is mountain vegetation, which includes montane and temperate grasslands and covers the higher altitudes of the Western and Eastern highlands. The third biome, tropical thickets and wooded steppe, is found in the Rift Valley and Eastern Lowlands. The fourth biome is desert steppe vegetation, which covers parts of the Denakil Plain.

Ethiopia has a diverse range of wildlife, although many species are now endangered. Lions, leopards, elephants, giraffes, rhinoceroses, and wild buffalo are rare, especially in northern Ethiopia. The Rift Valley, the Omo River valley, and the Western Lowlands still have some remnants of these big-game varieties. Smaller game varieties such as foxes, jackals, wild dogs, and hyenas are abundant throughout the country.

Ethiopia is home to unique and endangered species, including the walia ibex of the Simien Mountains, the mountain nyala, and the Simien jackal. The gelada monkey is also under threat. These species can be found in the Western and Eastern highlands, with population numbers ranging from a few hundred for the walia ibex to a few thousand for the others. The lowlands have more abundant varieties, including antelopes such as the oryx, the greater kudu, and the waterbuck. Various types of monkeys, including the black-and-white colobus, and wild pigs are also found in the lowlands. The black-and-white colobus is hunted for its beautiful long-haired pelt and is known as guereza in Ethiopia. To protect these remaining species, the government has established 20 national parks, game reserves, and sanctuaries, covering a total area of 21,320 square miles (55,220 square km), which is approximately 5 percent of Ethiopia’s total area. The Simien Mountains National Park, which is home to several endangered species, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1978.

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