Sidama Zone

Map of the regions and zones of Ethiopia

Sidama Zone is a zone in the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples' Region (SNNPR) of Ethiopia. It is named for the Sidama people, whose homeland is in the zone. Sidama is bordered on the south by the Oromia Region (except for a short stretch in the middle where it shares a border with Gedeo zone), on the west by the Bilate River, which separates it from Wolayita zone, and on the north and east by the Oromia Region. Towns in Sidama include Irgalem and Wendo. Sidama surrounds the city of Awasa, capital of the SNNPR. Sidama has a population of around 3.5 million, who speak the Cushitic language Sidamo (also known as Sidamigna).

Sidama has 879 kilometers of all-weather roads and 213 kilometers of dry-weather roads, for an average road density of 161 kilometers per 1,000 square kilometers.[1]

Sidama Zone is the leading coffee producing zone in Ethiopia, which contributes greatly to the foreign exchange of the federal government. The Central Statistical Agency (CSA) reported that 63,562 tons of coffee were produced in Sidama and Gedeo combined in the year ending in 2005, based on inspection records from the Ethiopian Coffee and Tea authority. This represents 63% of the SNNPR's output and 28% of Ethiopia's total output.[2]

The Zone is also rich in water resources, which are underutilized. The leading causes of morbidity and mortality in SNNP region are mostly attributable to lack of clean drinking water, poor sanitation, and low public awareness of environmental health and personal hygiene practices.[3]

There is a high value attached to livestock by the Sidama, among whom a person without cattle is not regarded as a fully-grown social person, but as an outcast.[4] Cattle numbers are good indicator of wealth, and gives chief popularity for the farmer who owns more cattle.

Political history

The Sidama people preserved their cultural heritage, including their traditional religion and language, until the conquest by Emperor Menelik II in the late 1880s. Until then, the Sidama had their own well-established administrative systems that dated at least to the 9th century, though it was made up of a loose coalition of Sidama kingdoms. These kingdoms extended into the Gibe region. As a result of marginalization and since the language does not have its own alphabet, very little has been written on Sidama issues.

Historically the Sidama nation was administered by the indigenous moote political system. The Mootichcha, equivalent to a king, was nominated by the family and near relatives for the position. The nominated moote (king) is presented to a Fichche, the Sidama New Year ceremony. The Mootichcha is the head of political and administrative structure. The Mootichcha is assisted by Ga'ro, akin to king's assistant, and hence next to the former in politico-administrative authority.[5]

After the fall of the Derg military regime, the Sidama people were able to widely use the local language – Sidamigna as exercised in all regions of the country. Hawassa has been serving as the capital city of SNNPR and it also served as the capital city of Sidama Zone. But recently the government of Ethiopia planned to make Hawassa a chartered city with its own administrative structure, rather than having the city serve as the capital for SNNPR and Sidama Zone. And due to this, demonstrators requested the government to consider creating a separate region for the Sidama people, rather than combining them with other ethnic groups in the SNNPR. The demonstrators came into conflict with armed government people and some were killed. Thus, there is still high tension in the zone.

Different facts showed that the government is requested by the people to give regional autonomy for Sidama people. There are several justifications for this argument. First, Sidama constitutes about 20% of the total population in the Southern region, with a significant economic contribution to the central government. Second, the 40 smaller ethnic groups in the region belong to the three main socio-cultural and linguistic groups namely, Cushitic groups: Sidama, Alaba, Tambaro, Qewenna, Danta (Dubamo), Maraqo, Konso, Hadiya, Kambata; Omotic groups: Wolayta, Gamo, Gofa, Dawuro, Konta, etc., and Semitic group: Gurage. After the fall of the military regime in 1991, the Transitional Government endorsed five separate regions within the current SNNPR. These regions were established based on socio-cultural, linguistic and economic similarities. They followed similar administrative arrangement made by the previous regime shortly before its fall. Sidama, Gedeo and Burji belonged to one of the five independent regions within the current SNNPR. However, those five regions were dissolved without consultation with the peoples of the region. Third, proper administrative arrangement is essential for administrative efficacy, effective delivery of social and economic services and broader economic development.


Sidama Zone is northeast of Lake Abaya and southeast of Lake Awasa. The zone is bordered by the Arsi Oromo in the north and west, Gedeo, Burji, Guji Oromo people groups in the south, Guji Oromo in the west, and Wolayta and Kambata language groups to the east. The Sidama live between Awasa town in the north and Dilla town in the south, spread out in a cone-shaped area of the middle of southern Ethiopia. Sidama is generally a fertile area, varying from flat land (warm to hot) to highland (warm to cold).

Sidama has geographic coordinates of latitude, North: 5′ 45″ and 6′ 45″ and longitude, East, 38′ and 39′. It has a total area of 10,000 km2, of which 97.71% is land and 2.29% is covered by water. Hawassa Lake and Logita falls are water bodies that attract tourists. Of the land, 48.70% is cultivated, 2.29% is forested, 5.04% is shrub and bush land, 17.47% is grazing land, 18.02% is uncultivated, 6.38% is unproductive and 2.10% is has other uses. Some of the cultivated lands are in undulating escarpment and create difficulties for the farmers in the area.

Sidama has a variety of climatic conditions. Warm conditions cover 54% of the area. Locally known as Gamoojje or Woinadega, this is a temperate zone ranging from an elevation of 1500 m to 2500 m above sea level. The mean annual rainfall of the area varies between 1200 mm and 1599 mm, with 15 °C to 19.9 °C average annual temperature. A hot climatic zone, Kolla, covers 30% of the total area. Its elevation ranges from 500 m to 1500 m above sea level. It has a mean annual rainfall of 400 mm to 799 mm, and the mean annual temperature ranges from 20 °C to 24.9 °C. Cool climatic conditions known as Aliicho or Dega exist in the mountainous highlands. This covers 16% of the total area with an elevation between 2500 m and 3500 m above sea level. This part gets the highest amount of rainfall, ranging from 1600 mm to 1999 mm. It has a mean annual temperature of 15 °C to 19.9 °C.[6]


Based on the 2007 Census conducted by the CSA, this Zone has a total population of 2,954,136, of whom 1,491,248 are men and 1,462,888 women; with an area of 6,538.17 square kilometers, Sidama has a population density of 451.83. While 162,632 or 5.51% are urban inhabitants, a further 5,438 or 0.18% are pastoralists. A total of 592,539 households were counted in this Zone, which results in an average of 4.99 persons to a household, and 566,926 housing units. The three largest ethnic groups reported in this Zone were the Sidama (93.01%), the Oromo (2.53%), and the Amhara (1.91%); all other ethnic groups made up 2.55% of the population. Sidamo is spoken as a first language by 94.23% of the inhabitants, 2.14% speak Amharic, and 2.07% Oromiffa; the remaining 1.56% spoke all other primary languages reported. 84.38% of the population said they were Protestants, 4.62% were Muslim, 3.35% practiced Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity, 3.01% embraced Catholicism, and 2.72% observed traditional religions.[7]

In the 1994 Census Sidama had a population of 2,044,836 in 439,057 households, of whom 1,039,587 were men and 1,005,249 women; 143,534 or 7.02% of its population were urban dwellers. The four largest ethnic groups reported in this Zone were the Sidama (88.6%), the Amhara (4.15%), the Oromo (2.97%), and the Welayta (1.84%); all other ethnic groups made up 2.44% of the population. Sidamo is spoken as a first language by 88.6% of the inhabitants, 4.15% speak Amharic, 2.97% Oromiffa, and 1.84% Welayta; the remaining 2.44% spoke all other primary languages reported. 62.54% of the population said they were Protestants, 13.64% observed traditional religions, 8.24% practiced Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity, 8% were Muslim, and 4.24% embraced Catholicism.[8]

According to a May 24, 2004 World Bank memorandum, 8% of the inhabitants of Sidama have access to electricity, this zone has a road density of 137.4 kilometers per 1000 square kilometers (compared to the national average of 30 kilometers),[9] the average rural household has 0.3 hectare of land (compared to the national average of 1.01 hectare of land and an average of 0.89 for the SNNPR)[10] and the equivalent of 0.5 heads of livestock. 15.4% of the population is in non-farm related jobs, compared to the national average of 25% and a Regional average of 32%. 68% of all eligible children are enrolled in primary school, and 18% in secondary schools. 72% of the zone is exposed to malaria, and none to tsetse fly. The memorandum gave this zone a drought risk rating of 329.[11]


Most residents are subsistence farmers. Cattle especially, are a measure of wealth. Sidama grows several crop types. It is a major coffee growing area, with coffee the most popular agricultural product in the zone. Its prized coffee is sold on the world market. Coffee exports contribute revenue and foreign exchange for the country and the production and exchange of coffee has been used as the main economic power of people living in Sidama.

Despite Ethiopia’s vast resources of land, water and labor, it remains among the poorest countries in Africa and the world. It has been unable to use its resources effectively to prevent famine, reduce poverty, and support its rapidly increasing population.[12] The communities in Sidama Zone have been practicing integrated agriculture (crop production like Enset false banana, wheat, maize, sugar cane, etc. and livestock) for their survival and as income generation. The majority of the communities are producing coffee, which is the main cash crop and main income generating agricultural activity. Though the community gets good income from coffee selling, they become rich only for three months during coffee production and selling months and become poor the remaining nine months, due to poor financial management and weak savings.

The Sidama economy is based primarily on subsistence agriculture characterized by archaic production techniques. However, coffee has been the major source of income for rural households in a substantial part of Sidama, although the recent plunge in international coffee price drew most of these households back into the subsistence production and absolute poverty (coffee prices fell dramatically even during the commodity price boom of 2001 to mid-2008). Sidama is one of the major coffee producing regions in Ethiopia. It supplies over 40% of washed coffee to the central market. Coffee is the single major export earner for the country. Export earnings from coffee ranges from 60-67% although the country's share in the world market is less than 3%.[5] The Sidama people have not faced major hunger and famine until very recently. Due to reliable rainfall and evergreen land area, they were always able to produce enough to ensure food security. The society has been characterized by what one may call a low level economic equilibrium. Even the 1984 great famine that hit all other parts of the country did not have a major impact in Sidama. However, a continued dependence on subsistence agriculture, which relies on archaic technology and vagaries of nature coupled with massive growth of rural population, and limited rural development, has made Sidama prone to frequent hunger and famine recently. Thus about a quarter of the total population in Sidama is directly or indirectly dependent on food aid from the international community today.[5]

Sidama coffee

The first reference to "coffee" in the English language is in the form chaoua, dated to 1598. In English and other European languages, coffee derives from the Ottoman Turkish kahve, via the Italian caffè. The Turkish word in turn was borrowed from the Arabic: قهوة, qahwah. Arab lexicographers maintain that qahwah originally referred to a type of wine, and gave its etymology, in turn, to the verb قها qahā, signifying "to have no appetite", since this beverage was thought to dull one's hunger. Several alternative etymologies exist that hold that the Arab form may disguise a loanword from an Ethiopian or African source, suggesting Kaffa, the highland in southwestern Ethiopia as one, since the plant is indigenous to that area. However, the term used in that region for the berry and plant is bunn, the native name in Shoa being būn.

Ethiopian ancestors of today's Oromo people were believed to have been the first to recognize the energizing effect of the coffee plant. In Ethiopia coffee originated in Keffa Zone, also in the SNNP region. This Zone has agro-ecological, agricultural practice and socio-cultural similarity with Sidama Zone. As coffee is a commercial crop and it become one of the best sources of foreign currency, the people in Sidama become very interested in large scale coffee production.

A substantial part of Sidama produces coffee, which is the major cash crop in the region. Coffee has been the major source of income for the rural households in the coffee producing regions of Sidama. However, the recent plunge in international coffee price drew most of these households back into the subsistence production and absolute poverty (coffee prices fell dramatically even during the commodity price boom of 2001 to mid-2008). Sidama is one of the major coffee producing regions in Ethiopia. It supplies over 40% of washed coffee to the central market. Coffee is the single major export earner for the country. Export earnings from coffee ranges from 60-67% although the country's share in the world market is less than 3%.[5]

Considering different coffee producing areas in Ethiopia, one of the special things about Sidama coffee is that it is organic coffee. Most coffee producing farmers use natural fertilizers and not artificial fertilizer. As the coffee of Sidama is local variety, it has special aroma (unique test).

As coffee become one of the greatest sources of foreign currency, the government of Ethiopia is promoting coffee producing areas like Sidama Zone for more production. Due to this, the people of Sidama are now benefiting from this strategy. Exports from Ethiopia in the 2009/2010 financial year totaled US$1.4 billion. The country produces more coffee than any other nation in Africa.

In Ethiopia coffee has a special cultural value. Ethiopians hold coffee ceremonies in which people get together to deal with issues. Today the Ethiopian coffee ceremony has become a popular activity for tourists.

In Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, drinking coffee is strictly forbidden. Different religious leaders teach their followers that when a person become very familiar with coffee, he/she will face difficulties (loss of concentration) during fasting time where it is not allowed to eat or drink anything. In this religion there is meditation time ‘Aremimo’ during fasting and it is assumed that those who have high adaptation with coffee will lose their concentration during meditation time.


Access to water supply and sanitation in Ethiopia is amongst the lowest in Sub-Saharan Africa and the entire world. According to a 2009 IRC baseline KPC survey conducted in the Sidama Zone, only 7% of households reported using a latrine, whilst 93% percent practiced open defecation.[13] There have been outbreaks of acute watery diarrhea in Sidama. The 2009-2011 Emergency Preparedness and Response Plan (EPRP) for SNNPR estimated that up to 65,260 people were affected by acute watery diarrhea in 2009.[14]

Health Extension Workers (HEWs) and Community Health Promoters (CHPs) play greatest role in disseminating hygiene and sanitation education to the whole community in rural area. "The preventive elements of the HEWs’ and CHPs’ roles involves continuous education on sanitation and hygiene to communities, including selection and communication of messages on sanitation and hygiene as well as demonstrations and actions to persuade HHs to make changes in their behaviour -followed by monitoring of the progress made by HHs.".[15] To assemble site-specific processes of development in each community a large environment need to be in place to encourage local groups to create their own appropriate solutions.[16] Community members get good awareness about the importance of community involvement in different processes and community members coolaborated with government and start to solve their Water, Hygiene and Sanitation (WASH) related problems through participatory learning and action.


In Sidama Zone due to less awareness of the community and less availability of schools, less percentage of young babies are attending school education. In Sidama Zone currently there are 75 kindergartens, 633 primary schools and 12 secondary schools. Considering kindergarten enrollment, a total number of 6,863 students (3,700 male and 3,163 female) attend class. But the total school age (4 – 6 years age) boys and girls are about 360,547 (181,543 male and 179,004 female).[17] Gross Enrollment Ratio (%) in kindergarten is about 1.9% (2.04% for male and 1.77% for female). The data revealed that very less number of the young generation is getting educational opportunity in Sidama Zone.

Environmental status

The prevalent farming system of the midlands of Sidama is under stress mainly because of burgeoning human population. Symptoms are not only the high proportion of children acutely or chronically affected by malnutrition but also the progressive degradation of resources in an environment once extremely fertile. Land erosion is commonly observed by farmers who consider it a major problem though in some plots nutrients surplus, as unused manure, was observed. Hurni (1988) classified soil erosion in Sidama as medium (20–40%). Pastureland is shrinking and degrading in its botanical composition. Most of the abundant water resources are now polluted. In order to buffer the progressive crisis, and given the presence of markets for cash crops and dairy products, the mixed system in Sidama midlands is rapidly evolving into specialization. The area is among the richest in Ethiopia (MOA, 1984). Because of their positive role as a source of cash in the HH economy, coffee and chat plants are gradually replacing food crops in the garden such as ensete, yam and maize.[18]


Fichche is the most celebrated Sidama cultural holiday, representing the Sidama New Year. The Fichche is based on the lunar system. Sidama elders (astrologists) observe the movement of the stars in the sky and decide the date for the New Year and the Fichche celebration. The Sidama New Year is therefore is unique in that it does not have a fixed date. It rotates every year following the movements of the stars. Sidama has 13 months in a year. And each of the months is divided equally into 28 days while the 13th month has 29 days. This is because the Sidama week has only 4 days and hence each month has 7 weeks instead of the conventional 4 weeks. The names of the 4 days in Sidama week are called: Dikko, Deela, Qawadoo and Qawalanka to be followed by Dikko completing the cycle of a 4-day week.[5]


  1. "Detailed statistics on roads", SNNPR Bureau of Finance and Economic Development website (accessed 3 September 2009)
  2. CSA 2005 National Statistics, Table D.2
  3. SNNP Health profile,
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 L.K. Wolassa, The Sidama History and Culture,
  6. Sidama Development Corporation, Planning and Statistics (2000)
  7. Census 2007 Tables: Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples' Region, Tables 2.1, 2.4, 2.5, 3.1, 3.2 and 3.4.
  8. 1994 Population and Housing Census of Ethiopia: Results for Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples' Region, Vol. 1, part 1, Tables 2.1, 2.7, 2.11, 2.15, 2.19 (accessed 30 December 2008)
  9. "Ethiopia - Second Road Sector Development Program Project", p.3 (World Bank Project Appraisal Document, published 19 May 2003)
  10. Comparative national and regional figures comes from the World Bank publication, Klaus Deininger et al. "Tenure Security and Land Related Investment", WP-2991 (accessed 23 March 2006).
  11. World Bank, Four Ethiopias: A Regional Characterization (accessed 23 March 2006).
  12. The World Bank (2004), Four Ethiopia’s: A Regional Characterization, Assessing Ethiopia’s Growth Potential and Development Obstacles
  13. Baseline KPC Survey, Dara, Aroresa, and Hulla Woredas, Sidama Zone, SNNPR Region, IRC (February 2009)
  14. Disease Specific Emergency Preparedness and Response Plan for SNNPR from 2009-2011
  16. Taylor, 2002
  17. SNNPR Education Bureau,
  18. FAO,

Coordinates: 6°40′N 38°30′E / 6.667°N 38.500°E / 6.667; 38.500

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