Ethiopia: Shoots of life in drought-ravaged land

What’s being done to protect people from the worsening drought in Ethiopia? Caroline Gluck reports.

Mother of eight Momina Hashu surveyed her field of maize with despair. ”We hardly have anything to eat – just leftovers”, she said, pointing to a couple of stunted cobs of maize that she’s managed to salvage from the wilting, yellowed plants on her land.

“We’ve sold all our cattle. This is the worst year we’ve faced in recent years. As long as my children aren’t eating properly, I’m very worried for them.”

It’s the third year of failed rains in the region and people are suffering. Many have already sold off livestock and other assets to get by. Thousands are receiving support under a government food safety net programme; but many more don’t receive any help and are now struggling to feed their families.

Watch my video report below:


I met Momina in her field of withered maize on the way to visit an Oxfam project in Arsi Negelle district, Oromia region, about 250 kilometres south of the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. It is one of the most fertile parts of the country. But most farmers rely on rain-fed agriculture and Ethiopia, like much of East Africa, is currently facing drought and serious food shortages. The government says inadequate rains mean 6.2 million people need aid this year and has appealed to the international community to help.

Oxfam is working in several villages in Arsi Negelle district with a local partner, the Rift Valley Women’s Development Association (RCWDA). Projects target smallholder farmers, providing them with skills and training, helping them access fertilisers and seeds so they can diversify their crops and earn higher prices for their produce.

Small-holders farmers, like these livestock herders in Tekelle, are getting support from Oxfam. [Photo credit: Eva-Lotta Jansson]

Villagers have been paid for their labour in cash-for-work programmes to rehabilitate and clean old irrigation channels that had fallen into disrepair and disuse and building  access roads so that goods can get to the markets more quickly.

Farmers have been organised into local co-operatives, allowing them to pool resources and have a stronger bargaining power for their goods; and women’s self-help groups have been set up, giving members access to small loans and training.

In Keraru village, farmer, 45-year-old father of twelve, Hussein Mohammed, says that his life has dramatically changed since the project began two years ago.

He’s harvesting a healthy crop of tomatoes from plot of land less than a hectare in size, which is well-irrigated from a nearby river. “I now have 14,000 birr [about £700] in the bank and I’ve bought four oxen”, he said proudly.  “Also, I’m sending all my children to school now.

“We’re surviving the drought because of this production”, he said, explaining that another plot of non-irrigated land, where he’d planted maize, had failed completely.

Encouraging farmers like Hussein to grow alternative high-value crops like tomatoes, onions and potatoes, which can be harvested several times a year, rather than the traditional staples of wheat, maize and teff [an Ethiopian cereal], which can only be harvested once a year, has meant a big increase in their income.

Women such as Hawa Hassan are finding support by forming co-operatives and self-help groups. [Photo credit: Jane Beesley]

Life has also improved for many women like 30-year-old mother of seven, Arabe Geleto, who’ve joined women’s self-help groups. Not only are they earning more money now, but their self-confidence has grown. Arabe has opened a small shop with a loan; grows vegetables on a small plot of irrigated land and regularly travels to Arsi Negelle town, where she processes grain grown in the village which is then sold in a shop set up by co-operative members.

“Before, I sat at home and took what we harvested to the local market. Now I’m travelling around, taking food from the village to town and back. Things have improved four-fold, I’d say. My confidence has grown, we’ve gained better information and education because now I’m involved in many things.”

Oxfam-funded projects are clearly making a difference. They’re giving communities greater resilience and a sense of pride. But millions need help. Emergency food aid may be an immediate solution to tide people over in the short term. But with climate scientists predicting that drought will soon become the norm in Ethiopia, much more needs to be done to help communities better protect themselves so that future shocks, like drought, don’t develop into disasters.

Source : Oxfam



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