Ethiopia: Drylands Development Programme assists farmers in rural communities

By Rob Kelly, Grants Manager

The most serious challenge facing dryland farmers in Ethiopia is how to capture and convert the little rain that falls into food or income.

The problem is common across Africa, where drylands make up 43 percent of the land area and are home to 45 percent of its population (approximately 325 million). Livestock and dryland crops support these farmers who often struggle to survive on increasingly variable rainfall and on land degraded from loss of tree cover and erosion.

The Drylands Development Programme, or DryDev, seeks to help dryland farmers address the complexities associated with land degradation.

DryDev, which began in August 2013, is working with over 227,000 smallholder farmers in dryland parts of Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Ethiopia and Kenya. The program is funded by the Dutch government with a contribution by World Vision Australia for activities in Ethiopia and Kenya. I wanted to see if the community investments are addressing degradation, and thereby improving food production and income.

What I saw in Ethiopia was incredible. Various physical measures now slow and trap rainwater. Planting of over a million trees as well as grasses, and the practice of Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration have slowed runoff, allowing rain to soak deep into the ground. FMNR is a low-cost technique which allows shrubs and trees to regrow from sprouting roots, stumps or seeds. Vegetation cover protects the soil, improving the infiltration of rain.

In Tsaeda Emba, the communities have ‘drought proofed’ their valley. Stone terraces and deep trenches now trap run-off. Vegetation on slopes, due to planted trees and FMNR, is extensive. The entire valley – those areas with crops, orchards, and grass for animals – was green when I visited, despite this being the driest month of the year. Moreover, rains had not fallen substantially in the previous year due to a drought in 2016. And yet this valley could convert the meagre rain into a useful water supply and produce food and income!

Before DryDev, just two farmers harvested one poorly yielding crop per year on three hectares of irrigated land. Now, 132 farmers grow three crops per year using gravity irrigation on 18.5 hectares in the dry season and on 38 hectares in the rainy season. As a result, despite the 2016 drought, communities sold 813 tonnes of grass hay. This has also meant that fathers have not had to move away for work and can stay to look after their families.

The DryDev programme has helped Farmer Girma learn new skills to improve his farming and support his family.

I met Mr Girma Galan in another target community south-east of Addis Ababa. Mr Galan worked with project staff to install a 20,000 litre tank. This ground-level concrete-lined tank is fed by a channel that collects run-off from a nearby track.

"The stored water is enough to water my garden and orchard for up to four months beyond the end of the rainy season. I now have a water bank," he told me proudly.

After three years, his orchard has become a thriving sprawl of food and income-generating trees – mango, guava, ziziphus, citrus, moringa, grevillea, and coffee. His children now enjoy regular veggies and fruit, and he can afford to send his kids to school thanks to the sale of cash crops (chillies, cabbages and leafy vegetables). The water fed to his livestock also saves his wife and kids the three hours a day they would normally spend walking their animals to water.

Mr Galan’s structure was covered by the program to demonstrate the benefits to the community, and as a model that can be easily replicated. The locals, seeing the simple design and benefits, became convinced, and they now work with a local contractor who charges just 3,000 birr (US$150) per unit for building supplies.

Mr Galan’s water, and the resulting food and income, is helping his family survive and thrive despite the challenges of living in dryland areas.

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