By Jessica Sallabank
The small town of Ebinat is at the heart of one of the most food insecure and drought prone areas in the Amhara region of northern Ethiopia. The majority of people in the surrounding villages and hamlets are at the mercy of increasingly erratic rainfall and survive largely through subsistence farming. For the last four decades a large part of the population of Ebinat has been chronically dependent on food aid.
The South Gondar branch of the Ethiopian Red Cross Society is currently working with the Netherlands Red Cross Society on a Food Security and Disaster Risk Reduction project in an agricultural area about an hour by car from Ebinat.
In this area, small clusters of villages comprising of houses built from sturdy Eucalyptus branches butt up against fields of sorghum, corn and teff, which is used to make Injera, the staple Ethiopian flatbread.
This area is hot and arid, and drought is significant and constant threat. Over the past 30 years, local farmers have started to notice a change in weather patterns with the dry season lasting for much longer than in the past. "Our key priority is to build up resilience to the impact of climate change and help our small scale farmers to be more self-sufficient," says Mulat Andargay, Project Coordinator for the ERCS South Gondar branch during a visit to one of the organization’s water diversion and irrigation projects.
Using the latest technology, a sand dam has been built which allows water flowing under the earth to be collected and stored in a chamber. An irrigation channel which snakes and weaves across farm land for almost a kilometre is then used to channel the water from the collection chamber to irrigate the fields. "This is very important for us," one farmer told us. “Now we have much more water to irrigate our fields, and don't just rely on the rain, which means we can grow more water intensive crops such as onions, garlic and carrots, which we can then sell."
Replenishing the land with trees and crops is also an important aspect of the Ethiopian Red Cross Society’s food security and resilience programme. In both North and South Gondar, tree nurseries have been created in which tree, cereal and animal fodder plants can be nurtured, protected and eventually transplanted into fertile land. The organization oversees a team of local workers who water, weed and prune the seedlings.
In the largest plant nursery in Ebinat, almost half a million seedlings have been grown so far, with olives, garlic and a wide variety of cereals amongst the 13 species. Almost half of the seedlings are taken for replanting elsewhere in a bid to counter the growing problem of deforestation. The remainder of the seedlings are given away for free to families who have prepared land for planting in advance.
A similar but smaller tree nursery has been established in the Senbetge village in North Gondar which currently relies on food aid for 60 per cent of the year. Helina Tsegaye, project co-ordinator for the Ethiopian Red Cross Society says: "One of the main aims of our food security project is to move people away from food aid dependency. Right now, local people are more concerned with the rainfall in Canada rather than here! So we're trying to create more self-reliance by repopulating the trees and crops.”
Deforestation and soil erosion are also major challenges to the those living around Ebinat and many other parts of Ethiopia. In order to counter this, the Red Cross branch in South Gondar has brought together local teams of workers to build terraces across the hillsides, using simple lines of stones. Terracing prevents the rain washing fertile soil down the hillsides and therefore restores and protects the land for further planting of trees and crops.
“As a former student of agriculture, it’s encouraging to see these innovative practices taking root amongst the Ethiopian farming community,” says Mulat Andargay with over 200km of land terraced so far, the Red Cross is playing an important role in building up the resilience of local people to drought and food insecurity.
To see video material of the project in Ebinat, click here http://www.climatecentre.org/site/films-by-farmers