In southwestern Ethiopia, rural households are struggling with soil degradation and crop failures. Working together, they are taking measures to limit soil erosion and also to diversify their sources of income, in order to protect themselves from crises.
By Stefan Diener, former Programme Officer at Biovision
We sit and wait in the shade of an acacia tree in Nuna Raba, a village in the Ethiopian province of Siraro. I am travelling in southwest Ethiopia with Harald Grabher, project officer from Caritas Austria, to visit the partners of our joint project. Across from us, a group of women are engaged in animated discussion. They belong to the savings and credit cooperative “Biftu”, the word for “sunrise” in the local Oromo language. The group was founded as part of the “Food Security in Rural Ethiopia” project. Now, like us, they are waiting for Robdu Worana, the keeper of the group’s treasury. Robdu finally arrives with a heavy metal box secured with three padlocks. This contains the savings that the group members have collected by making regular contributions of about 20 cents per month. If one of the women needs money for a large purchase, for example to buy a goat or for a visit to the doctor, the group decides together on the repayment conditions.
Soil fertility and income
The credit cooperative is just one of several initiatives that the project participants, with the support of the team of Tesfaye Fetenu, project manager at the Social Development Coordinating Office of Meki of the Ethiopian Catholic Church (SDCOM), have implemented in the region over the past few years to make households more resilient. This applies not only to social challenges such as sickness or a collapse in prices of agricultural products, but above all to droughts and floods.
The project focuses on two areas: on measures to preserve soil fertility and also diversification of income opportunities in order to support the livelihoods of the stakeholders through a variety of income sources. To protect the soil against devastating erosion, embankments and ditches are constructed to guide the precious water back into the ground so that it does not run off unused. Since rainwater does not recognise property boundaries, an important task for the project team is mediation between landowners and the organisations they have formed. Construction work is carried out jointly and across multiple properties during the dry season so that the water is available in time for planting.
Introduction of efficient stoves
One of the most sustainable measures against erosion is deforestation prevention. In Ethiopia, 99 % of rural households still use wood for cooking. This puts heavy demand on the few remaining trees. “It is of little use, if the 150,000 or so trees we have planted during the course of the project are then cleared for firewood”, says project leader Tesfaye Fetenu. “That’s why we promote the use of efficient fire sites. Traditionally, a cooking pot is placed on three stones over an open fire, which wastes a lot of energy. The new, closed fireplaces require much less wood. They produce less smoke and are therefore also less damaging to health.”
Focus on women’s empowerment
Training in beekeeping, goat and chicken keeping or the establishment of permaculture gardens, all make a significant contribution to the financial security of the poorest households in the districts of Arsi Negele and Siraro. In the course of the project, the state agricultural advisory service was also integrated into the training programme in order to ensure technical support even after project completion. And thanks to a new initiative by SDCOM, tried and tested measures in the Tiyo and Hitosa regions are now being further developed and supplemented by placing a strong focus on the advancement of women.