Stories from Ethiopia

With trees, you can earn money

Peter Lüthi - Communication & Campaigns

Trees need time to grow and so the return on your investment is not immediate. However, in the medium and longer term, trees and fruit are a profitable business. They are also important for the environment and the micro-climate.

The small saplings planted in a row at the edge of the smallholding of Gemeda Belda and his wife Mushu Kadesh in Luke Hada (Siraro District, Ethiopia) look somewhat unprepossessing and rather lost.  Despite that, the couple have high hopes for the 11 Grevillea Robusta saplings. Also known as silky oaks, they should grow within 10 years into stately trees. “In ten years I shall be able to sell the trees for a good price to local furniture makers,” he says confidently and adds that the oak branches make good firewood and the chopped leaves can be fed to the cattle.

High demand for timber
Timber from the Grevillea Robusta trees is in great demand in Ethiopia. Gemeda Belda also knows that with each passing year the growing trees will provide more shade; this will improve the immediate microclimate and protect the soil from erosion – both extremely important in this hot and dry region. Siraro is located to the west of Sashemene, a town in southern Ethiopia. It is in the rain shadow of the mountains and often suffers severe droughts. Since 2005, it has already experienced five such extreme events and when this happens local people have to rely on emergency aid. Many families have been trapped in poverty ever since.

Trees provide shade and protect the soil from erosion. They also supply fruit, timber and firewood and the leaves are used as cattle fodder.
Mushu Kadesh is the one who mainly tends the young saplings.
Mushu Kadesh and her husband Gemeda Belda have started to grow trees on their land. Advice and support is on hand from the project assistant on his motor bike.
Women and young girls often have to carry firewood for cooking over long distances.
Timber production is a widespread source of income in Siraro. Local people mainly plant eucalyptus. The tree grows quickly but it also leaches the soil and needs a lot of water.
Soil erosion is a major problem in Siraro caused by extreme weather events, such as droughts and torrential rainfall. However, the lack of trees also contributes to the loss of soil fertility.
Natural resources are in short supply in the Siraro District. In particular, trees are under pressure because of the demand for timber and firewood.
Gemeda Belda is planning for the longer term. He has planted 11 Grevillea trees, which in ten years will deliver valuable timber that he hopes to sell for a good price.
Not to be outdone, Mushu Kadesh is about to plant fruit trees. Fruit is important for a healthy diet and is in demand on the market.


Conserve and enhance natural resources
Caritas Vorarlberg and its Spanish sister organisation have been working for years in Siraro with the Catholic Church in Ethiopia to provide food aid.  In 2015 and in cooperation with Biovision, the three organisations launched a project designed to develop suitable ways to prevent hunger. It was clear to the project team that nothing could be done to combat the droughts themselves but with targeted measures, e.g. preventing soil erosion and tree planting, the problems could be alleviated. The project is now working with the local population to develop and implement measures to conserve and enhance natural resources.

Money for food and developing sources of income
The second part of the prevention strategy is to create income-generating opportunities for the affected population. As a preliminary step, the project completed a baseline study and then working with local people selected a range of suitable niche incomes. In addition to the production and sale of timber and fruit from the trees, this included poultry rearing and egg selling, beekeeping and selling honey, kitchen gardens for the sustainable growing of vegetables and goat farming. The creation of new income-generating opportunities should reduce dependence on emergency aid. During periods of drought, the money earned can be used to buy food and in good times it can be re-invested for the development of additional income opportunities.

His and hers
Gemeda Belda took a long-term view when planning his income strategy; he opted to produce wood for furniture making. is wife However, his wife Mushu would have preferred a quicker return from the project but went along with her husband’s plan. “I would have planted fruit trees,” she says. The fruit from the trees could have improved the diet of her family of seven and at the same time done something for the health of all. She now plans to transform this idea into reality and has already been in touch with the Project Team about saplings for papaya and avocado trees. She is already looking forward to earning her own income by selling the surplus at market in a few years. Her husband may go around with a worried brow as he contemplates his long-term Grevillea investment but that does not worry Mushu – after all, it is Mushu who goes out every day to tend to the small specimen trees planted by Gemeda.