“Nine years ago, this was bare land, there were no trees. But then God remembered us. He sent you to come to us and support us, and now we live in a productive land.”
With those words, Takele Taga welcomed visitors from Canadian Foodgrains Bank to the small-scale irrigation scheme serving the Ethiopian community of Ariyo Kulano.
Taga, chair of the water users committee in the community, went on to say that the river which flowed past the community “was our neighbour for a long time, but was of little help to us. But now things are different. It gives us life.”
Taga’s welcome speech was given beneath a canopy of banana trees, part of a 64-hectare area brought to life by an irrigation project supported by the Foodgrains Bank through its member, the Evangelical Missionary Covenant Church and their partner, the Ethiopian Kale Heywet Church Development Program.
Started in 2009, and constructed by hand through a food-for-work project made possible by support from the Canadian government, the weir and a two-kilometre stone and concrete canal was completed in 2011.
There were setbacks along the way; floods damaged the weir twice, in 2011 and again in 2015.
“When the structure was damaged if was a very sad time for us,” Taga said. “We were glad when you came back to help us fix it.”
But now that it is up and running, “we do not expect you to take responsibility for us now. Now it is up to us to look after it.”
This doesn’t mean “we may not need your help again,” he went on to say, “but we want to take care of ourselves now.”
And the 260 families benefitting from the project are taking care of themselves very well. Their fields are like an oasis in the dry and dusty area in the country’s Southern Nations Region, producing tomatoes, onions, peppers and various fruits for eating and for sale.
Added Taga: “We used to be dependent on others, but now we depend on ourselves. We have better houses, we send our children to school, we wear better clothes—there are so many benefits.”
When he was done, an old man asked to speak.
“I am the oldest person in the village,” he said, leaning on his walking stick. “I remember when it was dry, and we were hungry. Thank-you again.”
In response, Sam Vander Ende, the Foodgrains Bank field officer based in Ethiopia, told the farmers that “we are glad we could come alongside you to provide the support, but you are the ones who made this possible. You did the work, you worked in the hot sun to build the irrigation project. Without you it would not have happened.”
Later, walking back through the banana groves to our car, Vander Ende reflected on the experience.
“These types of projects are totally transformational,” he said. “I’ve been visiting these kinds of projects for 20 years, and it still moves me to see how profoundly they affect the lives of people in these communities.”