Faces of Ethiopia: The Difference Development Makes

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Dyadie Chane is one of the farmers benefitting from the Shegeza watershed project in the Debre Marcos area of northern Ethiopia.

Canadians tend to think about the developing world mostly when disaster strikes—when drought, famine or war affects and imperils millions of people.

When that happens, sad and terrible images of suffering people fill the media, like is happening now about the great needs in Somalia and other parts of East Africa, Yemen, South Sudan, northern Nigeria and—for far too long—in Syria.

When disasters hit, aid groups, supported by the Canadian government, respond by providing food, water, shelter and medicine.

While these large-scale needs and response garner much media attention, in fact aid groups spend much of their time and resources doing development work.

They do this work quietly, and without much fanfare, on projects that help people improve their lives and become stronger and more resilient—enabling them to withstand and more quickly recover from shocks like drought.

(War is another thing altogether; there is very little that can be done to help people prepare for disruption and displacement due to conflict, except to work to lessen the possibility of fighting in the first place.)

One of the important areas groups like Canadian Foodgrains Bank focuses on is agriculture. In the developing world, 86 percent of rural residents derive their livelihoods from farming or farm-related work—1.5 billion people, mostly small-scale farmers (farming two hectares or less). Over 40 percent of these farmers are women.

Despite their hard work, these farmers have a hard time growing enough food for their families or to sell in local markets. And when drought or other disasters come, they can lose everything if they haven’t developed better farming methods and other coping mechanisms to withstand these challenges.

By focusing on the agricultural sector, aid groups estimate they will see crop increases of 20-30 percent, lifting as many as 150 million people out of poverty and hunger, and enabling farmers to better deal with disasters.

That’s what’s happening in Ethiopia, where Winnipeg-based Canadian Foodgrains Bank has been working through its member agencies since 1983. In February John Longhurst, who directs communications and marketing for the Foodgrains Bank, toured projects in that country with his colleague, Sam Vander Ende, to see the difference development projects focused on agriculture can make.

We Have a Future Now
Ethiopia is at war—with water. Sometimes there isn’t enough of it, like last year with the El Nino-caused drought. Other times it rushes down bare and treeless hill and mountainsides, sweeping away the topsoil that farmers need to grow food for their families. Fortunately, the country has just what it needs to counter the soil-destroying water: Rocks.

Soil and Water Conservation Project Brings Hope
“It brought us hope.” That’s what Assefa Zewdie, chair of the Shegeza watershed committee in the Debre Marcos area of northern Ethiopia, said when asked what soil and water conservation project supported by Canadian Foodgrains Bank meant to him and his community.

Self-Help Group Promotes Savings—and Respect for Women
“In the eyes of the men, we get respect now.” That’s what Adise Zewede says about what it means for women in her village of Kudo, in the southern part of Ethiopia, to be able to save their own money through a Foodgrains Bank-supported self-help savings group.

A Forest and Foundation of Our Lives
To a Canadian, it doesn’t look like much of a forest—more a like large scrubby wood. There are no tall. soaring fir trees, no tall maples, no densely-packed aspens or birches. But to the people who live below Ethiopia’s Halaba Mountain, it is forest-enough—and a life-saver instead of a threat to their farms and livelihoods.

Copyright and Copy Farmers
One of the big issues facing creative people today is copyright—how to protect their original works. This isn’t a problem for conservation agriculture staff at the Terepeza Development Association (TDA)—they hope their work is copied as much as possible.

Well, Pond, Gully: Good Development for Good Results
What does good development look like? In Ethiopia, good development looks like a well, a pond and a gully.

Women and Development: “There is Equality Now”
On average, women make up 43 percent of the labour force in agriculture in the developing world, yet receive only five percent of the training to be better farmers. For this reason, aid groups like Canadian Foodgrains Bank make it a priority to improve women’s access to land, water, training and financial resources in places like Ethiopia.

Now We Depend on Ourselves
 “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.

Preaching the Conservation Agriculture “Gospel”
In Ethiopia’s Kindo Koysha District of Ethiopia, staff at the Terepeza Development Association (TDA) are preaching the gospel—the gospel of conservation agriculture.

Planting Trees and Hope
“This used to be bare dirt, a land full of gullies due to erosion,” says Buche Borsomo, gesturing to the treed area across the road. There was nothing for our livestock to eat.” But things are different now since the Foodgrains Bank provided a food for work project to help the community bring the 43-hectare area back to life.