Working for Change in Northern Ethiopia
Published on 23 June 2014

Villagers from Sebana-Demale diverting a river to irrigate their crops.

Copyright: WFP/Melese Awoke

Agro-pastoralists in Ethiopia's northern Afar region once used to migrate in search of water and pasture for their herds. But today, they are staying put, thanks to a range of government environmental and public works projects, supported by WFP.

MEGLELA, Ethiopia - For years, farmers and herders in this drought-prone pocket of northern Ethiopia would migrate regularly in search of water and pasture for their herds of goats, sheep and cows.   But today, agro-pastoralists like Duba Oundunumo are staying where they are and reaping the benefits of environmental and development activities that have greened the landscape and put food on their plates.

"We are working for change," says 58-year-old Duba, who is the village chief of Meglela, a community of 8,000 located roughly 190 kilometres from Semera, the capital of Ethiopia's northern Afar region. "And for the work we do, we get food in return, thanks to WFP."

The change came four years ago, as the Ethiopian government rolled out a series of public works projects around Meglela, ranging from building ponds and roads, to terracing degraded mountain ridges and reforesting bare swathes of land under its Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP). In 2014, WFP aims to provide food assistance to roughly 1.2 million Ethiopians engaged in PSNP activities across the country - including those in Meglela.

“Along with infrastructure construction, communities here are also engaged in small-scale irrigation, planting trees, clearing weeds and river diversion for irrigation purposes," says WFP's Assistant Field Monitor Teklemuz Gebregziabher, who monitors the public works projects. "The programme is intended to protect household assets."

Restoring lands and livelihoods

Sebana-Damale is another village in Afar where the PSNP project has brought a tangible change to one of Ethiopia's most punishing regions. The village is located in Berhale district, home to the lowest and hottest region on earth, the Denakil Depression. Getting here is a scorching trip down a rough road that cuts through rocky mountains and crosses river beds that often run dry.

But today, the PSNP programme is restoring lands and livelihoods, and bringing hope to a community where many members can now afford to send their children to school.

Amina Aliyou close-up"We are destined to be cattle herders," village chief Duba says, "but we don't believe our children should follow our paths."

Amina Aliyou (left), a farmer and mother of five, is also participating in the programme, working five hours a day in a community project to divert the local Mille River for irrigation. In return, she receives 15 kg of maize and wheat from WFP.

"Living here can be challenging - especially when it comes to managing flooding of the river that crosses our land," says Amina, 40. "I am contributing my time and energy to change the environment."

Participants in the community projects receive six-month rations of WFP food in return for their work - which ensures they don't sell off their precious assets when times get tough.

For villagers like 38-year-old Osman Ahmed, a father of 10, there are other paybacks to community public works projects. Under PSNP, Ahmed has been involved in road building and flood control efforts.

"We see the value of working together," Ahmed says. "It benefits all of us a lot."

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About the author

Melese Awoke

Senior Public Information assistant

 Melese Awoke, a former TV journalist, has been working for WFP since 2003. He is a Senior Communications Assistant in WFP Ethiopia.