Ethiopian Farmer Finds Smart Way To Get Through Droughts

Zemada Kebeb is a farmer living in Ethiopia’s drought-prone Tigray region. In the past, recurring droughts threatened to push her and her four children into chronic hunger. But now, with the help of a resilience-building initiative called R4, Zemada no longer fears a lack of rainfall and has enough stability to start growing new things like mangos.

ADDIS ABEBA – Zemada used to struggle to repay the loans she took out to buy seeds and fertilizer for her plot of land. Once, the situation got so bad she even found herself in court. But things changed after she enrolled in an initiative, run jointly by WFP and Oxfam America, which set out to help farmers like her become more resilient to climate shocks such as drought.

So, in 2012, after another drought hit her crops, she received an insurance payout of 2,100 Ethiopian birrs (around US$105). This allowed her to repay her loan for improved seeds and fertilizers, as well as buy two sheep that produce milk for her family. Some 300 other farmers in her village of Abraha Atsbeha benefited in the same way.

WFP/Lorenzo Bosi

(Zemada Kebeb, close-up. Photo:WFP/Lorenzo Bosi)

"I was always very afraid about what could happen if a drought occurred at the end of the season“
”I was always very afraid about what could happen if a drought occurred at the end of the season,” says Zemada, who has no husband to help her with her farming work. “Now we have no fear because we have seen that insurance works.” 

Today, Zemada has 5 sheep and she has not had to sell any belongings to repay her loans. Other farmers were able to establish beehives and started making honey for sale. 

Building long-term resilience

A key strength of R4 is that it links the insurance scheme to existing initiatives. One of these is an Ethiopian government programme in which chronically food insecure people receive food or cash in exchange for work to help build long-term resilience to food shortages (the Productive Safety Net Programme, or PSNP).

The R4 initiative was launched by WFP and Oxfam America in 2011 to enable vulnerable rural households to increase their food and income security in the face of increasing climate risks. It builds on the experience of a programme set up by Oxfam and the Relief Society of Tigray in 2009 -- the Horn of Africa Risk Transfer for Adaptation (HARITA) programme. 

To date, R4 has helped 25,000 farmers in Ethiopia and 6,000 farmers in Senegal through a comprehensive risk management approach that improves natural resources management and reduces the impact of climate shocks when they occur. 

R4 reduces the impact of uncertainty about the weather by providing insurance coverage to farmers. They get this cover in exchange for work on soil and water conservation structures, through a system called Insurance for Assets (IFA). This means that the poorest and most vulnerable farmers, like Zemada, are able to make investments that increase their productivity. Better off farmers also have the option of purchasing insurance with cash. 

When a drought hits, farmers receive automatic pay-outs, so that they do not have to take desperate measures such as selling off livestock or tools to survive, or taking their children out of school. 

In addition, the work carried out through Insurance for Assets, and in particular the planting of fruit trees (mango and avocados), will allow Zemada to improve the nutrition of her family and provide some additional cash. She is also able to irrigate the fruit trees, and others in the village can irrigate their crops and obtain three harvests per year.

A flourishing environment

"Thanks to the assets created through these initiatives, the environment is also changing in our village“
Although in 2013 and 2014 there have been no payouts, Zemada continues to benefit from Insurance For Assets work, and is protected by insurance. 

Thanks to the assets created through these initiatives, the environment is also changing in our village: we have more water, we planted more trees and we have less heat than before,” says Zemada referring to the benefits of R4 in combination with the Productive Safety Net Programme.

Zemana poses close to her new-born Mango tree.

(Zemada poses close to a newly planted Mango tree. Photo:WFP/Lorenzo Bosi)

R4’s ultimate goal is to help people diversify their livelihoods, take risks and opportunities, and become more resilient to climate disasters. Results from R4 in Ethiopia show that the initiative is helping improve farmers’ resilience. Insured farmers save more than twice than those without any insurance, and they invest more in seeds, fertilizer and productive assets. Women, who often head the poorest households, achieve the largest gains in productivity. R4 currently operates in Ethiopia, Senegal, Malawi and Zambia.

Read more about  the resilience-building initiative.