After years of hardship, a community in northern Ethiopia has found the route to a sustainable future through an innovative project which has helped to transform degraded hillsides into productive farmland. For its role in the project, the village of Abraha Atsbeha received official recognition at Rio+20 during an awards ceremony hosted by the UN Development Programme.
RIO DE JANEIRO—For the people of Abraha Atsbeha, a village in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia, hunger was once a daily reality. The soil was dry and barren after years of degradation and poor rains could easily lead to failed harvests.
Today, however, the hills around Abraha Atsbeha are green again with fields of coffee, grain and vegetables. Families have a steady of source of income and the means to get through the lean season, even when it rains less than usual.
A joint venture between the Ethiopian government and WFP, the MERET programme gets chronically food-insecure communities involved in environmental rehabilitation and sustainable income- generating activities that improve livelihoods.
MERET's strongest supporter in recent years is Canada, which provided US$15 million in 2011.
This remarkable transformation earned Abraha Atsbeha official recognition at Rio+20 for its role in a joint project between WFP and the Ethiopian government to help families manage their land and improve their livelihoods.
The MERET project
The MERET (Managing Environmental Resources to Enable Transition) project in Abraha Atsbeha was among 25 initiatives to be awarded the 2012 Equator Prize by UN Development Programme (UNDP) Administrator Helen Clarke.
The award recognizes outstanding projects working to advance sustainable development solutions for people, nature and resilient communities.
Accepting the award on behalf of his community was chairman of the local famers’ association Gebremichal Giday, a zealous supporter of the project who has been instrumental to its success.
How it works
Through “food-for-work activities” that focus on land rehabilitation and income-generation, MERET aims to increase the long-term food security of poor households.
Communities work hard to combat land degradation and promote the sustainable use of natural resources while also increasing production and household income. Moreover, they are better prepared for future climate shocks in an area prone to frequent droughts.
“I am getting a reasonable income from a field that was previously covered by sand. I have good production from the rain-fed field and the irrigated land and orchard using my [new] shallow well,” said Hiwot Gebre-Tsadkan, a farmer in Abraha Atsbeha.
“All of this is thanks to MERET. The money I was getting enabled me to build a house. I can now send all three of my children to school.”