When drought gripped much of southern Ethiopia recently, farmers across the region lost their crops in parched fields and millions were pushed to the brink of starvation. But as the rains failed, some farmers managed to escape the worst that nature could throw of them.
“When the drought came, I lost only fifteen to twenty per cent of my crops, nothing more,” says Abebe Lapiso, as he stands barefoot in the soft dark soil of his small plot of land in the town of Alaba.
Abebe’s story is remarkable because in the region around Alaba -- known as the Southern Nations Nationalities and People’s Region -- most farmers lost everything. In many ways, Abebe is an archetypal Ethiopian farmer, cultivating barely half a hectare of land in the village of Alaba to feed his wife and seven growing children.
But the difference between Abebe and the vast majority of farmers in this region is that he attended a five-day training course run by MERET, a joint land conservation and water harvesting project that is supported by the Ethiopian government and WFP.
“Before I attended the training course, I didn’t even have a chicken, and I used to dream of owning a milking cow,” says Abebe. “Now I have my own cow and my children can have milk every day.”
The key to Abebe’s success was the advice and guidance he received on the MERET training programme. Local officials encouraged him to plant new crops such as pigeon peas, carrots and beetroots, as well as fruit bearing trees such as paw paw, lime, and mango.
Agricultural experts helped Abebe to map out his plot, dividing it into areas where crops could be grown, areas where fodder for cattle could be cultivated, and integrating simple water-catchment techniques that optimised the use of rainfall.
“My life has changed completely,” says Abebe. “I used to grow a little maize and the rest of my land was used by cattle that came and browsed wherever they wished. I couldn’t support my family on the land and I had to work as a day labourer in town to survive.”
Today, Abebe is being held up as a model farmer. On his plot of land, neat rows of healthy vegetables alternate with rows of local “Dasho” grass – a fast growing plant that makes excellent fodder for cattle, and which has deep roots that bind the soil together and prevent erosion.
“He is a pioneer farmer,” says Erkeno Wossaro a WFP field monitor who has watched over Abebe’s farm as it has flourished. “There are others like him in this area and we hope that eventually, we can persuade more people to grow these crops.”
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