Ethiopian Growers Turn Barren Land Into Booming Farms

The future is looking bright in Goro Wagilo, a farming village in eastern Ethiopa that once risked disappearing when the topsoil vanished amid rampant deforestation. But farmers like Tonkollu Letu have since reclaimed their land, turning barren hillsides into prosperous farms.

ADDIS ABABA—Tonkollu Letu, a farmer who lives about 100 km east of Ethiopia’s capital Addiss Abba says his village of Goro Wagilo has changed radically over the past 15 years.

“It was like a man without clothes,” he says of the rolling farmland before him. “The mountains were bare from deforestation and every time it rained, the water washed away all the top soil.”

Tonkollu says his and other villages in the area would likely have disappeared if they hadn’t decided to take action all those years ago with WFP’s help.

What is MERET?

aerial view of ethiopian fieldsMERET stands for Managing Environmental Resources to Enable Transitions to More Sustainable Livelihoods.

Managing resources

In 1995, the villagers of Gorgo Wagilo signed on to the MERET programme, a joint venture between WFP and the Ethiopian government to feed people while they worked on projects to reclaim environmentally degraded land.

Through the programme, Tonkollu and his neighbours spent several years digging ditches, building dams, clearing roads and terracing the hillsides. After eight years, almost all of the farmers were growing enough to support themselves and no longer needed food assistance.

Today, Tonkollu’s farm is a thriving family business that produces enough corn, soy, teff, eggs, coffee and fruit to turn a healthy profit at market. He’s used the money to invest in more land and livestock and plans to start selling meat.

He was even able to get through the droughts of 2008 and 2009 without any major setbacks, thanks largely to the ditches and irrigation channels dug through the MERET programme. “Without all that work, this village probably wouldn’t be anymore,” he said.

Clean cooking

An added bonus of the MERET project is the new cookstove Tonkollu’s family received which burns three times less wood than the one they had before.

Like most women in rural Ethiopia, Tonkollu’s wife, Ayetu, used to cook over an open fire. “I was always burning my legs,” she complained. “The house would fill up with smoke and it was dangerous for the children.”

Ayetu cooking over her new stove provided by wfpNot only is the air in her home cleaner with the new stove, but Ayetu says that it has also freed up time and resources. “Because we use less wood now, we have more time and money for other things.”

“I was one of the first women in the village to get a new stove and since then, I’ve shown all of my neighbours how well it works,” Ayetu said. “Soon, they’ll all have one.”