Restoring Hope For Smallholder Farmers In Ethiopia

It is a struggle to feed a growing family on land that is subject to droughts and soil erosion. But for Ethiopian smallholder farmers like Abebe Moliso, that's exactly the challenge that life has given them. A land management programme called MERET is helping them deal with it. 

AWASSA—Abebe Moliso, a farmer living in a small village near the southern Ethiopian town of Awassa, still remembers the days before he was introduced to a joint conservation and water harvesting project known as MERET, or the Managing Environmental Resources to Enable Transitions to more sustainable livelihoods programme, which is supported by the Ethiopian government and WFP.

“Before MERET, my land was very weak,” Abebe says. “It was too rocky and I had trouble growing.”

With his wife, Tsehaynesh Desalegn, and eight children to feed, coaxing and nurturing a healthy harvest from the soil around his home is a matter of survival for Abebe.

Rehabilitating land

Land degradation has been identified as one of the major causes of food insecurity in Ethiopia. The effects are being felt by over 80 per cent of the population and in some regions, such as Tigray, up to 50 per cent of the productive capacity of the soil has been lost. The risks facing populations that were already vulnerable to food shortages are being further multiplied by the impact of climate change.

WFP has been working with the Ethiopian government and international donors to support the rehabilitation of more than 400,000 hectares of degraded land under the MERET programme. Families who have participated in the programme recognise the benefits, seeing an increase in incomes, and harvests and a reduction in soil erosion and water increased water availability.

One of the unique characteristics of MERET is that it incorporates traditional knowledge about farming practices and ensures that communities are placed at the heart of programmes to improve the quality of land and strengthen food security. Farmers like Abebe Moliso are encouraged to attend training courses that teach them conservation techniques and introduce them to new and more varied crop varieties such as pigeon peas, onions and carrots, as well as fruit trees such as pawpaw, lime, avocado and mango.

New crops

For Abebe, this has meant the introduction of drought-resistant crops such as cassava and time spent terracing his land to prevent soil erosion. It takes time for the impact to be felt, but now that he has adopted this new strategy, he is enjoying the fruits of his labours and is especially proud of his avocado tree which has been producing a crop that he sells for cash on local markets.

Over the years, MERET has delivered significant reduction in poverty and food security has improved with households consuming more diverse diets that are higher in vital nutrients. For communities living on the frontlines of climate change, MERET is a welcome buffer that protects and nourishes the lives of the most vulnerable.