Tag Archives: Ethiopia

Ethiopia: development and grandeur astride the Abbay

It’s a chilly Monday morning in Addis Ababa with the sun crawling over the horizon. After a refreshing night and hefty breakfast at one of the many hotels sprinkled all over the city centre, I set off, together with three GWI EA colleagues, on a 500km drive to Bahirdar, home to the beautiful Amhara people and project site of our 63 Champion farmers.

dadOver a period of two and a half years, the Global Water Initiative East Africa programme has successfully supported smallholder farmers in Dera Woreda to improve their agricultural production and realise food security. This has been achieved through farmer trainings, on-farm demonstrations, extension support and provision of irrigation technologies such as water pumps, purchased through farmer cooperatives. irrig Our approach has provided the desired multiplier effect, where the cooperatives purchase more pumps – with money paid by the farmers–and which other farmers hire and eventually purchase. Farmers have been trained to appreciate the importance of managing and using the little water available effectively and efficiently for maximum production through supplementary irrigation, especially during the long dry seasons.

Sandwiched by colleagues in the back seat of our rented Land Cruiser, I rubbed my hands in gleeful anticipation as the excitement of a road trip through the rift valley gorge to Bahirdar, north east of Addis Ababa, enveloped me. Not even the reminder that I was on a working visit or the thought of sitting in a car for over nine hours was going to dampen my spirits.

Driving through the city, I was soon struck by the magnitude of history that the people of this land have preserved over the years. Coming from a country where development translates into multi-billion glass buildings and malls, it was time for my patriotism to take a back seat while I rained down glorious chunks of praise on this fascinating land, adorned with beautiful historical architecture. In the heart of the city, sit the palaces of emperors who ruled these lands decades before. Two that especially caught my eye were the Jubilee Palace, a commemoration of the Silver Jubilee of Emperor Haile Selassie’s coronation, and the National Museum of Ethiopia that houses the fossilised remains of the famous early hominid, Lucy.

As we drove away from the hustle and bustle of the city, the beautiful sights of historical monuments were soon replaced by proof of people still living in absolute poverty and under development. I was quickly sobered up from my state of awe by the sight of women, some as old as 50 years, racing down the roadside doubly bent over under the immense weight of piles of wood on their backs. While I was appalled and saddened by this burden I was witnessing, I quickly learned that this is a source of livelihood and the life these women know. With their images engraved on my mind, it was hard to hitch back on my high horse of excitement. Of course that was until I laid my eyes on the breathtaking Blue Nile Gorge, or “The Grand Canyon of Ethiopia” as Liz, my colleague chose to baptize it. lizLocated on the western margin of the northwestern plateau of the Rift Valley, the gorge comes into view some time after leaving behind Debre Libanos and the thrilling drive down and round mountains and plains, a striking scenery that leaves you holding your breath in anticipation for what you just might see next.

And there, right at the bottom of the gorge was the spectacle of the Blue Nile River – reduced to shallow waters at this time of the year – as it lazily flowed on its way down from Lake Tana, the largest lake in Ethiopia, to meet the White Nile River in Khartoum and flow into Egypt as one Great Nile. Although the Blue Nile, locally known as the Abbay is significantly much shorter than the White Nile, it is interestingly the origin of approximately 80 percent of the water that flows through the Great Nile. It is here that a huge 6,000 mega watt dam, the nile bestlargest in Africa, is being built. Having contributed a set proportion of their incomes, people of Ethiopia – through the purchase of bonds – will co-own this major infrastructure. The government plans to reimburse the people by selling hydropower to neighbouring countries from this grand investment.

As we drive closer to Bahirdar, it is hard not to notice the dramatic shift in the landscape and lifestyle of the peoples on this side of the Abbay, especially the unique richness and tefftraditional vibrancy in the air. The first to catch my discerning eye was how the women and girls here shaved their heads completely and covered them up with head scarves. The soils too looked much drier. For as far as the eye could see, were bare fields, clustered with heaps of freshly harvested tef and wheat built into domes and left to dry. On first sight, one would think these delicately fashioned masses of grass were huts built for accommodation. In a region that receives very little rain and experiences long dry spells, these heaps of food are a comforting reminder that food security may not be a threat to the people here, at least not for months to come.

Seven hours down the road, hungry, with our joints protesting and demanding for a stretch, we stopped for lunch at a restaurant in a town called Saint Michael. A few minutes after placing our orders, a tray of the traditional Ethiopian food –injera, with an assortment of vegetables and meats – gazed invitingly back at us, tempting our long-starved taste buds. One bite into the spicy cuisine and I realised that this dish was on a fast train to becoming my favourite addiction. Each mouth-watering morsel was a enjeramasterpiece waiting to delight my perceptive palates. After the delicious meal, I was presented with a little cup of strong steaming coffee and although the sun was unforgiving and the heat too irreconcilable with a hot drink, I soon learned that under the Ethiopian sky, anytime is chai/coffee time. By the time I had drained my cup, I was left in no doubt that this country could very well be where the fine art of brewing coffee was born.

As the night set in, the feeling of home away from home descended upon me. Having learned and seen so many unforgettable sights that were a perpetual spectacle to my curious eyes and having perfected my “Oh my goodness” mantra of awe, I finally snuggled back into my seat as the beautiful sounds of Madingo Afework flowed from the car radio washing over my spent soul. I was home.

GWI EA team; Matilda, Tesfaye, Elizabeth, Alan and Bethel with some of the Champion Farmers

Matilda Nakawungu
GWI EA, Uganda

Repackaging material for sourcebook on Water Smart Agriculture

I have recently returned from Ethiopia, where I supported a national level writeshop to repackage materials for a sourcebook on Water Smart Agriculture. A writeshop is a participatory way of producing different types of publications. In our case the objective was to generate information from local experience (based on case studies from Ethiopia, Tanzania and Uganda) and in the shortest time possible. This would then be widely disseminated to national, regional and global audiences.

Our subject matter was Water Smart Agriculture. This rapidly-evolving concept was developed by CARE to help smallholder farmers overcome vulnerability to climate variability and achieve greater food security. It entails making more efficient and effective use of available water and in a more sustainable way, particularly in rural communities.

This writeshop, organised by CARE International’s Global Water Initiative East Africa (GWI EA), in conjunction with the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) and the Water, Land and Ecosystems Programme (WLE) brought 14 authors, one illustrator, four editors and two facilitators together in a secluded lodge in Wolliso town, two-hour’s drive from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital.

For five days, participants critiqued each other’s papers, defended content, rewrote and revised it to the satisfaction of resident editors, who in turn, ensured that authors followed correct content structure, sentence construction and grammar – and that topics discussed were relevant to the overall theme of Water Smart Agriculture.

writeshopThe process was both rigorous and effective. By the end of the writeshop, all authors had agreed that their papers had undergone a positive transformation, that they read much better and that technical jargon – the bane of development literature more generally – had been simplified. Time is of the essence during such an event and the facilitators ensured that authors presented their papers, received feedback and allowed for brief discussions within allotted time limits.

The first discussant, Dr. Melesse Temesgen, presented a paper on reversing the negative impacts of water on smallholder farming. In his paper, focused on the Ethiopian highlands where there is moderate to high rainfall, he noted that waterlogging is a major constraint to crop production, a problem which prevails areas covered by vertisols. The latter, he said, are finely textured soils characterised by poor infiltration. Due to waterlogging, farmers frequently resorted to abandoning fields or late planting, which required repeated tillage to control weeds.

Another participant, Kahsai Gebremariam, narrated the story of the Abreha we Atsebeha Watershed, a successful case of watershed management in Tigray region. Here communities had transformed a once highly degraded landscape, restoring soil and vegetation and making water available, and thereby saving the community from future relocation and resettlement.

After Ethiopia, Uganda and Tanzania will each have similar processes to generate data for the sourcebook. At the end of the day, we hope that the sourcebook will provide a reference point on water smart agriculture, a set of practical suggestions for farmers and those working with farmers and a useful overview of some key water management practice in East African smallholder farming.

While it was mainly business, the writeshop venue also enabled some serious communing with nature! The lodge is snug in the middle of an oasis of nature, trees and animals alike. Sipping on a cup of coffee at break, a vervet monkey might sprint across the lawn, jump onto your table and snatch an unattended cookie, or when taking an evening stroll, a dik dik might saunter across your path, nibbling leaves before disappearing into the darkness. The tranquillity of such a location undoubtedly adds to the success of such an intellectually-rigorous event!

All participants

Elizabeth Agiro
GWI EA, Uganda

Harnessing Irrigation for Improved Food and Income Security

Workie Tarekegn, 55, lives in Shimie Kebele, Dera Woreda, Ethiopia, with his wife and five children. The youngest is under five years of age. His eldest son is a civil servant, another, a mason. The other three children are attending elementary and high school. He is a farmer.

Champion Farmer Workie with wife

Workie started irrigation by digging a well in his compound 15 years ago. He planted vegetables and trees such as Gesho (a plant whose leaves are used in making local brew). Today, he uses surface water to irrigate his field which borders a river.

Workie is a model farmer to the village and has received recognition from the local government; it has given him two pickaxes, a shovel and a spade as reward for setting a good example in his community. Workie says that learning from his experience, other farmers in the village have started to practice irrigation.

“We used to experience months of food shortage. I was not able to feed my family. This was before I started practicing irrigation” Workie says. “With irrigation I have been able to feed my family and to send my children to school.”

Workie adds:“One of my neighbors, who started irrigation after seeing what I was doing, now has more money than I have. He has made significant progress. I am happy to be a model to him and many other farmers in the village.”

Besides his orchard and vegetable gardens, Workie has a eucalyptus plantation worth 20,000 birr (about 1000 USD). He is food and financially secure because he produces with rain as well as irrigation.

Workie says that the lack of technologies to lift and convey water to farms is the major reason why many farmers in his village are unable to irrigate their crops. To counter this challenge, he recommends that farmers be provided with water lifting technologies, conveyance structures, gully crossing structures and small weirs construction to raise the water level of the stream for easy diversion into the canals.

GWI EA is supporting small-scale farmers such as Workie to access appropriate technologies that can efficiently lift and deliver water on farms to increase yields. Among these are water lifting pumps, plastic hoses and water saving technologies such as drip irrigation.

Tesfaye Ewnetie

GWI East Africa, Ethiopia


Shallow Wells for Household Irrigation

Using Shallow Wells for Household Irrigation Changes the Lives of Women Farmers:

The Case of Muchit, Champion Farmer in Dera


Life is harder for women farmers and we are always lagging behind male farmers. But, my eyes are now opened to the possibilities that lie ahead”, says Muchit, a 37 year old single mother of three. Muchit is determined to change her family’s living conditions through improved use of water for agriculture.

The farmer, who lives in Munaya village of Korata Kebele, in Dera district, has 1.5 hectares of farm land. Some of it is adjacent to the Gumera stream. She rents a motor pump from a neighbouring farmer to irrigate her farm. Muchit relies on rainfall to grow rough pea, teff, finger millet and maize. She grows potatoes and onions using irrigation. Muchit is now shifting to growing crops that have high market value. This year, she has planted rice, understanding that demand for it is high and it fetches a higher price. In her backyard Muchit has planted coffee, gesho (a tree whose leaves are used in making traditional brew) and various fruit trees.

MuchitMuchit’s children, 17, 13 and 11 years old, two of them boys and the youngest a girl, help out on the farm when they are not at school. Since it is taboo for women to plow the land using oxen, Muchit relies on her male relatives to do the plowing for her in a labour exchange arrangement. On her farm land, she does the seeding, preparation of irrigation canals and furrows, as well as harvesting and selling the harvest in the nearest town, Hamusit.

Muchit says the different meetings and discussions she has attended in her village have helped open her eyes to the possibility of changing her life using better agriculture water management practices.

“There is a stream next to my farm land but I have never used it. I want to start using it in order to improve the lives of my children. I want to improve my own life. After seeing what other farmers are doing my eyes are now open,” says Muchit.

Muchit has to fetch and transport on her back water from a village well for the crops in her backyard.


“We’ve been told the GWI program is here for five years. I expect support from the program to buy my own motor pump, instead of renting and borrowing from others. If I get a hand dug well for irrigation in my back yard, I believe I will be able to cover fully our household food needs. If I find water nearby, I can plant all kinds of vegetables in my back yard. What I need is support in digging a well,” Muchit says.

Muchit earned 1,200 birr (about 60 USD) last year from her coffee. She sells the gesho leaves for up to 100 birr (about 5 USD) every month. She earns 4,200 birr (215 USD) per year from rough pea. She uses the Teff, Sorghum and Finger Millet she grows for household consumption. Muchit estimates a total income of 6,600 birr (about 340 USD) annually from her produce. Of this, she spends about 2490 birr (about 128 USD) on fertilizers, herbicides and seeds.

Muchit says that life is especially tough for women farmers; that they don’t find enough time to work on their farms as the men do.

“Life is much harder for women farmers. Unlike the men, we cannot water our farms at night,. And on top of working on the farm all day, it’s the woman’s responsibility to look after the livestock and water the crops in the backyard in addition to all the house chores,” Muchit says.

Bethel Terefe

GWI East Africa, Ethiopia


World Food Day

Making a change where it Counts: Celebrating World Food Day at IWMI’s “River of Learning” Share Fair

October 16 was World Food Day and GWI EA attended celebrations in Addis Ababa. This year’s theme announced by FAO was ‘Sustainable Food Systems for Food Security and Nutrition’.
In Addis Ababa, the day was celebrated with a ‘River of Learning’ Share Fair at the ILRI compound, convened by IWMI as a way to mark the 10th anniversary of IWMI East Africa’s office establishment in Ethiopia. There was a rich turn-out of research institutions, private sector organizations, NGOs and donor agencies, sharing their work and achievements on water for agriculture over the past decade, but also asking important questions about where to go next. GWI East Africa was invited to participate, convening a stand and making several contributions to the discussion and debate.
One of the key achievements, mentioned during the fair, was the recognition that agriculture water management is a cornerstone for growth in the region – and none more so than in Ethiopia. Community based integrated watershed management is adapted as a strategy in all of Ethiopia’s regions and funded by the Sustainable Land Management program run by the Ministry of Agriculture. More recently, water-centered development is adapted as a key strategy in Ethiopia’s growth corridors.

Bethel Terefe and Tesfaye Ewnetie on GWI East Africa's stand.
Bethel Terefe and Tesfaye Ewnetie on GWI East Africa’s stand.

Many actors shared their work during the fair. The Nile Water, Land and Ecosystems program (NLWE) of the CG system – IWMI’s flagship research program – focuses on sustainable agriculture, water and livelihoods, and emphasized the need for sustainable intensification as part of a paradigm shift from the green revolution era and its unintended impacts on water and ecosystems. The aim of the NWLE project is scaling up sustainable innovations through joint platforms in the Nile corridor in East Africa. The project will address multiple and complex issues of land and water management, ecosystem strengthening and human development over a 12-year period, focusing on issues including small-scale irrigation and rain-fed farming, including in the highlands of Ethiopia, around Lake Victoria and in complex development environments including the Sudd in South Sudan. GWI EA has been invited to contribute its thinking into developing the program, and, in particular, how to exploit synergies between research activities and how to reach out to and influence key decision makers.
In a session on achievements, GWI-EA flagged its program approach and the development of the regional charter in Morogoro Tanzania this August. The charter engages government, civil society, academic institutions and practitioners from Ethiopia, Uganda and Tanzania in undertaking to increase political attention and investment levels in water for smallholder agriculture. For more information and to download the charter please go here.
Highlighting the multiplicity of actors and efforts in sector represented at the Share Fair and yet the scattered knowledge and learning in the region from the many research and implementation programs, the GWI-EA Program Director,  Dr. Alan Nicol, suggested that the gathered organizations should commit to a synthesis of existing knowledge and learning in the sector in the coming year. The suggestion was seconded and followed up on by others, including from the CG system, and subsequent discussions are now shaping the process by which this can take place in 2014.
During the event, we were reminded that Sub-Saharan Africa has made significant strides in reducing hunger in recent years. In July of this year, African Union member states set an ambitious target to eradicate hunger completely by 2025. Ten of the AU state countries are showing agricultural growth rates of more than 6% per annum and allocating more that 10% of their GDP to the agriculture sector, as per the  Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) framework agreement. Yet a grim reality remains that by 2015 a quarter of the world’s poor will be from sub-Saharan Africa. African states therefore still have a long way to go.
Arguably, one of the most important messages of the day came at the close and from one of the participants, a farmer from Tigray. While appreciating all the mentioned achievements of the sector and all the projects and future intentions, he noted, “Measure your achievements by the change you make on the lives of individual farmers, not by the amount of research and learning documents generated by your programs. Make a change in the lives of farmers, because that’s the change that counts.”

Please see GWI EA’s new film Harvesting our Futures that was launched on World Food Day.
Bethel Terefe, Tesfaye Ewnetie and Alan Nicol


Welcome to our Blog

GWI East Africa is nearly a year old now and we want to use this opportunity to invite comment from you on what we do, how we can help make change happen in support of smallholder farmers in East Africa and how we can reach out successfully to influence key decision makers.UGD00430 Whilst we have time to achieve change – the Global Water Initiative East Africa (GWI EA) Secure Water for Smallholder Agriculture is a 5-year program of action research, advocacy and policy influencing – there is urgency behind what we do. Each year of poor or unreliable rainfall, farmer food security it seriously affected (in both Tanzania and Uganda this year, for example, rains have been poor (see how this has affected production levels in Tanzania). Our funding partner, the Howard G Buffett Foundation, generously supports our work because of a firm commitment to achieving change in support of smallholder farmers, the bedrock of household food security in East Africa.

Our program in East Africa is part of the wider Global Water Initiative working in addition in West Africa and Central America on water for agriculture issues. In all regions the focus is on generating solid evidence to support policy change. In East Africa our goal is that through this change, smallholder farmers will achieve greater food security through more sustainable access to and productive use of water.

We are working towards three strategic outcomes to achieve this goal: Greater political attention to water for smallholder production evidenced through changes in policies and plans, and their effective implementation at local, national and regional levels; Increased investment in smarter, affordable and innovative solutions to providing water for smallholder production, especially for women farmers; and that the voice and influence of smallholders, particularly women, will increase within institutions responsible for access to and control over water for agriculture.

These are complex and challenging outcomes to achieve, but we’re confident of success given the right political support and public debate. We will be using this blog to showcase what we are doing regionally, but also to invite guest blogs from our partners and others working with us across East Africa. Please sign up and join in. A starting point should be our Regional Charter on Investment in Water for Smallholder Agriculture. Concluded and signed up to by all participants at a recent regional meeting in Morogoro, the Charter sets out six key undertakings in support of water for smallholder agriculture. Please take a look and join us by signing up to the Charter here!

Dr Alan Nicol
Program Director
GWI East Africa