“Never in my life have I seen blight,” said Ibrahim Ali, a potato farmer in MedeOdda in the highlands of eastern Ethiopia. He believes unusual rain and fog for the time of year has led to the disease that has decimated this year’s harvest.
“I would plant one quintal of crop and expect to get 15 quintals in harvest. After drought or because of new diseases, I get 1.5 quintal crops in harvest,” he said, holding up a tiny potato and comparing to a much larger normal sized one.
Ibrahim Ali says he will go to relatives for help, try to get day labour, or go hungry until the next harvest is ready.
“Before we would get a good year or a bad year, but now it is just one bad year after the next. Poverty is killing people,” he said. “We are not just sitting down. We are struggling with nature, but we are losing.”
Hararghe Catholic Secretariat is part of the Ethiopian Catholic Secretariat, a national Caritas member. It began working in Medde Odda in 1999 by providing emergency food aid and has been here ever since. Now HCS provides an integrated programme that addresses not only food insecurity, but clean water, health, education, and livelihoods.
“There is a high population density, fragmented small land ownership, and recurrent drought,” said Belayneh Belete, Deputy Director of Hararghe Catholic Secretariat.
“It’s a very food insecure region. The people do not produce enough every year so they over exploit the natural environment. They cut down trees and over cultivate the land. It leads to soil erosion making things worse.”
HCS worked with the communities to provide food in return for working on development projects. In one, the local communities went to work building terracing on the mountain side. The terraces capture the water when it rains, preventing flooding, and allow crops to grow better. It has transformed the hillsides from parched badlands to green farms.
“The crops get a better yield,” said Ali Abro, who helped build the terrace and now grows crops on them. “It means we get more food. Our children are better fed. We can send them to school. I would previously get about 10 quintals of cereals. Now I get 30 quintals.”
He says the community now manages the upkeep of the terracing. “We keep them in good condition because it works,” he said. “After seven years, we are still seeing the benefits.”
An HCS nursery provides the farmers with crops that are drought resistant, stop soil erosion, or provide a more balanced healthier diet. HCS also built a health clinic and a school which have been given to the government to staff and run. Enrolment is up with poor families being able to keep their children in school longer.
In the same area in Ayalegumgum, HCS gives local women credit to buy goats. The animals are fattened and sold on for three times their original value, and the credit is repaid. The women work as part of a cooperative. They receive training in how to save and to market.
But changes in weather patterns could undo the progress made here and require extra resources to help the people adapt to a worsening climate.
“Changes in the weather means there is more torrential rain leading to flooding or a failure in one of the traditional rainy seasons leading to drought. This enhances the depravation,” said Belayneh Belete, Deputy Director of Hararghe Catholic Secretariat.