Irrigation, Land Reclamation Help Ethiopia Cope with Drought

Speeches Shim

USAID beneficiaries stand in front of a mango tree and sugarcane plants.
Members of a community group stand in front of a mango tree and sugarcane plants.
Soil conservation boosts crop yields
“Next year, to avoid soil depletion, I will shift my crops and plant potatoes, tomatoes, swiss chard and onions.”

January 2016—Ethiopia is facing a significant humanitarian crisis, largely resulting from insufficient rainfall exacerbated by El Niño climatic conditions. One way the U.S. Government supports a robust response to the crisis is through the Government of Ethiopia’s Productive Safety Net Program. The safety net targets the most food-insecure households—which are often the worst-affected by drought—by providing timely, regular transfers of cash or food for six months each year in exchange for work on public projects. Beneficiaries participate in projects to improve agriculture; health; natural resource management; nutrition; community savings groups; and water, sanitation and hygiene infrastructure. To address increased household food insecurity brought on by the current drought, the program has expanded to assist additional beneficiaries throughout the country.

In the highlands of Amhara, Ethiopia, nearly 700 kilometers from the country’s capital, families often do not know where their next meal is coming from. In the drought-prone region of northeastern Amhara, households have difficulty accessing basic necessities of food and water due to extreme topography and scarce water resources.

Over the years, unsustainable farming practices combined with naturally challenging dry and arid lands have degraded soil quality in the region, making agricultural production difficult for farmers such as Liseaaleyon Wondie, 48.

“The land here was very degraded beforehand—only goats could go here. The grass was only usable for cattle feed for fattening. Now, the land is recovered,” Wondie explains.

Over the last 10 years, USAID’s Office of Food for Peace has supported the Government of Ethiopia's Productive Safety Net Program and has placed a large focus on reclaiming degraded watersheds—transforming them into greener, more productive lands.

As part of the program, USAID has partnered with Food for the Hungry and the Organization for the Rehabilitation and Development of Amhara to improve nearly 13,000 hectares of land through effective natural resource management and soil conservation practices just last year.

Wondie, the leader of a community group, oversees 45 other members who each maintain a 100-meter plot of land and are benefiting from land reclamation activities. In total, 150 beneficiaries from several groups are using improved soil conservation techniques such as bench terraces, half-moons, eyebrow basins and soil bunds to help the soil capture and retain rainwater more effectively.

This work, combined with a new concrete irrigation system built by the government, is helping crops thrive. Community members are now producing sugarcane, mangoes, papaya, peppers, oranges and cabbage with seeds provided by the program.

In addition to growing more and better crops, farmers are participating in a savings group through which they pool their money and purchase foods on local markets during periods of hardship, creating a self-sustaining safety net.

While there is much to be proud of, Wondie is concerned about the impact El Niño-driven weather patterns may have on existing drought conditions in the region and the worsening food security situation.

“Some plants have wilted because of the shortage of water this year,” says Wondie.

However, due to the skills and knowledge that Wondie and others have gained from the safety net program, they are better able to cope with the drought.

“Next year, to avoid soil depletion, I will shift my crops and plant potatoes, tomatoes, swiss chard and onions,” adds Wondie.

Since 2013, USAID has helped nearly 170,000 farmers and pastoralists in Ethiopia apply new technologies or management practices, and has helped over 200,000 people graduate from the program through the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative, Feed the Future.

USAID has helped reduce chronic food insecurity among more than 1.5 million people reached by the Productive Safety Net Program by providing more than $500 million in assistance. The program, which began in 2005, addresses the basic food needs of approximately 7.9 million chronically food-insecure people in Ethiopia.


Follow @USAIDFFP, @USAIDEthiopia, on Flickr, on YouTube, on Facebook