By Stephanie Brittain
“To be resilient means to diversity and intensify”- stated Tegegne Wakoya the Project Manager for Self Help Africa in Ethiopia.
In Ethiopia, where a recent history of drought and extreme famine is still in the people’s memory, the resilience of smallholder farmers against shocks and stresses couldn’t be more important.
Last week, the Ag4Impact team met some of the farmers of the Meki Batu Cooperative a recipient of support from Self Help Africa. Before this project began, farmers suffered due to a lack of market and inputs resulting in low yields, low incomes and food insecurity. But in this ecologically diverse region, the farmers are defying the odds: against unpredictable rains they still manage to produce enough food to sustain their families and make a profit.
From going alone to going together
So how did Meki Batu do it? Simple as this may sound, it was a long and rocky road.
In 2002, Self Help Africa helped 527 farmers form 12 primary cooperatives in Meki town, 140 km Southwest of Addis. The primary cooperatives were then organized into a union through which the farmers gained access to credit and inputs. Self Help Africa also provided extension services to the members, teaching them good agricultural practices to reduce wastage and increase yield. This combined with the use of hybrid and certified seed, the farmers yields increased four-fold, from 1 to 4 tonnes of maize per hectare.
By bringing farmers together, they were able to provide extension services, training, and share access to tools and seed. The threat of food insecurity the region faced over the previous five years now seemed like another life.
Since then, the primary cooperatives have formed the Meki Batu Union which has experienced impressive development, growing ten-fold to nearly 7000 members, working 400 ha of irrigated land.
Growing markets and opportunity
Today, the Union continues to distribute high quality hybrid seed to its members. When the crops are harvested, the union is able to sell the crop at a better price and the profit is then transferred back to the farmers and reinvested back into the union.
The increase in yield isn’t limited to Maize either. With the use of improved onion seed, their production grew from 7.5 to 12 tonnes per ha. They are soon to have a trial shipment to Saudi Arabia and are also hoping to export to the Netherlands.
“We have the land, the lakes and know how thanks to extension services. It’s not production, but access to markets that is the big issue” explained Tewolde, the Marketing & Agronomy Manager.
Despite this, the establishment of five retail outlets in Addis Ababa and of export links to Europe and Saudi Arabia are testimony to a remarkable decade of growth for Meki Batu.
So what does this success mean to the smallholder farmers? We were curious to find out and spoke with Abu Gada, a smallholder farmer with 1/2 ha of land and a founding member of the primary cooperative.
Tomato plants in Abu Gada’s farm
Before joining the union, he was food insecure, without access to credit for improved seed or irrigation despite farming next to Zaway Lake.
Abu Gada explained that the union facilitates access to credit that farmers cannot otherwise access. He used the credit to buy stakes needed to grow tomato plants, reduce wastage and set up irrigation. After one harvest, his yield had increased so much that he was also able to pay back his loan and buy an ox to help him plough.
Diversification of crops ensured that he was more resilient to market price changes, pests and drought. He grows tomato, cabbage and onion on rotation, to help to maintain the soil quality and health, but adds manure and compost to salty areas, equal to the recommended 100kg/ha.
“Since joining the union, my production has increased and therefore my income. With the profits from the recent harvest of tomatoes, I bought a house” he smiled.
Resilience on 1 hectare or less
So, is it possible for smallholder farmers with 1 ha or less in Ethiopia and be resilient? Tegegne thinks that it is.
“You build resilience by increasing income. We did this by establishing cooperatives and channelling inputs, access to markets and credit via these cooperatives, facilitating the ability of the farmers to intensify and diversify”.
Watermelons at a roadside market, Oromia
“You need to diversify and intensify to be resilient against climate change, fluctuating input and grain costs, pests and disease. The farmers of Meki Batu have done so and are now self sufficient, with no need for assistance from Self Help Africa. The farmers are much less likely to fall back into food insecurity in the future.”