Author: Edom Berehanu Melanie Pisano

Finding climate solutions for Ethiopian farmers

Source(s): United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

Nestled in the Horn of Africa, in the eastern part of Ethiopia is the region of Harari, known as the midlands for its semi-arid rolling hills with terraced farms.

 In the late-morning, residents of Sofi woreda (district) arrive on foot with jerrycans to their local freshwater spring. Many young women and girls collect water here for their household needs, livestock and crop production, such as potatoes, onion, tomatoes, coffee and Khat (Chat). Some women bring multiple cans fastened to the backs of donkeys to ease the long commute home afterwards.

Irrigation springs like the one located in the Lugo watershed are a lifeline for the smallholder farming families living in the area, and, for some it’s the nearest water point from their home. Eighteen-year-old Derertu Hohammad explains, “We used to travel about three hours for water, but now we can get water within an hour of travel here.”

Derertu's story

“The volume of water decreases in the dry season,” Derertu continues. “It is difficult to get water for drinking and washing during this time. A jerrycan of water is not enough. So, we need to go to the stream several times a day to fetch water for household consumption and our animals as well. Livestock feed shortage is also a challenge. We are usually forced to buy animal feed. I would love to see activities that can reduce women’s burdens.”

Derertu lives with her nine family members and their livelihood fully depends on agriculture. “We have a very small farmland where we produce crops and vegetables, and we use most of the products for our own consumption. Sometimes the food we produce is not enough for our family, we only produce for a maximum of four months and cover the remaining time of the year through the SafetyNet program.”

Water for the harvest

Water availability and drought are pressing issues for farmers in Harari because water is intimately linked to food security. Farmers across Ethiopia still remember the devastating effects of the drought in 2015. With a high dependency on rain-fed agriculture, farmers in the region are particularly vulnerable to the unpredictable rainy season between June and September and prolonged dry months.

 A delayed or early start to the rainy season can set off a chain of shocks that ripple through a community and cause failed harvests, flooded fields, economic losses, as well as food and water insecurity for livestock and households in the following year.

Redwan's family farm

“Due to the rainfall shortage last year, our crop production is not enough this year, and this has caused a food shortage for us,” explains Redwan Sabet, a family farmer and father of eight children. Living down the road from the spring, Redwan and his wife Sahara produce chat, sorghum, maize, and potatoes on their farm. Sahara is proudly responsible for their 43 hens and poultry production and everything they produce goes to feed their family.

In Ethiopia, 60 percent of households depend on agriculture as their main source of income. The regional government in Harari, with the support of development partners, have built wells, developed springs, and constructed ponds to improve the water availability of this community. So far, around four micro-watersheds have been established in the Kebeles of Sofi Woreda

Across the road

Across the street from the Lugo spring lives farmers, Eshetu Tesene and Yusuf Omer and their farm is their sole source of income. “I have a small plot of land, which is less than one hectare, and I produce maize, sorghum, and cabbage. We usually use the products for household consumption and sell only the remaining ones. This season, there was not even enough food produced for household consumption." Eshetu shares.

In Ethiopia, 24 million people currently live in drought affected areas, which heightens food and water insecurity during the ‘lean season’ – the period between harvests.

“When the environment keeps changing and the rainfall season disrupted, there is a high crop failure, feed shortages, and livestock deaths. Thus, we appreciate the support of different types of improved seeds and fertilizers which help us to produce better in the coming planting season,” Eshetu added.

Building community resilience

The Lugo micro-watershed is one of the watersheds located in Sofi woreda and directly benefits 500 households. In this area, every household contributes 50 birrs monthly (US$ 0.92) for maintenance of the spring well and water canal, and security services. The watershed is managed by the community. This helps build the community’s resilience to climate impacts between harvest cycles, because farmers can be less dependent on rainfall as their main source of water.

Looking at the whole system

Funded by Germany’s International Climate Initiative (IKI) and implemented by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Scaling up Climate Ambition on Land Use and Agriculture through Nationally Determined Contributions and National Adaptation Plans (SCALA) programme (2020-2025) works with 12 countries, including Ethiopia, to identify and support transformative climate action in land use and agriculture. This entails a set of activities that strengthen the resilience and adaptive capacity of farmer and pastoral communities to climate change, while addressing underlying drivers of vulnerability.

Learning about the climate change impacts experienced by farmers is an important part of systems-level assessments undertaken by the SCALA Programme. A systems-level assessment aims to unpack the different components, actors, dynamics and their interdependencies, as well as the risks, opportunities and solutions of the agriculture and land use system being evaluated.

To kickstart this assessment in Ethiopia, a team of experts from FAO and UNDP conducted a scoping mission to Harari region. Integral were consultations with the federal government, sub-regional government, Sofi Woreda, Kebele Administrative Office and the Lugo Community Group to learn about their specific climate change related concerns and priorities for action.

The initial findings

To respond to increasingly prolonged dry spells, drought, and changing seasons, farmers need greater access to climate-tolerant crop seeds and varieties, as well as support to improve soil management and to conserve water. A community-based integrated watershed management approach will help restore degraded lands, while also building the resilience of small-scale agricultural households to climate change and other risks.

Some of the benefits include the regulation of water flow, flood risk reduction, protection of the watershed catchment areas and irrigation canals to help bring water from the upper catchment to further down the hills to reach more people and farmlands.  This will help achieve the main goal of the federal government’s 10-year irrigation development plan to establish at least 1 water point for each farmer.

When climate adaptation actions are tailored to the local context, it builds resilience of the farmers throughout the year.

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Country and region Ethiopia
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