Gebre Mikael Gidey, is a feisty Chairman of Abraha Westsebeha farmers’ cooperative in eastern Tigray.
Over a decade ago, the area was highly vulnerable to drought and many considered moving.
When GIZ (German Cooperation Agency) helped them get cement, develop a reliable water source, raise chickens, plants and fruit trees, it completely changed and has now become a model farm.
Flowers were planted to help regenerate a spring which helped large trees thrive. This created a healthy spring which made it possible to irrigate previously unmanageable areas.
Gebre Mikael, says they are now able to earn enough money from the improved yield of cash crops to become self sufficient. In fact they have even been able to finance their own electricity by purchasing 1.9 million birr pumps to extract water from shallow holes. Previously they used diesel powered pumps that were inefficient.
The Kebele area has cultivated 445 of their 619 hectares using this program.
Currently they are working to improve hillside terraces so that more people in the community of 5,130 can benefit.
Melake Genet Hadush is another model farmer in the kebele. Living off the land for 31 years, he says that soil and water conservation initiatives have been used in the area for around 15 years but that in the last three years he has really seen dramatic change.
He says the produce he grows and sells in the nearby town of Wukro, brings in around 3,000 birr a year.
The experience of the Abraha Westsebeha Farmers Cooperative has been transferred to the Amhara and Oromia regional states to benefit other areas with re-occurring drought problems.
Tewodros Gebregziabher, Sustainable Land Management (SLM) at GIZ said, before the start of the program people used to cut trees which destroyed the environment.
Cutting the trees killed vegetation and caused soil erosion when it rained. This in turn killed crops and livestock and many thought they would have to leave the area.
The news trees led to thriving springs which helped people grow fruit trees and vegetables and engage in beekeeping.
They have learned from planting the trees that some are better than others. For example, eucalyptus trees which are used for construction actually hindered the flow of the river in the area.
The German Ambassador to Ethiopia Lieselore Cyrus praised the farmers for using innovative methods to irrigate their lands.
The Sustainable Land Management program (SLM) in Ethiopia is a cooperation project between the governments of Ethiopia and Germany, financed by KFW and the European Union and supervised by the Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture.
The project which started in January 2009 is expected to be completed by the end of 2014. The budget commissioned by the Euro-German Development Cooperation (BMZ) is 25 million Euro for this year. About 12 million Euro of technical contribution was implemented through GIZ while 13.3 million Euros financial contribution was implemented through KFW.
There is also an additional 8.5 million Euro budget from the EU.
SLM program encompasses homestead building, agriculture, infrastructure development, capacity building and natural resource management. The SLM program focuses on community based participatory watershed development to reduce land degradation and increase agricultural productivity of smallholder farmers in the Ethiopian highlands of Amhara, Oromia and Tigray. The objective is to lead to higher income and food security of rural households and increase farmers’ adaption to climate change. The program is also supported by the World Bank and the European Union.