Yasmin Abdulwassie is the Regional Director for Farm Africa. Here, she shares with Samuel Getachew of The Reporter on the work of the organization, on some of the impact it has made towards conservation of ecosystems and agriculture development in Ethiopia together with its partners and the government in a nation that is still agriculture dependent and finally reflects on how the coronavirus might affect local agriculture. Excerpts:
The Reporter: Farm Africa is no stranger to Ethiopia. It has helped countless farmers face many challenges as well as promote needed food security in the nation. Share with me the highlights of its work in Ethiopia?
Yasmin Abdulwassie: Farm Africa implements several projects across the country with a special focus on agriculture (crop and livestock), Natural Resource Management (NRM), and Market Engagement. We work together with small holder farmers, forest and rangeland cooperatives.
Farm Africa supports them in to increase their production whilst protecting the ecosystem, increase their income by diversifying livelihood options, supporting in strengthening enabling environments that allows them access to finance (through village saving loans, RUSSACOs or MFIs) and inputs as well as linking them to both domestic and international markets.
What have been some of the highlights?
To give a few examples:
With the support from European Union we have piloted and now scaling out a multisectoral program. Together with its consortium partners (IWMI, SOS Sahel, PHE-CCC, and FZS), developing an integrated landscape management program in Bale Eco Region.
It has demonstrated results in protection of indigenous plants and species, reducing degradation in order for water towers to continue to be a sustainable source to BER and downstream communities, strengthened forest and rangeland cooperatives in identifying/generating economic incentives whilst protecting the environment, supporting health extension workers reach remote areas and build awareness of the impact on natural resources with population growth, and embedding these learnings in local government systems in agriculture, environment, water and energy, and health.
What other supports have these initiatives received?
The Royal Norwegian Embassy supports Farm Africa and SoS Sahel. Our engagement in the Bale Eco Region over the years enabled us to pilot REDD+ initiatives by supporting forest cooperatives sequester 5.5 million metric tons (MT) of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere. The Government of Ethiopia and the communities involved can now gain income through the sales of carbon credits. The learnings from this project have also been an excellent learning ground for other REDD+ initiatives in the country.
With support from Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), over 5,400 farmers in the Southern Regional State receive face-to-face training in the sustainable production of high-value cash crops. Farmers will be introduced to drought-tolerant varieties of crops, such as chickpeas and peppers, and continue to be trained in climate-smart agricultural techniques, like the application of bio-fertilizers. The learnings from this has been further developed in Amhara Region to transform the business environment so farmers are able to access high quality inputs as well as credit facility to produce high value crops.
Also through SIDA our livelihoods for refugees and communities project, we are working in Somali Region together with WFP and Mercy Corps to pilot how refugee and host communities can work together in agriculture production by strengthening agriculture systems, managing rangeland, develop a strong livestock component and link to market. This pilot looks to explore how you can shift reliance on food aid and create a sustainable environment in drought prone areas.
How about the support from Irish Aid Climate Smart Agriculture?
One of the issues that was highlighted by your team that 874 million hectares of Africa’s land is considered suitable for agricultural production. That is a huge number. With this fact intact, why do you think food security is a uniform-like issue across the nation?
The root causes that lead to food insecurity are very much similar across Africa. At varying degrees you have limited access to resources, weak systems that is struggling to support smallholder farmers, recurrent climate shocks, rapid growth in population and rapid decline in biodiversity which all lead to a vulnerable sector which a large percentage of the population is reliant upon.
The issue of locust is now a widespread issue in Ethiopia. What is some of the unique ways Farm Africa is working with local farmers?
Farm Africa disseminates information and applied local control mechanisms by working closely with local government in DRM and with the Development Agents and our community members to mobilize resources to deter the locust swarms as much as possible. Our Technical Experts are also co-ordinating and monitoring the spread and severity not only in Ethiopia but in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda as well to provide timely information to our communities so they are able to respond timely.
Ethiopia is an agricultural dependent nation. But the old narrative of food shortages, dire poverty is still an issue. Why do you think that is?
Yes, the large percentage of Ethiopia’s population is reliant on agriculture but poverty is not only linked to agriculture and agriculture production. Poverty is multidimensional. Lack or limited access to education, resources, no/limited health services, no/limited access to credit services, poor nutrition, lack of power etc. Food security alone is not enough and we need a community where poverty is significantly reduced or eradicated in a multisectoral approach.
How has the use of technology changed the Ethiopian agriculture sector?
Adoption of different technologies will allow farmers to increase their yield on the same farm plot by applying improved drought resilient seeds and mechanisms to deal with pest and disease. Farmers can make the right decisions for themselves and mitigates risks when they have access to weather information or market prices for example. They can also improve their efficiency mechanization of farming instead of traditional practices, utilize irrigation practices and reduce reliance on rain fed agriculture. Farmers are able to maximize yield, improve productivity, able to cultivate high quality crops, limit negative impact on the environment, and improve welfare of the farmers and their families as well as meeting the growing demands of the nation.
My last question is, how do you think the coronavirus COVID-19 will affect local farmers?
If Ethiopia’s farming community is affected by COVID-19, crop production will stop or will significantly reduce depending on the scale and spread of COVID-19. The loss of human life combined with loss of crop production will lead to food shortages, prices will rise, disrupt import and export and will further increase food insecure households. This is why it is of utmost of importance to protect our communities both in urban and rural to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and we should do all we can to address this.