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Farming as an opportunity
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Farming as an opportunity

“Farming has been important to me and my family,” Negatwa Biru, a 63-year-old woman farmer, told The Reporter as she took care of her farm, now on her own since her husband, the father of her three children suddenly died last year. “It’s through farming we were able to raise and support our children and see them go to secondary school (the first in the family) and it’s a culture I am proud to embrace on my own”.

In the village of Tejo – Degelu, in Assela, not far from the historic city of Bekoji, like Negatwa, hundreds of farmers have been organized, supported and provided seeds to help them join a new public-private-partnership initiatives between Heineken and the Government of Holland and EUCORD, a Dutch organizations to help provide locally produced barely supply.

For them, farming has not just been a way of life, a survival, but a profession as many said, “A labor of love.” No longer is the profession one reserved for poor, middle-aged men who barely found enough to barely survive with dead-end possibilities but one that is fulfilling and affords them a sustainable living and independent living.

For Yonas Bedelu, 27, it has been a rare chance that was hard to come by a few years ago.

He moved back to the village to embrace an old culture that has been shunned by people his age, but is making a comeback after realizing, farming is not necessary a lifestyle of some, but where young people can make a decent income to not dream of following the conventional wisdom of moving to bigger cities looking for something else to do but can live in their own area and find a career.

“When the opportunity to be a farmer became available, I did not see myself in it. But as more people joined and found fulfillment, I also saw myself in it and with new partnership and technology being discovered, it has become less labor intensive but has become a great way to work hard and make a great living at the same time without living your village and embracing a family tradition,” he told The Reporter.

For Heineken, makers of a slew of brands of beer along with its signature beer, Bedele, Walia and Harer, it has always been its intention to help produce local barleys instead of exporting from the outside since it launched its initiative in 2013. Supported by Ethiopia’s Agricultural Transformation Agency, it has been aiming to bring 20,000 farmers to its fold and generate 20,000 tons of quality malt annually.

“At Heineken, we feel the Ethiopian weather is perfect to help grow the quality barely that we need to produce our products and with a youthful population that wants to be engaged and embrace the farming culture, we see a win-win situation and partnership that is helpful to all those involved”, the Eugene Ubalijoro, the Managing Director of Heineken Ethiopia told The Reporter.

 “With thousands of people involved in the production of our products and now farmers involved in the thousands, we are proud to help create the kinds of sustainable jobs that we need to help complement the Ethiopian economy,” he added.

The partnership was started when Heineken, with the support of the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation of Holland inked a deal with its counterpart in Ethiopia to help smallholder barley farmers through CREATE (Community Revenue Enhancement through Technology Extension) program for the production of barley in Ethiopia.

“I became a farmer, not because I wanted to be one, but because the opportunity, the new development in our village became an attractive destination. My grandfather was a farmer, his son was a farmer, but I left for Addis Ababa looking for opportunities elsewhere. I wanted to use the capital as my gateway to other nations, perhaps Europe. I came back empty handed and founded fulfillment in a village I saw not much few years ago”, another farmer said.

“Now, I not only make a good living, I have much resources in my saving and I am able to raise a happy and content family members, with a wife and three children. I have now realized, you can fine fulfillment at home and not venture outside as much of my friends have, some with a good ending and some with tragic.”

With little infrastructures and a road that is not even paved and electricity in short supply, the village, like the villages around it had been struggling to keep the youth at bay. Most have escaped, looking little things to do and attempt to emulate the rare successes of some of the people who escaped elsewhere.

“I valued work and I wanted my children to also embrace work and work hard. When most saw their future as wives and as partners of a farmer, I saw them to be independent, with their own mind, be educated and not marry out of the shortcomings of their lives, but choice. It’s because I am a farmer that I was able to give that choice for my children,” Negatwa reflected over a coffee ceremony under an old tree.

With dotted mud-huts, ample agricultural spaces that is crayon green and a community that is older and still men dominated, she is content farming is to be the answer to a slew of issues her community; in fact her nation is looking for. For her, that is where she found the answers to the shortcomings of her own life.

“I grew up in a generation where the role of a woman was in the kitchen, raising the children and taking care of the livestock. To be honest, there is nothing wrong with that. But that is only good if that is a choice for women to make. When my husband died, I could have been in bed dreaming what could have been. But through farming, I found content and found a reason to not to interrupt my life, but a reason to continue to living,” the now grandmother added.