‘I see hope and life right here in my hand’
‘We used to have just one meal a day – that was all we could afford. That’s all changed now’, says Malkamu Gabisa. The 43-year-old lives near Bako in the Oromia region, around five hours’ drive west of the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa. The end of the year is harvest time. Since Gabisa and other small farmers from his cooperative attended various training courses, their yields have increased. What they have learned about seed, modern farming methods and how to harvest crops has improved life in rural areas.
The impact on everyday life is plain to see: as Malkamu Gabisa notes, ‘Our incomes have gone up, and we no longer live in mud houses but we have corrugated iron roofs and concrete floors.’ And working barefoot in the wheat fields is also now a thing of the past. For a long time, Gabisa couldn’t afford proper shoes, but now, he points to his dark leather sandals before taking a sickle to his wheat, piling up the sheaves in the field.
A change of venue takes us to the village of Degolima, near Debre Markos in the Amhara region of the country. This is one of the main wheat- and teff-growing areas – teff is a kind of millet. A few sacks crammed full of wheat are stacked up in the warehouse in Degolima. The outside temperature tops 30 degrees, but it is pleasantly cool inside the warehouse, which has few windows and mud walls. For Kes Bewuket, Chair of a small farmers’ cooperative, seed is so much more than a pile of grain. He lets a handful of wheat trickle through his fingers: ‘Seed is like my own child. It sustains the generations and provides resources that will change our future. I see hope and life right here in my hand,’ says the farmer before letting the grain fall back into the sack and tying it shut.
But not all seed is equal: high-quality, certified varieties are in short supply in Ethiopia. And this is where the Supporting Sustainable Agricultural Productivity in Ethiopia Project comes in. On behalf of the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL), the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH is supporting nine cooperatives across Ethiopia in improving farming methods and boosting yields.
Multiple partners in Ethiopia and Germany
As well as training for cooperatives and at the Agricultural Training Centre (ATC) in Kulumsa, the project works on the key area of seed genetics. Local seed varieties are bred to enhance their traits. They are more resistant to pests and to climatic influences and also ripen more rapidly, so the farmers get more frequent harvests. On behalf of BMEL, GIZ cooperates with a range of Ethiopian and German partners, including the Ethiopian Biodiversity Institute (EBI), the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR), the German Gene Bank, the German Plant Breeders’ Association and the biotech company KWS Saat SE. The approach is bearing fruit: around 1,300 farmers have doubled their production of barley and wheat from 600 tonnes a year in 2016 to 1,200 tonnes.
For Malkamu Gabisa and the other farmers in his cooperative, life has improved – and not just in terms of food and housing. Many can now save money and have opened a bank account for the first time. And families can afford to send their children to school. Malkamu Gabisa’s children are among those getting an education: ‘I can give them opportunities I never had,’ he says.