After rapid economic growth averaging 10% every year between 2004 and 2014, Ethiopia has emerged as an engine of development in Africa.
And there are no signs that ambitions for further growth are fading. This is clear from the government’s blueprint to achieve middle-income status – or gross national income of at least US$1006 per capita – by 2025. This would see a rapid increase in per capita income in Ethiopia, which is currently US$783, according to the World Bank.
Ethiopia’s growth has been propelled by at least two factors: the prioritisation of agriculture as a key contributor to development and the fast-paced adoption of new technologies to boost the sector.
One of the drivers of growth in the agricultural sector has been the expansion of irrigation. The country has seen the fastest growth in irrigation of any African country. The area under irrigation increased by almost 52% between 2002 and 2014.
This was achieved by investing in the sector, and by harnessing technology to expand irrigation to farmers who traditionally relied on rainfall to water their crops. This boosted productivity and income for farmers by helping them extend the growing season and become more consistent in their production.
These factors are highlighted by a new report from the Malabo Montpellier Panel. The panel convenes experts in agriculture, ecology, nutrition and food security to guide policy choices by African governments. The aim is to help the continent accelerate progress towards food security and improved nutrition.
The panel’s latest report analyses progress – and highlights best practice – in irrigation in six countries. These include Kenya, Mali, Morocco, Niger and South Africa. Other African countries can draw lessons from the report’s insights.
Reasons for success
The report identified a number of common factors in countries where significant progress has been made to expand irrigation, including key policy and institutional innovations.
In the case of Ethiopia, one of the main reasons for its success is that agriculture and irrigation have been featured on the Ethiopian policy agenda since 1991. In addition, specialised institutions have been set up with clear commitments to maximise the benefits of water control and irrigation systems.
The investment is expected to deliver a number of returns. These include:
- more efficient use of fertilisers,
- a reduction in the seasonal variability in productivity and
- better yields from irrigated crops grown.
Another major area of development has been the collection of data. This is an invaluable asset that allows for careful monitoring and management of resources such as water, especially in times of drought.
In 2013, Ethiopia’s Agricultural Transformation Agency began mapping more than 32,400 sq kms to identify water resources, particularly shallow groundwater, with the potential for irrigation development.
The final results of this mapping in 89 districts revealed nearly 3 billion cubic metres of water at a depth of less than 30 meters. This could allow approximately 100,000 hectares of land to be brought under irrigation, benefiting 376,000 families.
Finally, Ethiopia has harnessed the value of a full range of irrigation technologies. These have ranged small-scale interventions to large infrastructure.
A joint project between the Ethiopian Bureau of Agriculture, local extension officers, and an NGO called Farm Africa, for example, helped women and young people adopt small-scale irrigation. This was part of an initiative to increase their incomes and improve their nutrition.
Overall, the project reached nearly 6,400 women and landless people. The irrigation project also benefited 700 farming families.
What other countries can do
In order to have food and income security and to attain broader development goals, countries need to make sure that all levels of government are engaged in planning and implementation. The private sector and farming communities also need to be involved to expand irrigation.
The experience of Ethiopia and other countries leading on irrigation can help other African governments develop country-specific strategies to effectively take irrigation to scale. The benefits of doing so, such as enhancing on-farm productivity and income, and improving resilience and livelihoods, are transformational.
The expansion in irrigated farming, coupled with reliable agricultural inputs and stable markets for the expected growth in farm products, has the potential to catapult Ethiopia to the forefront of African countries that have embraced agriculture as the engine of economic growth.
With Fruits and Green Shoots, Tigray Swaps Image of Famine for Resilience
Thirty-five years after haunting images of crying, skeletal Ethiopian children shocked the world, Tigray, the region that unwittingly became a poster child for famine, is taking on a new image – that of resilience.
In Ruwa Feleg, a highland community with vivid memories of the devastating 1984 famine, the 2016 drought, which experts said was the worst Ethiopia had seen in half a century, had minimal impact, local farmers said.
“A lot of the livestock was lost but there were no marked loss of (human) lives,” said Hidrom Haileselasie, 45. “It’s not comparable.”
For one, they had spare cash from selling temperate fruits and vegetables such as apples, apricots and almonds, and no longer live hand-to-mouth. Improved infrastructure meant food, whether to markets or as assistance, arrived faster.
So, despite food shortages, people did not starve to death, unlike during the 1984 “great famine” when a combination of severe drought and civil war killed up to 1 million people.
The lack of conflict and Ethiopia’s strong economic growth helped the arid and mountainous Tigray, home to nearly 6 million people, during the 2016 drought, experts and locals said.
Months of monitoring allowed aid agencies to deliver assistance quickly when things worsened, said Getachew Kalayu, head of planning and coordination with local non-profit Relief Society of Tigray (REST).
“Both the people and the government have learnt a lesson from 1984,” said Getachew, whose organization was set up in 1978 by the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), a former guerrilla movement turned political party.
Environmental rehabilitation work and efforts to diversify incomes were crucial, experts say.
“If you go back 30 plus years… (Tigray) was a moonscape, so denuded, with people cutting trees for charcoal and abandoning land,” said Betsy Otto, at the World Resources Institute’s (WRI) Global Water Programme.
Through painstaking work, locals moved 90 million tonnes of soil and rock by hand, built infiltration pits and embankments, and planted trees to restore landscapes, said Otto, whose organization was involved in some of the projects.
“People migrate into Tigray now, which is kind of unheard of,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.
The groundwater table has risen and artesian wells that had not flowed for a long time now do, she added.
Tigray also looked to micro dams and watershed management to provide irrigation so small-scale farmers can improve crop productivity, said Fatouma Seid, representative for the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Ethiopia.
All these contributed to “the communities’ capacity to withstand drought situations”, said Seid, whose organization has been helping farmers for years, including those in Ruwa Feleg.
CASH FRUITS AND FREE LABOR
The changes are palpable in Abreha we Atsbeha, a village two hours southwest of Ruwa Feleg on winding, bumpy roads.
Here the community has been working for more than a decade to build terraces on hills to retain water and prevent soil erosion. With about 1,500 locals working 20 days a year, they have so far terraced 5,200 hectares, a local official said.
“Before there were no plants. After (we built) the terraces, the land breathed new life again,” Kidane Gebreselassie, the official, said proudly, pointing at the lush, green hillsides.
A large part of this impressive feat is due to a government program requiring locals to work up to 20 days a year on rehabilitating the environment.
This happens “after the harvest and when people have spare time”, said Zenebu Tilahun Negrash, an official with Tigray’s Bureau of Agriculture and Rural Development.
Both Zenebu and Kidane are convinced such conservation work, which won a United Nations-backed award in 2017, helped the area during the 2016 drought.
People in Tigray have long memories of what it was like in 1984.
Tsega Asgedem, 63, a farmer at Ruwa Feleg, fled to Eritrea with her family and relatives, including two newborns. She ended up begging in the streets for a time to feed her children. They did not return for three years.
“It was very difficult to even bury the dead. There was nobody strong enough to do it,” remembered Tsega, who lost relatives in the famine.
Hidrom and Kes Berihu Hailu were only 10 and 9 then, but recall the hunger, the sickness, the food aid and the dead bodies lying in the streets.
So, when they learned of fruits they could grow and sell for cash, they jumped at the chance to leave the vicious cycle of subsistence farming.
“Previously… we planted cereals only for our own (animal) feed, and even then sometimes what we produce is not enough,” recounted Kes, 44, who is also a priest.
Now, Kes’ small plot of land grows only fruits. Life has improved leaps and bounds, he said, standing in front of a large, two-story stone building he had recently built with proceeds from the sale of the fruits.
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He spent more than 80,000 Ethiopian birr ($2,820), he said.
Aid agencies, particularly the FAO and World Vision, provided them with free seedlings and taught them technical skills, said Hidrom, the local pioneer who also keeps bees.
Despite struggling with getting enough water for his plants, he sees the fruits as his future.
“The land here is very small so planting cereal crops is not profitable. Highland fruits are the way to go.”
WHAT IS NEXT?
Demand for seedlings and technical knowledge is so high the government has not been able to keep up, said Zenebu, the agricultural official and leader of the team promoting highland fruits in Tigray.
About 33,000 people were producing fruits between June and the end of December, and they hope to raise the number to 96,000 by June 2020, to boost farmer incomes as well as nutrition, she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
In the decade between 2006/2007 and 2016/2017, Ethiopia’s economy soared, but the country remains one of the region’s poorest, with nearly one in four living below the national poverty line, according to the World Bank.
More than four out of five Ethiopians also rely on agriculture and livestock for work and income in Africa’s second-most populous nation after Nigeria.
This makes them particularly vulnerable to weather-related disasters, many of which are becoming more frequent. Even Tigray’s restored landscape may only be able to help so much, experts said.
“Thirty, 40 years ago, there used to be rain end of May up till end of October. Now the rain comes in middle of June if you are lucky and stops first week of September,” Ehiopian aid worker Getachew said.
“So, investment in environment and water security are critical,” he said.
Farmers say they do not fear working hard, but rather the unpredictable weather and a repeat of the 1984.
“This is peace value. It allows us to secure an existence,” said Hidrom, pointing to a basket of freshly harvested almonds in his hands. -Reuters
-Thin Lei Win @thinink; Laurie Goering and Elias Gebreselassie
South Africa Farmers Seek $220 Million in Drought Aid
South Africa’s agricultural industry body AgriSA will approach banks, agribusiness and government to raise 3 billion rand ($220 million) to help farmers hit by severe drought, its executive director said.
Farmers have faced dry conditions over most of the nation for the last year, even as they are still recovering from a disastrous El Nino-induced drought in 2015.
“We have basically reached a point now where we don’t have any more fat in the system. There is no buffer any more in the agricultural sector,” AgriSA boss Omri van Zyl told reporters.
Van Zyl said the group will also speak to the government’s National Disaster Management agency to get access to the contingency reserves.
“We see this drought again as a national emergency because it is going to have an impact directly on consumer prices, it is going to have an impact on food affordability and it has an impact on the farmers on the land,” said van Zyl.
A survey of producers showed that 31,000 jobs and 7 billion rand ($510 million) in potential revenue were lost since January last year because of drought, AgriSA said.
White maize prices are just off a near two-year peak last week.
“The farmers didn’t get enough (income) to recuperate in 2016 so the grain sector is in a lot worse financial situation than it was. Our ability to absorb this current drought is under pressure,” Jannie de Villiers, head of producers body Grain SA, also told reporters at the briefing.
In early estimates for the 2018/2019 season, farmers have planted around 95 percent of the country’s yellow maize, which is mainly used in animal feed, and between 70 to 80 percent of the white maize, pushing prices higher.
The white maize futures contract due in March traded up 2.76 percent to 3,088 rand on Friday, just under a near two-year high of 3,255 rand reached last week.
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South Africa’s official Crop Estimates Committee, which in October estimated farmers would plant 2.448 million hectares of maize in the 2018/2019 season, is expected to release the preliminary area planted estimates on Jan. 29. -Reuters
Zimbabwe Seeks Wiser Ways to Use Water Amid Erratic Rains
Bensen Muzamba knows the cost of water only too well. He runs a maize farm outside Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital, but because of poor rains at the start of the season, he was forced to purchase water to irrigate his crop – something he can ill afford.
As with many farmers across the country, he relies on rainfall – and struggles if it does not come when expected.
“It’s tough when you have to buy water … and sellers demand foreign currency,” Muzamba told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, inspecting maize plants on his land about 15 km (9 miles) from Harare.
As Zimbabwe struggles with the fallout from a slow start to the rainy season, bulk suppliers that deliver water in tankers have increased their prices, citing the high cost of extracting groundwater.
And with dam levels down – though recent rains have helped – cities like Bulawayo have been exploring ways to curb water consumption in homes.
Meanwhile, violent clashes have erupted over shortages of fuel and a government-imposed fuel price hike, while U.S. dollars, one of Zimbabwe’s main currencies, are hard to come by.
Groundwater is essential to ensure farmers can grow enough food crops. But some borehole owners in Harare have been selling 1,000 liters of water for about $30, twice the going rate in October.
The Zimbabwe National Water Authority (ZINWA), a government agency, charges $10 for 1,000 liters from state-owned dams – but even that is expensive for farmers used to free rain.
Washington Zhakata, director of the climate change department at the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement, said declining rainfall in the past couple of decades had caused Zimbabwe’s groundwater levels to fall and shortened the time periods in which water is available.
This, he said, had affected farming nationwide.
“The distribution of rainfall across the country has been uneven, coupled with extended dryness,” Zhakata said by email, linking the shifts to global warming.
Average temperatures around the world have already risen about 1 degree Celsius above pre-industrial times, and southern Africa is expected to see drier conditions as warming continues.
Sobona Mtisi, an independent researcher on water and climate change in Zimbabwe, said rainfall had been low but the nation had enough groundwater stocks to meet rising demand.
Still, Zimbabwe would benefit from better methods for managing its groundwater, he added.
“(It) needs to be managed sustainably through an effective and evidence-based groundwater policy,” said the UK-based Mtisi.
Despite rains having picked up this month, forecasters’ concerns persist that an El Nino weather pattern could result in below-average rainfall this season, said Tamburiro Pasipangodya of the Zimbabwe Meteorological Services Department.
Up to early January, most parts of the country had received less than 75 percent of the long-term average rainfall, and a smaller amount than in the past three seasons, she noted.
The Famine Early Warning Systems Network said seasonal rainfall was set to continue across southern Africa this week, bringing some relief from dryness, including to parts of Zimbabwe.
TURNING OFF THE TAP
As rains become more erratic, Zimbabwe is looking to irrigation to cushion its food supplies against drought.
In announcing the 2019 budget in November, Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube allocated nearly $1 billion to the agriculture ministry to fund irrigation and borehole rehabilitation, among other measures to improve water sources for farmers.
And in a bid to deal with the long-term effects of patchy rainfall, the southwestern city of Bulawayo is proposing technological interventions to cut water consumption.
In the last week of December, water levels in Bulawayo’s dams dropped to 60 percent, from 65 percent in early November, ZINWA said.
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The city has long turned to groundwater for relief during dry spells, but a recent council report said the municipality had failed to maintain its boreholes, compromising future water availability.
This month, the Bulawayo authorities said they were looking at installing water flow regulators in homes.
According to the city’s director of engineering services, Simela Dube, the devices would be part of water management efforts allowing consumers and the municipality to save water.
The regulators would restrict consumption to pre-determined levels decided by households, depending on how much water they need, he told council chambers.
Residents would be able to use between 1 and 5 cubic meters of water per day, compared with now when can turn on their taps at will even if they cannot pay their water bill.
However, there are concerns the new proposal will meet resistance from customers who have previously rejected pre-paid water meters, said city councillor Sikhulilekile Moyo, calling for more consultation.
Jacob Mafela of the Bulawayo Residents Association told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that schemes to save water were generally welcome.
“We support all initiatives which at the end of the day benefit residents,” he said. “It is historically known that the city faces water challenges, but we need consensus.”
Meanwhile, as El Nino-linked rainfall uncertainty continues, farmers like Muzamba – most of whom lack insurance against crop failures – are despairing of help.
“We will keep asking government for assistance – though we know the money is not there,” he said.
- Marko Phiri
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