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Transforming Farming in Tigray, Ethiopia

GebreMariam Desalegn from Tigray, Ethiopia, participates in two Irish Aid funded programmes, aimed at improving agricultural production and resilience to climate change.

‘There is an improvement in the water table. Whenever we plough we find moisture in the soil.’

GebreMariam Desalegn’s farm sits in a valley at Begasheka set amongst the hills of Tigray, in northern Ethiopia. Even in the dry season his fields, lush and green, stand in stark contrast to the arid, dusty hills which surround them. This is because GebreMariam, who supports his wife and 4 of his 6 children from this farm, has been a part of two Irish Aid supported projects which have transformed farming in the area.

To deal with the problem of scarce water an Irish Aid supported project has engaged local farmers in watershed management. This involves building water collectors, small dams, terraces and planting trees; all of which help trap water in the soil. The work takes place across whole valleys or watersheds raising the level of moisture captured in the soil for entire communities. Now GebreMariam says ‘there is an improvement in the water table. Whenever we plough we find moisture in the soil.’

To build upon this a second Irish Aid supported project sought to increase farmers’ production by working with them to introduce better crop varieties. Farmers joined research groups organised by the Tigray Agricultural Research Institute in order to share ideas, receive training and to test which crops varieties were most useful for their land.  Working closely with farmers has meant that the crops and new farming methods are selected based on the farmers needs; allowing for increased yields, more nutritious crops and a better ability to cope with extreme weather or diseases. Climate change is already having an impact in Ethiopia, making the climate warmer and seasons more unpredictable. Therefore, water management and improved, hardy crops are even more important to farmers like GebreMariam to help them cope with these changes.

A hand holds two varieties of chickpea. On the left, an improved variety introduced by the operational research programme; on the right, a local variety.

Thanks to these two projects, not only is GebreMariam’s farm more moisture rich but he is also able to grow new varieties of chickpeas during the dry season after his maize crop has been harvested. The chickpeas he says ‘can easily grow using residual moisture.’ From one eighth of a hectare GebreMariam can now grow 300 kilos of chickpeas.  ‘Compared to the local variety it is high yield and we can generate more income,’ says GebreMariam about the chickpeas, and what is more, he smiles ‘they are tasty.’ This sort of complimentary support makes a real difference in the lives of poor farmers, not only improving their incomes but also helping them to better cope with the changes brought by climate change.

Listening to the experiences of communities who are already living on the frontlines of climate change and trying to cope with the challenge of hunger and undernutrition is an essential first step towards finding solutions that will protect the poorest and most vulnerable.

The Dublin Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, Climate Justice took place in mid April 2013 brought together a diverse audience of policy makers, local people and global thought leaders to learn from practical experience and inform our future development efforts.