During the eighties, northern Ethiopia was immersed in one of the worst humanitarian crises in history: “A biblical famine in the twentieth century”, the reporter Michael Buerk described for the BBC while documenting those scenes of death and despair in the refugee camp. Images that entered in our homes through the TV screens and were recorded on our retina forever.
A few kilometres away from Korem, where a large part of the people fleeing war and hunger took refuge, is the town of Hamusit. Today is a town that faces recurrent droughts with resilience projects. Demberie lives there with her husband and five children in a small house covered with white paint. Kibru, the eldest son, remembers how his life has changed in recent years:
“Before we had to walk with the cattle all day in search of grass, but now, with the fodder we produce at home, it is no longer necessary. I spend that time going to school.”
Kibru talks about the hydroponic project that Action Against Hunger has implemented in the Waghimra region, where the fodder availability is one of the main constraints affecting growth, health and milk production and reproduction potential livestock. This zone has a population of 540,599, which is 91% rural and mixed farming. “In many cases, farmers in Waghimra do not possess or cannot access land that is productive enough for fodder production using classical agriculture technologies,” says Gebris Ayalew, head of the project in the region. Most of the land is used for food crop production, which in addition to chronic water shortages and poor irrigation infrastructure, the situation has led historically to large livestock losses.
Fighting the drought and hunger
To combat the challenges face in this draught prone area, Demberie´s family has built a platform based on wood and plastics on which it is growing hydroponic grass, which is a method used to grow plants using mineral solutions instead of agricultural soil. “This technique has allowed them to produce high quality and low cost fodder within a short time that is highly nutritious, thus increasing their resilience, since it plays a very important role in sustainability and family economy,” Ayalew explains.
Thus, the whole family has been involved in the process. Demberie takes care of fetching water early in the morning. Upon returning, her husband, Kiros, waters the plants and Kibru, the boy, who has already milked the goats, goes out with them for a walk to the river. At 10 am he is back and he spends thethe rest of the morning preparing the lesson until 12, when he starts school. Then, the father is responsible for removing the fodder and feeding the goats.
In the afternoon, Demberie goes to the women’s meeting, where the mothers talk about maternal and child health and children’s nutrition. One of the women participating is Shewagu Beyene, who also benefits from an income-generating activity. She, who is a single mother of two children, has launched her own “berbere” business, a type of dried chilli that accompanies almost all Ethiopian dishes.
In this process, she has been guided by the organization, which has trained her in business techniques, such as basic accounting skills. But also the group of women participating in the project has become her foothold.
“We have a social credit system, – explains this young mother. We meet every Saturday to exchange information and see how our businesses are going. In addition, we give 40 birr monthly to the fund, which we save for emergencies, such as to help a woman who has given birth or a family member who falls ill.”
Shewagu, who never thought she could get out of the black hole in which she was submerged for years, is today an independent woman and cries out full of happiness: “I have regained hope!” A hope that has already bathed the entire town of Hamusit and is gradually spreading throughout the region in the tireless fight against hunger.