Science in Society Archive

Greening Ethiopia for Self-Sufficiency

Famines and Ethiopia and other African countries have become irrevocably linked in the public mind since Bob Geldof’s Live Aid Concert in the 1980s. In 2002, we carried the first and only report (Science in Society #16) on how Ethiopia is determined to feed herself. In this present exclusive mini-series, we update the entire story of the remarkable successes achieved in reviving the traditional farming practice of pit composting that has now convinced Ethiopia to adopt organic agriculture for the entire country.

Organic Production for Ethiopia
The Tigray Project
Greening Ethiopia

Organic Production for Ethiopia

The success of the Tigray Project will now be consolidated by government policy. Sue Edwards reports.

Spurred by the successes of the Tigray Project, the Ethiopian government has stated its interest to increase the capacity of farmers to use organic methods of crop production.

The Rural Development Policy, meanwhile, emphasizes the need to improve local marketing infrastructure, and also to develop agricultural products to diversify the economic base of the country.

Last year, the government announced it will support the development of organic agriculture, and a task force was established to draw up an Ethiopian Organic Agriculture Regulation, which can become law, and a Regulation for Organic Agriculture Products to describe how organic products are defined, and what may or may not be used in their growing and processing. The documents cover crop and animal production, as well as food processing and marketing, with the second document providing a basis for a local organic certification scheme.

The international trade in organic products is an expanding niche market that Ethiopia is geographically well situated to exploit. Already, some communities in the south and southwest have started to develop and export Arabica coffee with an organic and fair trade label.

There is also expanding awareness of the importance of producing healthy fruits and vegetables for the expanding educated middle-class and expatriate market in Addis Ababa. For example, Genesis Farm started three years ago and production now covers over 40 ha. The farm combines dairy and poultry production with growing vegetables, fruits and ornamental plants. It is totally organic and sells certified products on the export market. However, there is a fast expanding local market and it is interesting to note that none of the items sold by Genesis are more expensive than other locally produced items, and several are even cheaper. When I recently visited the farm, there were local workers buying their vegetables from the farm shop.

As a further development, the administration of the Woreda (administrative district) with one of the best sites of the Tigray Project, now wants to have the whole Woreda involved in the project. This will include 2 100 farming families divided in 16 ‘parishes’. To start this ambitious up-scaling, 9 parishes (4 from before and 5 new ones) have been chosen to be involved in the project this year.

There will be a big workshop in July to launch this update, involving 200 farmers and all 50 of the local experts, from development agents to local specialists. The local experts will lead the workshop along with one or two farmers, who will give testimony of the successes of the Tigray Project. There will also be an experience-sharing session, of problems and how they were solved, or how these still remain as challenges. A pre-workshop day is set-aside for the local experts to have an in-depth discussion on what constitutes ‘sustainable rural development’.

Another exciting element is the involvement of the local justice system, the ‘social courts’, to help uphold and enrich local by-laws, to back up improvements to land and its management.

The experience with the farmers in Tigray in producing and using compost shows that the aim for Ethiopia to have a substantial number of farmers producing organically can be realized. It also shows that the introduction of ecologically sound organic principles can have very quick positive impacts on the productivity and well-being of smallholder farmers so that they do not necessarily have to face a conversion period of reduced yields as they change from chemical to organic production. Most farmers, particularly those in marginal areas, are not able to afford external inputs, so for them an organic production management system offers a real and affordable means to break out of poverty and obtain food security.

It is important to bear in mind that although it may be external market interests that initially stimulate the development of a policy environment for organic agriculture, the benefits should be available to all members of the local society to build a healthy and food-secure future for Ethiopia.

Sue Edwards is the Director of the Institute for Sustainable Development, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and co-editor of the seven-volume Flora of Ethiopia and Eritrea.

ISD would like to acknowledge the unfailing support of the Third World Network for the Tigray work.

Article first published 25/06/04

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