About five years ago, someone who traveled to Tigray State, northern Ethiopia, would see men and women in different villages carrying blocks of stones to build terracing that improves the ecosystem. Of late, I traveled to the state and was thrilled by the magnificent changes I saw in the villages.
The previously eroded and devastated landscapes are now dramatically rehabilitating and basically turning into arable land. The plateaus turning green. The formerly deserted riverbanks now holding waters. The youth who used to be idle, now getting themselves into productive activities, like bee keeping, cattle breeding, vegetable farming and similar activities. The most important question here is how did all these really happen?
The answer lies in the State's well coordinated activities that rehabilitate the environment. Atsbi-Womberta Woreda Head Haftom Wureta told journalists that the residents in Gergera started watershed management activities with the purpose of restoring the devastated environment. At the outset, through a series of extensive discussions with the residents, it was agreed that all the villagers of Gergera would take part in several activities that would play considerable roles in improving the environment. Among these, they participated in natural resource conservation for 20 days since were convinced that environmental conservation is key in improving their livelihood. Hence, in a bid to take themselves out of poverty, they dedicated 20 days of free labour to build the terracing, plant trees and other watershed development activities, according to Haftom.
Farmers are now able to harvest through irrigation more than once a year. Hayelom Kebele is a model for other places in the state in terms of irrigation schemes. While doing all these, the support from the government through the Ministry of Agriculture and non-governmental organizations like Irish Aid and ICRAF have contributed significant share, said Haftom.
"Now, in accordance with the targets incorporated in the Second Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP II), we are working to bring transformation beyond the growth we have attained so far. In doing so, we are required to concentrate on bringing in best experiences and state-of-the-art technologies in the sector of agriculture," he added.
In GTP II, agriculture remains the main drive to economic development of the country. Besides, increasing agricultural productivity and building a climate resilient green economy are among the few strategic pillars in the grand plan.
One of the farmers in Gergera told The Ethiopian Herald that the area was highly devastated and non-cultivable. "However, the people, the government and NGO's have worked together to restore the ecology of the area and now the result is improving our lives," he stated.
As a result of the changes in the environment, the youth no longer move to cities and middle east countries in search for jobs as they can participate in productive activities in their hometowns, according to the farmer. "The livelihood of the farmers continued improving. They now live in better houses, own televisions and cows."
Minister of Agriculture and Natural Resources Dr. Eyasu Abraha said, "One of the nation's agricultural transformation policy target is attaining food security. Moreover, there are transformational agendas like ensuring employment opportunities for the youth, raising export trade and supplanting majority of the imported goods. Our agricultural activities need to be climate resilient. Hence, to bring real and sustainable impacts and it is quite important to focus on natural resource conservation and environmental protection. Agriculture is a profitable sector, only if it is run through a business model. In order to do so, we need to transform agriculture through establishing market oriented production. A technological shift is also quite important to ensure advancement in the sector."
According to him, since the technology is the major area where the sector struggles with, the government planned to tackle the problem through creating links with non-governmental organizations and other stakeholders. Agricultural mechanization efforts that have been optimized to the situation and needs of the farmers would also help to upscale agricultural productivity, he added.
Ethiopia needs technological and experience inputs; and organizations like ICRAF have the much needed experience in agroforestry. They have experiences regarding how to reduce carbon sequestration. Moreover, they would be good assets for capacity building through experience sharing.
Dr. Eyasu further said, "The recently signed memorandum of understanding between the ministry and World Agroforestry Centre shall help us share the technological and other technical support."
Kahsay Gebretsadik, a repatriate who was expelled from Saudi Arabia due to his illegal status, now heads a nursery centre at Gergera that arranged by the government for jobless youths and supported by aid institutions.
"The youth who were jobless, after taking training from Irish Aid, are now participating in agricultural activities, nursing plants at the centre and cultivating fruits. We no longer risk our lives to cross overseas in search of employment," added Kahsay. They are developing their capital and it is their utmost wish to expand their farming to bee keeping and livestock fattening activities which are more profitable areas, he added.
Dr. Eyasu said, "As nation's economy and the well being of the people are closely linked, the government is dedicated to Climate Resilient Green Economy (CRGE) and GTP II among others. Hence, we are relentlessly working for the restoration of 15 million hectares of agricultural land by 2030."
Dr. Eyasu also said that the government has allocated 16 per cent of its annual budget for programmes designed to advance agriculture productivity and the sustainable use of natural resources. However, the government needs to sort out on how it can join hands with the pertinent partners in the sector to sustainably achieve the development goals, according to the Minister.
ICRAF Director General Dr. Tony Simons told The Ethiopian Herald that the international organization would like to help out Ethiopia tackle its problems. He added that the prioritized area is the CRGE plan of which, according to him, is a "fantastic plan to achieve green development".
"Since land degradation and soil erosion is a grave problem in Ethiopia, we would like to provide support in transforming the agricultural sector, natural resources, forest and livestock. With joint efforts in these areas, we expect improvement in land productivity, better land use, raise in agriculture GDP from four per cent to eight per cent and better landscapes covered with trees probably to one-third of the general land-where it was a century ago," Simons added.
For Professor Mitiku Haile of the Makalle University, it is rewarding to see the dedicated efforts of villagers in changing their environment. He said that through continued agroforestry and watershed management efforts in the area, diversity of the ecosystem has been transformed from a degraded and devastated landscapes to a rehabilitated cultivable environment. Moreover, he added, "Downstream water resource has dramatically increased which is enabling the community to cultivate agricultural land up to 1000 hectares through irrigation."
Cathy Watson, Chief of Programme Development at world Agroforestry Centre, who traveled through the villages of Tigray wrote an article on The Guardian about the astonishing developments in the state with regard to environmental protection. In her article, Cathy citing the Equator prize said, "Abrha weatsbha has reclaimed over 224,000 hectares of land. Tree planting [has] resulted in improved soil quality, higher crop yields, greater biomass production, groundwater functioning, and flood prevention."
Similarly, in her brand new excursion with us to those places, she was thrilled with the manner the ecology is dramatically changing. The progress is astounding, says Cathy who gives Gergera technical support. Over half the youth in the kebele are either involved in restoring the land or earning from the restored land.
"I was there a year ago. This year I saw water running in the gully which is being rehabilitated. People are irrigating tomatoes and using it to wash and water their cattle. And the well developed in self-confidence of the young people working in the tree nursery was marvelous to see. Landscape restoration is working," added Cathy.
The practical changes observed in many parts of Tigray with regard to blending agriculture and forestry is a living showcase that productivity in agriculture could be increased and sustained with integrated environment conservation efforts.