Drought 2016

March 22, 2016

20150311073542_0414The poor rainfall and ensuing drought affecting Ethiopia is of special concern to our team. 2015 was the start of an “El Niño” weather pattern that has brought considerable rain and snow to the West Coast of the United States, while ironically causing a considerable reduction in rainfall in the Horn of Africa. For millions of rural farmers whose livelihoods depend on yearly rains, this has caused dramatic impact on their harvests. The International Food Policy Research Institute describes the current situation:

“Ethiopia is currently experiencing its worst drought in over 30 years. Net cereal production from the main (2015/16 meher season) harvest currently underway may fall by 10-20 percent (1.9 to 3.7 million tons) relative to the 2014/15 harvest (December 2015 preliminary estimates based on woreda-level yield data). Households in regions hit particularly hard, including the eastern highlands and pastoralist areas, are expected to suffer especially severe crop and livestock losses. According to UN estimates, about 10.1 million people, approximately 10 percent of Ethiopia’s population, are in need of food assistance.”

During a visit in January, Discovering Light Project Coordinator Champ Rhodes witnessed firsthand the effects of this drought as hundreds of cattle were seen grazing on large private and government farms that historically are free of livestock. Our driver explained these farms have allowed smallholder farmers to graze their animals so they can stay fed during the drought. The effects of the poor harvest reach beyond food for the family to the animals that provide milk, meat, and income.

Cattle grazing on a large private farmland.
Cattle grazing on a large private farmland.

It is amazing that in 2016, a resource-rich nation like Ethiopia could be experiencing such a crisis. The dry-as-bone fields are an incredible contrast with a land so plentiful with water sources, including the Nile River, countless lakes and streams, and vast underground water table. One hopeful sign was the installation of simple irrigation systems on some family farms. Hopefully spread far and wide in the coming years. The drought has affected farmlands throughout the country. In one zonal region, Self-help groups have been identified as a strategic entity to assist communities in responding to the dry conditions. In the Wolaita district 130 KM southwest of Shashamene, SHG organized by the regional Ethiopia Kale Hewot development office have become skilled in Drought Recovery and Resistance (DRR). This involves training in in conservation agriculture to improve soil quality and raising crops for income generation.

Self-Help Groups are a highly effective environment to provide this kind of training because it usually involves changing some traditional farming methods such as leaving harvested fields unplowed and sowing seed among last season’s organic material. The groups provide a fertile small group training atmosphere and encouragement to use the new skills consistently.

Discovering Light will help fund the DRR facilitator training this spring and we look forward to the impact on Savings Groups in West Arsi. In addition, we are thankful for the post-harvest threshing businesses that will be active in the region this summer. While we work out kinks in the microlending and support process, we know that families will receive a valuable service that nearly doubles their yield, providing much needed sustenance during this trying time.

Our partners’ improved threshing and drought response strategies are small efforts that have limited, but significant impact across a nation of 90 million people. While Ethiopia continues its technological trek into the 21st century, we must still pray for rain to bring relief to these beautiful people and their communities.