How could climate-smart agriculture help Ethiopian farmers?

How could climate-smart agriculture help Ethiopian farmers?

How could climate-smart agriculture help Ethiopian farmers?

Ethiopia’s food crisis is a multifaceted issue, with one contributing factor being the exacerbation of drought due to global warming. To address this problem, there is a growing inclination towards adopting climate-smart agriculture (CSA) as a potential solution.

Gebremedhin Hagos, an Ethiopian farmer, expressed his struggle with finding food on some days and going to bed hungry on others, showcasing his meager harvest.

Hagos, along with other farmers in Ethiopia, are eagerly awaiting rain during the country’s most severe drought in four decades. Numerous hectares of crops have already perished in dry fields, and tens of thousands of livestock have perished.

In January, the 70-year-old told The Diplomat News, “We are starving. I’m in crisis. What can we do? Where can we go?” Amidst the harvest, his family joins 16 million Ethiopians in the grasp of food shortages. Many, including children, are experiencing malnutrition and illness due to years of conflict, economic challenges, and an extended drought exacerbated by climate change.

The region most severely impacted is the northern state of Tigray, where the majority of the conflict occurred during a two-year battle between Tigrayan rebels and the federal government. UN officials are cautioning of an impending famine in the state, with hundreds succumbing to starvation in the past six months.

To address the urgent situation, the UN is preparing to offer emergency assistance to 3 million Ethiopians, primarily in Tigray. However, others are exploring ways to ensure the people in the Horn of Africa can sustain themselves in the future as global temperatures rise.

Claire Nevill, the spokesperson for the UN World Food Programme (WFP) in Ethiopia, emphasized the importance of enhancing the resilience of Ethiopians and providing long-term solutions to achieve food security, preventing them from falling back into hunger.

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Back to Basics: Climate-Smart Farming

How could climate-smart agriculture help Ethiopian farmers?

Abyiot Teklu, an assistant professor at Addis Ababa University’s College of Development Studies, asserts that adopting “climate-smart agriculture” (CSA) could be instrumental in ensuring long-term food production for Ethiopians and other countries in the Horn of Africa. Given that most farmers in Ethiopia rely on rain for irrigation and practice subsistence farming, they are particularly susceptible to the impacts of climate change.

Climate-smart agriculture essentially encompasses sustainable farming practices that have existed for a significant period of time, and this is the focal point of Teklu’s research. It entails employing methods specifically tailored to address the climate challenges faced by a particular community or region, such as consecutive failed rainy seasons in the Horn of Africa.

Teklu asserts that Southern Ethiopia has a well-established tradition of agroforestry, making it a climate-smart technique well-suited for highland areas and valleys. This technique involves intercropping trees and shrubs alongside crops, often with the inclusion of animals like chickens.

In contrast to monoculture crops, agroforestry helps enhance soil fertility and prevent erosion. Additionally, it promotes biodiversity and mitigates water loss.

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Conservation Agriculture: Cultivating Sustainable Solutions

One research study discovered that smallholder farmers who practice agroforestry in traditional Ethiopian home gardens are contributing to the region’s environmental sustainability, while also generating income and cultivating nutritious food sources for themselves.

An elderly individual participating in the study expressed, “It’s akin to having savings in a bank, as I can access various edible items whenever necessary.”

Conservation agriculture, which focuses on soil preservation, is another method of climate-smart agriculture. This approach involves simple actions such as leaving non-edible crop residues in the field after harvesting, a practice that Teklu claims enhances soil health and protects farmland. In Ethiopia, this crop residue is typically used as fuel or animal feed.

After just two years of adopting climate-smart agricultural practices like managing crop residues, the highland village of Debremawi witnessed the growth of lush vegetation on previously degraded soil. Farmers were then able to incorporate other climate-smart agriculture techniques, such as small-scale water irrigation.

Teklu recognizes the severity of the current crisis and acknowledges that challenges like conflict and multiple crises hinder the immediate implementation of such plans. However, he believes that by adopting a long-term development approach and exploring underutilized resources like groundwater reserves, there is an opportunity to support farmers.

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Farmers’ Early Warning Systems

How could climate-smart agriculture help Ethiopian farmers?

The UN World Food Programme is increasingly focusing on sustainable solutions to address the food crisis. One of the initiatives involves providing farmers with early warning systems to prepare for climate-related disasters such as floods and droughts. By enabling farmers to plan ahead for extreme weather conditions, they can safeguard their harvests. Furthermore, farmers are using cash transfers to mitigate the impact of these shocks by investing in extra food supplies and protecting their livestock.

Moreover, the WFP is actively supporting projects in the Gambela region of western Ethiopia, helping former subsistence farmers produce crops that they can sell to the organization. This enables farmers to reinvest in machinery, high-quality seeds, and fertilizers, leading to increased harvests and improved resilience to unpredictable conditions.

Claire Nevill showcased the project’s success in Gambela, demonstrating how farmers sold their maize directly to the WFP, which subsequently distributed the produce to refugees from South Sudan in the same region.

The WFP encounters challenges in securing funding for long-term solutions despite making efforts, as most resources are allocated to addressing immediate crises, such as providing emergency food aid to Ethiopians.

Farming Faces Instability Blow

How could climate-smart agriculture help Ethiopian farmers?

Farming faces severe challenges due to instability. Despite the official end of the conflict between the federal government and Tigrayan rebels in 2022, Mikiale Muruts, the communication director in the Bureau of Agriculture and Natural Resource in Tigray, has revealed that “2.2 million individuals have been displaced and are unable to engage in agricultural activities.”

Prior to the war, the region was at the forefront of sustainable practices, even receiving a UN-supported award for its efforts in combating desertification and enhancing food production capabilities.

However, even with the peace agreement in place, many fertile areas in the region have been taken over by armed groups, rendering farming impossible, as stated by Muruts. He emphasized that the most urgent priority is to address the security situation and provide sustenance to the starving population. “With the absence of food assistance this time, the region’s food insecurity is expected to worsen,” Muruts warned. “Our people are facing dire consequences.”

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