The central highlands region of Eritrea, a densely populated agro-ecological zone, is widely considered the “breadbasket” of the country, and is the focus of much of the government’s current and future investments in food security.
But the breadbasket has, over the years, been growing ever-emptier. Despite the relatively fertile soils, agricultural productivity has progressively declined as a result of increasing population pressure, unsustainable land and water use, and the effects of climate change (less rain, falling in shorter and more intense rainy seasons and resulting in increased run-off).
A passion for the land
Eritreans have been putting their shoulders to the wheel and working proactively to restore life to their damaged land. One such person is Gebremichael Gebremeskel, a farmer in his late sixties living in Adi Abzage village on the foothills of the Tsilima Mountains.
Gebremichael has tended the land for over 30 years. He keeps a few dairy cows and grows a variety of crops, including barley, sorghum, wheat and vegetables. He is a community activist with a passion for good environmental stewardship. “It is my dream to turn this place into a paradise,” he says.
To realize this dream, Gebremichael voluntarily introduced soil and water conservation measures on his government-allocated plot, as well as on marginal and abandoned communal land.
He invested a significant amount of time, and some money, into filling in gullies and terracing the hillsides closest to his fields. This reduces excessive run-off, combats landslides and improves the ability of the soil to retain moisture.
“By strengthening the highlands against wind and water erosion, we protect our fields as well.”
To raise awareness among the community in Adi Abzage and surrounding villages, Gebremichael donated 2,000 Nakfa (about US$130 — a significant sum in Eritrea) of his own money to organize a farmer field visit so that others could learn from his model.
“The community is ready to take up these practices … they just need to be taught how to do it and see the evidence for themselves … age and gender won’t stop anyone!”
To rebuild the Eritrean granary, these measures must be spread across the entire region. With support from UNDP and GEF, the government has launched several projects to restore the country’s degraded landscapes and integrate climate risk considerations into food security measures.
Eritrea’s investments are starting to pay off : Over 9,000 hectares of degraded forest and woodland have been restored through terracing of hillsides, construction of check-dams, and planting of 2,300,000 tree seedlings. About 17,000 households benefit from climate-smart agriculture measures, and production has more than doubled in certain areas.
Gebremichael says that when he started this, his neighbours thought he had ‘gone crazy’. But after years of applying a landscape approach to managing his land, he demonstrated how soil and water conservation measures nursed the land back to health and restored productivity to his fields. He is now recognized as a champion farmer who has won awards, and the admiration of his community
“We can feed ourselves here, if we all invest in the land…All farmers need is a little support with skills, tools and minimal inputs, and they will transform the landscape.”
Text and photos by Elizabeth Mwaniki/UNDP Eritrea
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