Sustainable farming helps family face climate change in Ethiopia

Climate changeCrop FarmingEnvironmental sustainabilityFood SecurityLivelihoodsLivestockSustainable agriculture

In recent years, climate change has meant Abebech* and her husband have faced some hard times. They are farmers in the village of Offa Esho Kebele in south-west Ethiopia where they rear livestock and produce crops on half a hectare of land (5,000 square metres).

A withered maize plant in drought-hit southern Ethiopia. The harvest is only good for animal feed. Photo: Colin Cosier
A withered maize plant in drought-hit southern Ethiopia. The harvest is only good for animal feed. Photo: Colin Cosier

Climate change

In addition to recurring droughts in the area, the land has become less fertile due to poor land management practices, soil erosion and repeated cultivation. The cost of chemical fertiliser is increasing each year too, and Abebech cannot afford to buy it. As a result, the output from her land has declined and it has not yielded enough food to feed her family.

‘We have not been able to produce enough crops from our farm due to the shortage of rainfall during the farming season,’ says Abebech.

‘Life has been getting more difficult as our land loses its fertility. It is a challenge to provide food for our children. And we cannot make a living because we are dependent on just one or two crops which are now much less productive.’

Conservation agriculture

Abebech was chosen for a pilot project organised by the local authority where she received three days of training on the principles and practical application of conservation agriculture. The training focused on maintaining healthy soils as the key to developing sustainable crop production systems that are resilient to the effects of climate change. The selection criteria included owning farmland, a willingness to practise conservation agriculture and to teach it to other farmers. As a result of this training, she has now started to mulch her farmland. A mulch is a layer of plant material applied to the surface of soil. Mulching improves soil fertility, reduces weed growth and conserves soil moisture.

‘The training helped me to think about the management of fertility on my land. It helped me to understand the need for mulching my farmland instead of ploughing it. The technical field support that the project staff have been providing has helped us to adopt the practice of conservation agriculture in our farming,’ says Abebech.

Trial beds with mulch at a nursery in Ethiopia. Photo: Louise Thomas
Trial beds with mulch at a nursery in Ethiopia. Photo: Louise Thomas

‘Our mindset has been changed. I am very happy to practise sustainable farming and as a result our harvest will be improved.’

Abebech

Hopeful harvest

Since implementing these new methods, Abebech’s neighbours have been challenging her as to why she is not ploughing her land but is covering it instead. ‘They are not happy that we are no longer using conventional cultivation methods that have been used for years. However, our mindset has been changed. I am very happy to practise sustainable farming and as a result our harvest will be improved.’

Abebech is also a member of a local self-help group (SHG) where she saves on a weekly basis. She is spreading the news about conservation agriculture among her SHG peers and there are plans to run the training on a larger scale in the future.

*Names have been changed to protect identity.

Read more about Tearfund’s approach to food security using sustainable farming practices.

Desalegn Demissie
Desalegn Demissie is a programme officer for Tearfund Ethiopia