Back to Ethiopia after four years
June 1st 2009 Return to Ethiopia
I arrived back in Ethiopia yesterday. It has been nearly four years since I left with a heavily pregnant wife to return to the UK to start a family. It is very exciting to be back, though Ethiopia has never really left me and played a central role in my decision to start working for IDE. It is difficult to forget the scenes in the drought of 2003 – severely malnourished children lined in therapeutic feeding centres in the apparently luscious and fertile Sidama is a scene that will not leave me. As will my determination to do something about it. Hence joining IDE.
Addis Ababa seems like one big building site with construction all over the place. After arriving from London in the night I spent a sleepless few hours at the hotel – kept awake by the Saturday night disco next to the my hotel. Ironically named Hotel Dreamliner. I wasn’t doing much dreaming there… I headed out of the hotel to go to a café down the road where I used to have lunch, though of course this was long gone and a block being constructed in its place.
This morning I had a briefing at the IDE office and drove for 3 hours down the Rift Valley with the IDE driver Tilahun and accountant Meron. At the edge of the city the Chinese have built their own version of the Spagetti junction to completely replace what was once a wonderfully confused crossroads which was aptly named ‘Confusion’ – the fancy new junction has kept the name and the Addis drivers seem to be equally muddled about how to get across it. We were headed for the IDE ‘Rural Prosperity Initiative’ in Ziway, next to one of the Rift Valley lakes.
As we drove down the long straight road South we passed at least four huge new greenhouse complexes, mainly growing flowers for the European market and competing heavily with the Kenya flower farmers. Ethiopia at an advantage being a shorter flight to Amsterdam. This looks to be an exciting new development for Ethiopia and I made a note to look into these companies – mostly joint ventures with European investors apparently.
We stopped off on the way down next to some people selling tomatoes, onions by the side of the road not far from Ziway to get an idea of market prices: 35 Birr or £2 for a bucket of onions (about 10kg) and 12 Birr or 60p for the same quantity of tomatoes. Inflation has hit the onion market: A year ago the bucket would be 10 Birr. These vegetables were grown near the lake Koka, the first of the string of Ethiopian rift valley lakes. Mainly grown on land rented by investors using diesel pumps for irrigation – these people were in a different league from the smallholder farmers IDE works with.
Today we were going to see the IDE ‘rope and washer pumps’ these have been sold to over 350 farmers near Ziway at a 50% subsidized price of 749 Birr or £40, with the view that it was important to get some ‘early adopters’ going to demonstrate the technology and spread the word in their community. We spent an hour talking to one farmer who had an inspiring story:
From prisoner to farmer/entrepreneur: Tadesse Mekuria
42 year old Tadesse Mekuria is from the Gurage region of Ethiopia. 11 years ago he got into a quarrel with a neighbour which ended up in a fight, the neighbour came off worse (though survived) and as a result Tadesse was sent to jail for 10 years. On his release Tadesse felt he couldn’t return to his home village because of his bad name there. He was however, able to rent the small plot of land he owned there. Instead he set up home in Ziway. Initially he tried to make a living by working as a tailor in the local town. This was not very successful and he found he was really only employed for about 2 days a week, bringing in about £2-3 for each day worked. He also tried some petty trading with chilli pepper, but this wasn’t very successful. His income did not go very far, with four children to care for – none of whom he could send to school.
When Tadesse met the IDE field team in December 2008 he was immediately interested in the rope and washer pumps they were promoting and applied for a micro credit loan to buy one. Using the money he had saved from renting his plot of land in his home village he bought 1000 sq metres of land for 6350 Birr (£320) and started growing onion, kale, carrots, pepper, maize and sweet potato. So far this has proved very successful and in the last six months he has already made 5800 Birr (£290) net income from these crops. He has been particularly pleased with the onion seedlings that he has sold on at a good profit – and he is already on the second cycle with these.
Tadesse’s plans for the future
I wasn’t able to meet any of his children (aged 10, 12, 14 and 17) because they are now at school. Tadesse has plans to replace his thatch roof on his hut (leaky in the rainy season) with a corrugated iron one. His real dream though is to return to his home village as a successful man and bring rope and washer pumps with him to make up for past misdeeds. Next week Tadesse plans to buy a pump at full price from the shop in Ziway and take it to his brothers in Gurage and spread the micro-irrigation revolution there…
It is now Sunday 7th and I am back in Addis with a reasonable access to the internet so only able to upload this now