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Ethiopia's youth making their mark in agriculture

©IFAD/Alberto Conti

Women hoeing a field in the district of Sidamo.

4 November 2014 – Until now, farming has not been an obvious choice for Ethiopia's youth. Barriers to owning land and other assets have fuelled the steady migration of young people to urban centres. Now, however, the IFAD-supported Participatory Small Scale Irrigation Development Programme (PASIDP) in the northern region of Tigray is providing a viable alternative by offering some young people new opportunities, including pursuing their own farming businesses.
 
Thanks to a government land-registration initiative targeting the landless, most of the communities within PASIDP's target areas have benefitted. For instance, 88 households in the programme's 44-hectare irrigation scheme in Hiyana, Enderta Woreda district, are farming their own land for the first time. Among these beneficiaries, young people and 14 households headed by women have been allocated communal land.

Increased harvests and income

Previously, Abrehan was a mason, taking whatever construction work he could find in Mekele, the closest city, 30 km away. He earned the equivalent of US$0.35 an hour and was not guaranteed a full day's work. He and his family struggled to make ends meet.
 
Since then, his earnings have increased almost fourfold owing to increased harvests, and he is expecting to sell more this season. And Abrehan is far from alone. His community has been able to increase the total amount of irrigated farmland from 15 to 35 hectares, which were allocated through the land-registration system.  
 
PASIDP has provided seedlings and extension support to assist farmers in growing new crops and introducing special high-yield varieties. If farmers need extra hands at harvest, they simply hire paid labourers.
 
Another positive spin-off from the project has been its impact on women's decision-making. The registration scheme ensures that land is jointly owned. Now, wives get an equal say in running farming businesses with their husbands, including what to plant and where to market their harvest.

Using irrigation technologies

"Growing sorghum, I could only harvest twice a year according to the rainy season, generating 150 kg of teff [a wheat-like grain] and 450 kg of sorghum," she recalls. "I kept the majority of my harvest for household consumption and sold around 25 per cent in the market. As my husband works as a soldier and is away from home, I was forced to rely on my extended family for support to take care of my son."
 
But now Sashituu's situation has changed. "I am able to irrigate my farm, I am able to harvest three times a year," she says.
 
Sashituu, in her early twenties, owns two 0.25-hectare plots and has successfully increased her yields to the point where she has been able to put aside the equivalent of up to US$10 every three months from her income. She can purchase better-quality seed and fertilizer, which she uses on one of her plots. In addition to teff and sorghum, she started to grow onions on her second plot and, within a year, was able to borrow money to buy two ploughs and oxen.
"I would like now to pay serious attention to my farm, as my farm is my business. I want to solely pursue farming, and I would like to start working independently," says Sashituu. "Farming is about timing, and if I work efficiently and can be the first to harvest, I can make a better profit." 
Sashituu hopes to continue saving so that she can buy an oxcart to transport her produce to market. Currently she uses a kobo – a traditional form of public transport – which eats into her profits.

Rising stars in youth leadership

Amina's election is a remarkable achievement for a young woman in her community. WUAs – which manage irrigation schemes and determine water distribution – are traditionally run by elders. 
 
One of the features of PASIDP was the introduction of a set of general criteria that participants agreed upon to elect new WUA committee members. Candidates must be model farmers, literate and community leaders. In Betho Kebele, this created the opportunity for young people and women, including Amina, to seek positions of leadership in the WUA.                                                                                                                                                
According to the WUA's chairperson, Mohamed Ali, it was due to her authoritative position as a mentor and advocate for children's education that Amina was selected. In fact, as the only literate member on the WUA committee, she is able to keep track of finances and effectively record meeting minutes, as well as formally communicate in writing if required.  
 
Amina was also chosen to help engage women in the association's activities, according to the chairperson. "Sometimes women don't participate in the WUA activities because they are occupied doing household tasks. She is energetic and is able to convince and mobilize women to attend meetings and contribute to construction activities for the irrigation scheme," he says. 
 
The members of the WUA committee highlight the fact that women have subsequently become more active in the association and are beginning to raise questions about the development activities they will undertake.
 
In this way, PASIDP has set young people like Amina, Abrehan and Sashituu on the path to harnessing their potential and providing good examples of what can be achieved by investing in opportunities for rural young people.