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Ethiopian woman farmer's message: 'Be on our side'

Tom Grubisich's picture

The future of Ethiopia’s drought-threatened agriculture is in the hands of the country’s resourceful women farmers, Development Marketplace 2009 winner Ehsan Dulloo says.

Dulloo calls the women Ethiopian agriculture's “primary seed custodians.”  They’re the ones who “have to confront significant uncertainty in the climate every year and regularly face food shortages as crops fail,” he says.  That’s why Dulloo and the Institute of Bioversity Conservation in Addis Ababa – where he is a scientist – developed the winning project Seeds for Needs.  (Participating farmer Bertukan Kebede is shown with daughter in photo from project workshop.)

Seeds for Needs aims to benefit 200 woman farmers who are running out of options on their subsistence plots in the increasingly dry highlands of eastern Ethiopia.  Through Seeds for Needs, the woman farmers will get access to new strains of seeds -- produced at gene banks -- that may prove more hardy than the traditional varieties of seeds the farmers have been using to overcome droughts that are more frequent and intense because of climate change.

 

At a recent workshop in Addis Ababa that included 33 participants from the Ethiopian government and nonprofits involved in agricultural research and support, two woman farmers who are part of the Development Marketplace project spoke about their struggle – not only what they faced in dealing with harsher climates, but also their mostly gender-based challenges that continue through all the seasons.

Mrs. Debribu Eshew from Chefe Donsa:

 

"In the past women were not recognized.  Few of us were educated and the majority of us were left out. We can do and we are able to do what needs to be done in raising crops in worsening drought – if we get support. We are aware of our values and responsibility. What is missing is strong support. Women need support in terms of financial and technical support. Many of us are single mothers who have no other person to help them.  We are widows or divorced. Many of us are leaders in our homes.  We need support to buy fertilizers and to prepare compost because these are demanding activities and costly. I am honored to have this excellent opportunity to talk on behalf of the women in the rural areas, and thank you all.”

Mrs. Bertukan Kebede from Ejere:

"I come from East Shoa. I am a farmer.  I am thankful to you and the sponsor to address you on behalf of women in the Ejere area. The Ethiopian Government has given us the opportunity to participate in development initiatives. We are thankful to current good governance in bringing up these forgotten segments of society. We agree we can drop the backward proverb saying women knows the final word will be that of the man or 'women are always for the kitchen.'  That’s history now.  Farmers are grateful to Government because in the past the saying was you have work hard and produce. But these days the Government is asking us what shall I do to help you, and how." Our answer is, 'Be on our side in helping us to maximize production.'"