Photo courtesy of Farm Africa
The pastoralist Hamer community in South Omo, southern Ethiopia, used to make a living from its cattle and goats, as well as from charging tourists a small fee for taking pictures of them.
However, most of the cattle died during a severe drought in 2016 and the country’s state of emergency – due to a series of protests – caused the influx of tourists to diminish.
To remedy this, the Hamer founded an association called Dimeka Zuria to help the community take up farming through a cooperative.
To encourage them, the government gave them a piece of land.
Farm Africa provided seeds and animal feeds, helped the community set up savings groups and improve the management of their natural resources – for example by donating a generator to power a water pump.
Experts from Farm Africa also found that there was water under a stretch of sand – a river, known locally as “keske” – that had dried up due to the drought.
A woman from the vegetable farming association remembers the river: “sometimes, a sudden flood would come and take everyone and everything with it.”
But the community dug into the sand to reach the water source, and the once furious river has now become a lifeline for the farmers.
It allows cooperative members to water their vegetables, which they can then sell at the market.
Not only are they saving money, they also now have a healthy diet. With their first harvest they reaped onions, tomatoes and green chillies – with each member getting a loan of 1,500 Ethiopian birr ($64) to set up their own business.
The switch from pastoralism to farming wasn’t easy, however.
“Hamers used to have a negative attitude towards farming, thinking that a person who works in the field doesn’t have dignity,” said Kuse, a community worker at Farm Africa, who has worked with the community for a long time.
Hamer people still think that selling produce – especially if it is traditionally sold while sitting like cereal, fruit, spices or vegetables – at the market is for women.
Men only sell livestock since they can do it standing, hence their initial hesitation to take the vegetables to the market.
So Farm Africa provided wagons to put the vegetables on, which convinced men to sell them at the market.
An outsider watching the men and women planting and watering their neat plants of tomatoes, onion and green chilli, would find it hard to believe it is their first time farming vegetables.
The group has been so successful that other community members now want to start vegetable farming as well.