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Eritrea:Sowing the seeds of sustainability

Posted by: Berhane Habtemariam

Date: Monday, 30 October 2017

Sowing the seeds of sustainability

In Eritrea, a small country in the Horn of Africa, land rehabilitation combats erosion and desertification, and helps restore agricultural productivity.

October 30, 2017
The highlands region of central Eritrea is the breadbasket of the country.

The central highlands region of Eritrea, a densely populated agro-ecological zone, is largely considered as the ‘breadbasket’ of the country, and is the focus of the government’s current and future investments in food security.

But the breadbasket has, over the years, been growing ever-emptier. Despite the relatively fertile soils, agricultural productivity had progressively declined as a result of increasing population pressure, unsustainable land and water use, and the effects of climate change (less rain, falling in shorter and more intense rainy seasons and resulting in increased run-off).

A passion for the land

Eritreans have been putting their shoulders to the wheel and working proactively to restore life to their damaged land. One such person is Gebremichael Gebremeskel, a farmer in his late sixties living in Adi Abzage village on the foothills of the Tsilima Mountains.

Gebremichael Gebremeskel, farmer and community activist.

Gebremichael has tended the land for over 30 years — he keeps a few dairy cows and grows a variety of crops, including barley, sorghum, wheat, and vegetables. He is a community activist with a passion for good environmental stewardship. As he says, “It is my dream to turn this place into a paradise.”

To realize this dream, Gebremichael voluntarily introduced soil and water conservation measures on his government-allocated plot, as well as on marginal and abandoned communal land.

He invested a significant amount of time, and some money, into filling in gullies and terracing the hillsides closest to his fields, to reduce excessive run-off, improve the ability of the soil to retain moisture, and combat landslides.

“By strengthening the highlands against wind and water erosion, we protect our fields as well.”
Terracing steep hillsides helps prevent erosion and landslides.

To raise awareness among the community in Adi Abzage and surrounding villages, Gebremichael donated 2,000 Nakfa (about US$130 — a significant sum in Eritrea) of his own money to organize a farmer field visit so that others could learn from his model.

“The community is ready to take up these practices … they just need to be taught how to do it, and see the evidence for themselves … age and gender won’t stop anyone!”
Bumper futures


To rebuild the Eritrean granary, these measures must be adapted to the scale of the entire region. With support from UNDP and GEF, the government has launched several projects to restore the country’s degraded landscapes and integrate climate risk considerations into food security.

Eritrea’s investments in the region are starting to pay off : Over 9,000 ha of degraded forest and woodland have been restored through terracing of hillsides, construction of checkdams, and planting of 2,300,000 tree seedlings. 17,000 households benefit from climate-smart agriculture measures and production has more than doubled in certain areas.

A field visits to Serejeka, where land has been put under long-term usufruct rights and where farmers have adopted sustainable land management practices.

Gebremichael says that when he started this, his neighbours thought he had ‘gone crazy’, but, after years of applying a landscape approach to managing his land, he demonstrated how soil and water conservation measures nursed the land back to health and restored productivity to his fields. He is now recognized as a champion farmer who has won awards, and the admiration of his community

“We can feed ourselves here, if we all invest in the land…All farmers need is a little support with skills, tools, and minimal inputs, and they will transform the landscape.”
@ Elizabeth Mwaniki / UNDP Eritrea

Text and photos by Elizabeth Mwaniki / UNDP Eritrea

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