In the 1980s—if you were around then and remember back that far—a famine hit Ethiopia so hard that 400,000 died. As a young person, I was horrified by the images of starving children on the evening news. Then, in the early 1990s, I stood on a beautifully-forested Ethiopian hillside that overlooked a barren hillside in an area heavily impacted by that famine. That’s how I learned that trees fight famine.
“I was here when this hillside looked like that,” my traveling companion said. A farmer at the bottom of the hill told me that the forest that Food for the Hungry (FH) helped plant brought back both rain and wild animals. “I grow more crops now,” he said.
Ethiopia is a drought-prone nation, and FH is still helping to fight famine and malnutrition through tree planting.
Adane says planting trees is keeping people well feed in his district of Ethiopia.
Adane is a 38-year-old father of two who lives in Chochorba village in Sekota, one of several highly drought-prone districts of the Amhara region in Ethiopia. In 2010, Adane unfortunately faced a dying farmland due to a shortage of rainfall. This is a near-annual incident that prevents the area from producing enough crops to feed its residents.
Since 2012, FH has worked with local communities to plant a total of 98.1 million tree seedlings in nine Ethiopian districts. This hard work has resulted in the regeneration of ground water sources, improved soil fertility, gully formation and improved productivity of existing streams, which is now saving lives.
Adane has learned how to plant trees to keep his farmland productive. What his family doesn’t eat, Adane sells at the market.
This year alone, FH has planted seedlings on 73 square miles of land. To put this into perspective, that is about the size of Cincinnati, Ohio. These plantings have had a direct impact on people like Adane.
“When it does rain in this hill-covered region, the water rushes over the hardened ground, often stripping away what productive soil remains and preventing water from soaking in,” explains Craig Jaggers, Food for the Hungry Ethiopia Country Director. “It’s a serious problem for an area almost completely dependent on rain-fed, local agriculture.”
In 2014, FH trained nearly 3,500 community members to care for their farmland and to diversify crops in order to maximize productivity of the farmland and better sustain the environment. This included extensive tree planting.
Seedlings are grown in community-managed nurseries that FH started, and are operated primarily by single female heads of households and other vulnerable individuals. These community members learn how to raise the trees so that they will survive without human care once they reach maturity. They also learn to nurture the new seedlings until they are ready to transplant.
“Tree planting is just one tool in the kit that our farmers use to protect the soil and reduce water run-off,” explains Jaggers. “We help the community create a sustainable plan for management of their natural resources using a variety of methods that assists in increasing water retention for both drinking and improved agricultural productivity.”
Through a program funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), eligible beneficiaries like Adane work on rugged mountains doing different physical activities. In exchange for labor, such as hillside terracing and planting trees to save the remaining soil from further erosion, the participants receive food aid or cash to fill the hunger gap for their family, which could last six months or more.
Adane says, “Our efforts bore fruit, and long-dried water springs [have] regenerated in the Chorchoba catchment. As the water started to flow in the valley, we requested Food for the Hungry and the Organization for Rehabilitation and Development of Amhara to divert the stream to our farmland. Along the valley there are more than 70 youth and adult farmers who produce their own crops using this irrigation.”
About 83 percent of respondents in a community household survey reported seeing improvement in their environment and are hopeful of reaping improved crop yields.
Children like these benefit from tree planting programs that help keep them fed and thriving.
“I now produce enough food for my family and can even sell to the market. I became food self-sufficient and graduated from the safety net program. I need no more external food aid. Beginning in February this year, many families in our village are suffering from food shortage and seeking food aid, but I have enough produce at my farm to feed my family and sell to the market.”