Every day, when we get up from our beds and head to our daily routines, be it work or school or any other activities, we face different interactions with a lot of people. Some of our interactions end up putting smiles on our faces while the others result in turning that smile upside down.
During our day and even after the day has come to an end and we sit down to have something to eat. Do we, for a second, think what process the food has gone through to make its way to our plates? How many of us have asked ourselves the challenges Ethiopian farmers face? Have we thought of what we can contribute to support their lives? These questions never ran through my mind until recently, I must admit.
Halfway through December, I got an opportunity to spend a day with a farmer. Simply, it was once in a lifetime experience. I worked for the whole day with the farmer, met with his family, ate what he eats, drunk what he drinks and slept where he sleeps.
Once I decided to go on this trip, I was flooded with questions and wonders about my comfort. “How am I going to handle this? Will I be able to work as good as the rest? How do they manage to make ends meet and survive?” Despite such questions, I eagerly awaited to be out on the field as one of the participants of the 2018 Farmer Homestay.
Wenberima Woreda, located in Amhara region 432 Kilometers away from Addis Ababa, hosted the 2018 Farmer Homestay. The woreda is known for its production of wheat, haricot bean, and peppers. The area is extremely fertile that even the residents and officials of the woreda have a saying which goes “ቦታው ቆሎ እንኳን ቢዘራበት ያበቅላል” which can be translated into “Even roasted crop can grow in this area”.
The four hours ride culminated once we reached Wenberima Woreda, Kentefen kebele. I was struck with excitement when I first saw the work field where my host family head, Ayenew Temesgen standing on the field overlooking a combiner. There stood a combiner completing the harvesting work that used to take weeks to complete. I did not expect to see the implementation of technology among farmers. I was not sure if it was excitement and wonder, but I was eager to learn.
I was able to do nothing, but helplessly observe watching the combiner finish up work that would have taken weeks to complete in mere minutes. I struck up a conversation with Ayenew who told me the introduction of the technology has actually made life very easier for him and other farmers in his area.
“Previously I had to pay laborers a daily fee of close to 150 birr per day to help me on harvesting my crops. Not only that, I had to cover for three meals, accommodation and other expenses for these people until the collection is completed. This process takes close to a week and it’s not expensive. So you can imagine how this has actually made a difference”.
‘What has happened to debo?’ I threw a question. Debo is a system where farmers collectively harvest each other’s yield. “Oh, no” Ayenew replied giving me a surprised look when I mentioned the name. “Debo is still around, it’s just the magnitude that decreased but everyone helps out in collecting the crops that the combiner can’t reach. If the crop is found near a rock or a tree we get together and harvest them using a sickle”
“As much as the introduction of combiners have eased our troubles and worries it has its own complications” continued Ayenew looking at the combiner as it was running around in its wheat field. “the time we had to register and wait for the combiner to come here would have been equivalent to the time it would have taken us to complete the harvesting by hand. Not only that but the middlemen that are in between have created mistrust, look over there” said Ayenew pointing to two men standing next to the combiner. “The farmer had anticipated harvesting 27 quintals of wheat with the combiner but the outcome was only 24, I suspect the operators stop the machine midway while operating so that some wheat stays in the container and they sell it for their own.”
Ayenew had to wait until the afternoon until his turn came and the combiner started harvesting his field. As the bag was being filled up I saw a slight cloud of concern looming across his face and I asked him what was wrong. Saying nothing he moved to the field nearby and came up with something clenched in his palms. As he came close, he used his left hand to pick some of the collected wheat on his other hand and extended both his palms so that I can see. All I could see was wheat on his two palms, but Ayenew saw something different.
“My friend and I used the same type of seed and fertilizers when we planted our crops, but the soil type is different that there is a visible difference in the outcome of our crops. Mine is darker in color while his is a light color. This results in my crop prices going down while his prices go up.”
It was in the late afternoon as we embarked on the journey back to Ayenew’s house which was located four kilometers from his farm. As we were walking back home I managed to raise questions that were running through my mind after my observation. What are your challenges? What do you expect to see In the future? With a smile that never fades from his face, Ayenew responded in a calm manner.
“The never-ending price hikes of seeds and fertilizers, the land rental fee, the weather changes, lack of proper market linkage, access to roads and infrastructure are always on top of my mind. The fact that there are innovative and technology-based solutions that are being introduced are a good sign of good things to come”
We arrived at his place just before the sun was about to set, and was greeted with his wife and we were treated with the utmost hospitality and care that is almost impossible to find in Addis. During the stay, I was able to learn that Ayenew and his wife, Hode, have four children out of which one of his daughter goes to the high school located in Shindi town. The rest of the children stay at home and help out their parents at home.
The next day at the break of dawn, as I set up to depart, I couldn’t get hold of Ayenew and thank him for his hospitality as he had already left for the fields to rent a carriage that will transport his harvested wheat to the market where it will be sold. Disappointed that I couldn’t say farewell I had to move to the bus that was waiting for me to take me back to Finote Selam.
The lack of proper infrastructure, undeveloped market linkage, emerging technology usage, ever-increasing seed and fertilizer prices and others accompanied by uncertain weather conditions and soil degradation are always haunting Ethiopian farmers across the country.
Important work takes time, resources and patience. The process to bring change in the Ethiopian Agriculture is no different. It needs strong support and follows up to bring the desired change. Projects like EthioSIS, Direct Seed Marketing, Agricultural Commercialization Clusters, 8028 Farmers Hotline, Mechanization and alike, I believe the ATA can definitely bring change the needed change. But strong support from stakeholders and partners is extremely important. After all, Rome was not built overnight.