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Promoting food sustainability

Promoting food sustainability

Following on from emergency relief measures, the next step for SOS Children is to facilitate small-scale projects whereby local people can produce food for themselves and their communities in a more sustainable way – as illustrated by the people of Gode in eastern Ethiopia.

Sowing the seeds of an idea

The 2011 drought in the Horn of Africa had a disastrous effect on hundreds of thousands of people, including the residents of Gode, where there is an SOS Children’s Village and family strengthening programme (FSP). Although the town is surrounded by hot, arid land, the nearby Shebelle river rarely runs dry. Here water is the most precious commodity, but getting water from the river is time-consuming and dangerous, with crocodiles never far away.

Channelling the right support

Local residents knew that if the water could be transported from the river, the ground could be cultivated to grow crops, even during the dry seasons. So when 48 participants of the local FSP proposed an irrigation scheme, the SOS coordinator helped secure 30 hectares of land 2km from the river. The FSP funded five small pumps, farming tools, seed and fuel to pump the water up the steep riverbanks via man-made channels and into the fields to irrigate the plots. Two groups were formed to manage split planting phases so that there would always be a crop growing. In November 2011 the first seeds were sown, which by January 2012 had grown into shoulder-high maize plants.Water from Shebelle river in Ethiopia

Ayesha’s turn for water

Ayesha, a widow with eight children, had always found it difficult to feed her family. But as a member of the Gode irrigation scheme, she now has a maize plot and two dairy cows, selling any spare milk to buy food. Every 15 days a small generator pumps water from the river to give her plot a hefty soaking. With the materials provided by SOS Children and her colleagues working as a team, Ayesha should be able to maintain her plot for the foreseeable future. By building up her long-term food security, when the next drought comes, as it surely will, she will have food to keep her going.

Sustainability in action

As with all FSP programmes, the ultimate aim is to enable families and communities to become self-reliant. The local people formed an irrigation committee that is now running the project day-today. FSP funds have been allocated to buy pump fuel until the villagers can buy it themselves. With sustainability at its core, the strategy demonstrates how, given the right tools, communities can begin to help themselves, even in the wake of a severe food crisis.

Donkey carts lead road to recovery

At 4.30, beneath the scorching afternoon sun, the local water source from the Shebelle river near Gode town is crowded with children and donkey carts. Rahmo, 12, and her younger brother are there helping their mother, Ardi, by collecting a barrel of water for the family to use. Like Ardi, many people make a living by collecting and delivering water, but to do so they need transport, such as a donkey cart, which is highly versatile but expensive to buy.Donkey carts in Ethiopia

Mustafa Haji, Director of SOS Children’s Village Gode, explains how an emergency has three distinct stages: the emergency, recovery and rehabilitation. Once Gode reached the recovery stage, donkey carts were funded to give the most vulnerable families in the local FSP a chance to generate some income. According to Mustafa, local people value a donkey cart more than any possession, even ahead of a house or a latrine. Once they have an income, they can build the house and latrine.

Ardi, a divorcee, has sole responsibility for her six children aged 5 to 12. As one of the first recipients of a donkey cart, she can fetch water five times a day and sell it for a small profit. Rahmo (photo, above) and her younger brother attend school in the morning, when Ardi collects and sells the water herself, then after school Rahmo takes over. The income from water sales enables her to feed the donkey and a single cow, which provides milk for the family. The income also pays for necessities like feeding and educating her children. Ardi explains: “Before I had the donkey cart, I couldn’t buy school books for my children, but now that I have an income I can.” By enabling Rahmo and her siblings to go to school, Ardi is giving her children the education that will enhance their chances of escaping food poverty in the future.

Read more about SOS Children's work in Ethiopia.