For years, Tigray’s primary economic driver has been agriculture, as the region’s people have made a living farming grain crops in its mountainous terrain. In recent decades, several factors have harmed Tigray’s agricultural industry, and in response government agencies and outside groups are working to bring aid to the people of Tigray and introduce new approaches to the agricultural process. Their long-term goal is to modernize Tigray’s economy so that the region’s people can continue to have a sustainable source of income and food.
For centuries, Tigrayan farmers have used ox-plows to repeatedly grow grain crops on the same land, which can deplete the soil of vital nutrients. This practice, combined with cycles of severe drought and flooding, as well as increased subdividing of available land, has led to declining harvests. In some cases, farmers can barely produce enough food to feed their families. Various charitable groups, such as the Tigray Development Association, have worked to supply people in Tigray with food and other basic needs, but outside aid is not a long-term solution. To truly become self-sufficient, Tigrayans must update their agricultural industry and diversify the region’s economy.
The following are several ways that Tigrayans and others are working together to create lasting change:
Establishing agro-processing parks
In 2015, the Ethiopian government announced that it would fund and construct four agro-processing industrial parks in four Ethiopian states, the first of 17 such parks it would build throughout the country. Until then, industrial parks only existed in and around Addis Ababa.
The government hopes that the parks will be a catalyst for the Ethiopian economy to shift from primarily farming to industry, according to economic experts. The agro-processing parks are expected to employ as many as 400,000 people throughout Ethiopia.
The first four parks are scheduled to be built in the Bure Gojam zone in Amhara, the Humera region of Tigray, Zeway Oromia, and Sidama in the SNNP regional states. The estimated cost for constructing the four parks is about 1 billion Ethiopian birr, bringing the total cost of establishing the parks to about 9 billion Ethiopian birr.
Construction of the Tigray agro-processing industrial park was announced in late 2016. The park will be in Ba’eher City in western Tigray on about 1,000 hectares. Mahindra, a firm based in India, is designing the park, and construction should begin by early 2017. The park should host about 200 agro-processing industries, according to Anteneh Zewde, the cooperation executive of the Tigray state’s industrial park.
The government of Ethiopia will pay all costs associated with building the Tigray park, which are estimated to be about 2.3 billion Ethiopian birr.
Irish Aid, a charitable organization, has helped Tigray farmers with a crucial issue: water scarcity. The region is naturally dry and arid, and rainfall can be unpredictable. To sustain crops, farmers need a reliable source of water throughout the growing seasons.
Irish Aid has taught farmers watershed management, which has included constructing terraces, water collectors, and small dams and planting trees, which help the soil retain water and increase its moisture level. By improving the water table, farmers can keep the soil damp, thus making it better able sustain the growth of crops.
The organization also has taught farmers to diversify their crops, which can increase productivity. The Tigray Agricultural Research Institute has showed farmers which crops are best for their land and instructed them in new farming methods that are catered to their situation. By adopting these practices, farmers can grow more nutritious crops, produce a higher yield, and enable their crops to better cope with disease and harsh or erratic weather conditions.
Exploring new farming options
Farm Africa’s work in the Tigray region focuses on the many women and young people who are struggling as the area’s population becomes denser and land to farm crops grows scarcer, leaving them with few options with which to earn a living. Focusing on Tigray’s central region, where about 80 percent of the people live in rural areas with significant rates of poverty and malnutrition, Farm Africa is helping communities make more money and gain access to more nutritional foods, such as milk, eggs, and vegetables.
To achieve this, Farm Africa is supporting women and young people in alternative types of farming, including beekeeping, raising poultry, and goat rearing. Communities are now planting fruit and vegetable orchards on rehabilitated land and are learning to produce seedlings in plant nurseries. They have also created a calendar that shows when shortage periods occur and are adding value to their crops through post-harvest processes, such as using green peppers to make pepper sauce.
Farm Africa estimates that it is helping more than 11,000 women and 400 young people who don’t have land by training them in food growing and processing techniques and giving them crops and livestock. Almost 50,000 people could indirectly benefit from this project, and Farm Africa has plans to work with Tigray’s regional government and other groups to create food security initiatives for other areas of Tigray.