Wednesday, 18 February 2009

IFAD had its "Yes we can" moment

10 minutes ago, IFAD's Governing Council appointed Dr Kanayo Felix Nwanze as the next President.

IFAD too, had its "Yes we can" moment! Mr Nwanze, a Nigerian national, served as IFAD's Vice-President. During his tenure as Vice-President Mr Nwanze was involved in numerous institutional processes, such as the Entreprise Risk Management, Quality Assurance, Knowledge management and many more.

As KM champion, Mr Nwanze managed to make KM a top priority for the organization and ensure that KM was embedded in all the core processes.

With Mr Nwanze as IFAD's next President, IFAD can boast to be one of few UN organizations that has the privilege and honour to have a KM champion as its leader.

Congratulations to Mr Nwanze and may the YES WE CAN tide expand its reach and touch many many more people.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Investment in the livestock sector is helping poor Eritrean farmers cope with their many challenges

In drought-prone Eritrea, livestock is a farmer’s most valuable asset. Eritrean farmers consider animal husbandry as one of their main lifelines and a form of insurance in times of drought and other types of disasters.

Recent World Bank statistics show that agriculture constitutes 18 per cent of GDP in Eritrea and that livestock plays a vital role in generating food and income. Livestock represents an affordable energy source for both lighting and cooking. It is also used for draught work, transportation and threshing. In addition, the animals provide an invaluable source of organic fertilizer. Rural households, particularly those without access to rural roads, make extensive use of livestock to transport a range of necessities and items from water to firewood to cargo.

The livestock sector was seriously damaged during the 1998-2000 Eritrea-Ethiopia border conflict. Today, climate change is exerting further pressure on the sector.

According to the Global Environment Facility (GEF), crop cultivation and animal husbandry account for 60 per cent of rural incomes in Eritrea. GEF models and estimates show that the anticipated climate change will adversely affect the agricultural sector in Eritrea. The models suggest that Eritrea will experience a decrease in rainfall and a rise in temperature over the coming decades. This will mean more dry spells and a reduction in soil moisture and will therefore negatively affect the pastoralist sector.

To face these challenges and assist poor rural people in overcoming their poverty, the Government of Eritrea, the Ministry of Agriculture and donors such as the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) have joined forces to rebuild the Eritrean agricultural sector.

IFAD-funded projects such as Gash Barka Livestock and Agricultural Development Project and the Post-Crisis Rural Recovery and Development Programme (PCRRDP) are providing the Eritrean Government and rural communities with assistance to revitalize the livestock sector and help the rural population engage in other agriculture-related activities.

Eritrean farmers and pastoralists are embracing dairy production systems

Zoba Debub, also known as the southern region, lies along the border with Ethiopia and shares its western border with the Gash-Barka region. The region has an area of 8,000 km2 and its rural population depends on farming and herding.

The Mendefera milk collection centre was built in 2000 and became operational in 2001 under the IFAD-funded Gash Barka Livestock and Agricultural Development Project. Today, the centre is fully managed by a farmers’ cooperative. The cooperative is composed of 435 dairy farmers. Almost 90 per cent of the cooperative’s members are small-scale farmers who own between one and five dairy cows. The cooperative has four large-scale farmers who have approximately 70 dairy cows and 40 medium-scale farmers who own 10-17 dairy cows.

Solomon Beraki is one of the cooperative’s small-scale farmers. He leaves his farm early each morning to bring his milk to the milk collection centre. "I travel approximately four kilometres, carrying the milk in yellow plastic jars tied to my bicycle", says Beraki.

At the centre, Goitun Gebregergis Mounjar, one of the technicians, tests the milk for adulteration. "When the farmer brings in the milk, it is tested to make sure it meets the required standards and the adulteration specifications," explains Mounjar.

"After these tests the milk is poured into a special container for blending. The blended milk is tested in the laboratory for quality control. Here it is checked and certified, and impurity, fat and protein content are recorded", explains Monjuar.

After the testing, the milk is transferred to the chilling tank, where it is kept at 4˚C. The tank can hold up to 3,000 litres", says Mounjar triumphantly.

"Once the milk passes the rigorous test, I register the amount in the ledger, wash the containers so that they are ready for tomorrow's expedition", explains Beraki.

"Before the project, we used to produce a maximum of two litres of milk and sold it in the village or immediate surroundings. Today, on average the small-scale farmers produce 10 litres per day which we sell at 12 nakfa (ERN) per litre", says Beraki with a smile. "As a result, I am able to send all my four children to school and I can pay hospital and medical fees when necessary and, most importantly, my family is well fed". He adds, "the cooperative staff have educated us about the nutritional value of milk and have also taught us to boil the milk before drinking it."

"Each day, the centre receives 1,200 litres of milk, which is sold locally to consumers at 14 nakfa per litre", says Mounjar. "The daily excess is sent the following day to Asmara where it is pasteurized and sold to supermarkets." "Every month, we send 20,000 litres of excess milk to Asmara", says Mounjar proudly.

One of the challenges facing Eritrean farmers is the shortage of forage such as alfalfa. Compared with other hay crops, alfalfa is a high-yielding forage plant and has high feed value.

"We know that if the animals have good feed, they will give more milk", says Beraki. "But the problem is that feed is scarce".

"I have five cows, I would like to have more, but that depends on the forage", explains Beraki. "I am now leasing forage land for 1,500 nakfa per year. If I were assured of good feed, I would be willing to pay more to have more forage land."

The Zoba Debub milk collection centre has improved the livelihoods of the cooperative’s members. Over the last seven years, the centre has provided the farmers and their households with a secure source of income and their children with a safe and secure source of highly nutritional food.

"The centre is flourishing and is self-sufficient" says Gbazghi Kefle, coordinator of the Post-Crisis Rural Recovery and Development Programme. "It is staffed by two technicians and is fully managed by the cooperative itself". "Its finances are also blooming; the cooperative holds 750,000 Nakfa in savings and thanks to the commitment of its members it has become sustainable", says Kefle.

"The cooperative's vision is to use part of the savings to set up a feed processing plant, to get a better equipped laboratory and, last but not least, to join forces with private-sector operators to set-up a pasteurization plant", says Kefle.

"Thanks to the Government's awareness-building campaign we've learned the benefits of pasteurized milk", says Beraki. "So we are keen to install a pasteurization plant which will allow us to pasteurize our milk and sell it at a higher price to the supermarkets in Asmara".

"IFAD’s assistance under the Post-Crisis Rural Recovery and Development Programme is helping the Mendefera milk collection centre to improve the quality certification laboratory", explains Abla Benhammouche, IFAD country programme manager for Eritrea.

"Together with the Government of Eritrea we are planning to replicate this experience in other sub-zoba (administrative regions) and promote zoba-wide cooperatives to meet the aspirations of many farmers."

Sudanese Hamerenya cattle help Eritrean pastoralists earn a better living

South of zoba Debub in Eritrea, lies Adi Quala, an agricultural town with 14,000 inhabitants. Here, a special breed of cattle imported from neighbouring Somalia has led to benefits for Eritrean pastoralists.

To help improve the livelihoods and enhance the food security of poor farmers in Eritrea, the IFAD-funded Post-Crisis Rural Recovery and Development Programme distributed 113 Sudanese Hamerenya or halfa breed cattle to small-scale farmers in four sub-zobas, including Adi Quala.

"This is a very special breed: it is docile, it is resistant to disease, it provides an aboveaverage milk yield, and it can be milked during pregnancy", says Gbazghi Kefle, the programme coordinator.

The households in Adi Quala that benefited from the distribution of the Hamerenya cattle have experienced a dramatic improvement in their living conditions in both economic and nutritional terms. This special breed produces twice the milk yield of local breeds. Thus the farmers produce enough for household consumption, ensuring an adequate level of protein and calcium intake for their families and still have a surplus to sell.

The Adi Quala farmers are too far away from the Debub milk collection centre to benefit from the cooperative's services. They have therefore created an informal trading network and sell a daily average of 3 litres of milk per day at 10-12 nakfa per litre to private consumers, restaurants and tea houses. Some farmers also make butter and sell it at 250 nakfa per kg.

Although the Hamerenya breed is highly resilient, good animal management is nonetheless of prime importance. The programme is providing the pastoralists with support to help them manage their cattle in the best possible way.

"We have sensitized the farmers to the need for good animal management if they wish to retain their current levels of income", says Kefle. "We encourage farmers to save and to use their savings not only to repay the loan for the cow, but also for vaccination and other activities related to animal management."

"As part of the animal management scheme, a vet visits the farmers on a monthly basis. Furthermore, the Adi Quala pastoralists are lucky enough to be able to avail themselves of a veterinary centre, just 30 minutes away from their farms", Kefle explains proudly.

To safeguard their investment and increase their income possibilities, the farmers have fully embraced good animal management. They regularly vaccinate their animals and have started to produce good feed such as alfalfa, which they are planting in their plots.

"The farmers are keen to manage their heads of livestock well, especially Hamerenya cattle because this breed is a good source of income and they need to repay their loan", explains Kefle. "The farmers have two options to repay their loan. They can either repay in cash (Nakfa 25,700) over a period of six years or repay it in kind over four years by giving a pregnant heifer ".

The Adi Quala farmers and pastoralists know that the livestock sector plays a crucial role in the Eritrean rural economy. They know that productive and healthy cattle and other livestock are the most important capital asset and a viable form of insurance in times of crisis. This is why they are committed to good animal management, are promoting livestock ownership, and are striving to increase production. Having heard about the success of the Debub milk collection centre, they are keen to replicate the cooperative's model in their own sub-zoba.

"In the coming years, the Ministry of Agriculture, with support from the Post-Crisis Rural Recovery and Development Programme, will provide the farmers with further capacity-building so that they can meet their objectives and fulfil their vision", says Abla Benhammouche, IFAD country programme manager for Eritrea.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Liquid gold helps Eritrean farmers defy the looming risk of drought

Logo Anseba is a subregion in Gash Barka. It is located in the highlands, 1,600-2,400 metres above sea level, and has a semi-arid climate. The farmers of Logo Anseba – like any other Eritrean farmer – grow crops and are engaged in horticulture and livestock activities.

Household plots range from a quarter hectare and one hectare, and barley, sorghum, millet, maize, wheat, chickpeas, beans and horse beans are cultivated. Some households have smaller plots of 0.1 – 0.2 ha, which they use for horticultural production. In addition, almost all the farmers own 3-5 heads of livestock.

These agricultural activities have helped improve the livelihoods and food security of poor rural families. Thanks to the IFAD-funded Gash Barka Livestock and Agricultural Development Project and the Post-crisis Rural Recovery and Development Programme, farmers are engaged in income-generating activities and can ensure adequate food security for their families. "Logo Anseba farmers are now selling dairy products such as milk and butter and at the same time their children are able to drink milk at least twice a day", says Gebregiorgio Tekle, an extension worker.

"Another income-generating activity is the sale of livestock. Farmers are able to sell a cow for up to 7,000 nakfa and a goat for 600 nakfa."

This year, drought is threatening the livelihoods of Eritrean farmers. However local farmer Hablemikael Luul will probably be less severely hit by the drought, as he is engaged in an alternative income-generating activity. Luul is one of the 150 bee-keepers in Logo Anseba.

The practice of bee-keeping dates back to 13,000 BC and is one of the oldest forms of food production. The Government of Eritrea has been supporting this practice for the last decade. In 1998, the Government introduced a modern bee hive production system. To encourage farmers to engage in this “new activity”, in 2000, the Government offered loans with a four-year grace period to purchase beehives.

"I got my bee-hives three years go. I have eight modern hives and one traditional one", says Luul "At the beginning it was not easy, as the bees used to fly away, then slowly but surely I got a handle on the situation and now I have a pretty good business".

Luul invested 1,000 nakfa for the big bee colonies and 500 nakfa for the small ones. Within three years, he managed to establish his business. "I've been paying back my loan for the last two years and have two more years to go".

While the drought may have a lesser impact on Luul's honey business, one of his biggest challenges is to make sure his bees have enough nectar, considering that honeybees need to visit 100 to 1,500 flowers to fill their honey stomachs.

"The bees use the euphorbia, eucalyptus and cordia Africana trees in the surroundings ", says Luul. "But often this is not enough to make the necessary nectar, so I need to feed the bees with sugar and water. I dissolve a kilo of sugar, for which I pay 30 nakfa, in a litre of water and put this inside the hive".

Luul harvests honey three times a year with his modern hives. The modern hives yield 30 kg and his traditional ones 20 kg per harvest. "I sell my honey for 180 nakfa per kg in the local market and sometimes I take it to Asmara", says Luul.

Luul received training in bee-keeping and is aware of the importance of protecting himself against bee, wasp and hornet stings.

When his family in Germany found out about Luul's new activity, they sent him a full body suit. Luul's wife also made a homemade one, which is sometimes used by other family members.

"I am really happy with my new business. This is much better than working on the farm", explains Luul with a smile. "I am getting old and farm work is really drudgery. Bee-keeping on the other hand requires less stamina and I make good money."

Luul's vision is to expand his business and produce another colony by swarming. "Hopefully when I expand the business I will be able to put aside some money and pay off my loan much faster," says Luul.

Luul is banking on his liquid gold to make a better life for his family and given the growing demand, he has a sweet future in store.

Eritrean farmers contribute to reducing green house emissions by embracing biogas technology

Biogas provides many rural poor women and men in developing countries with clean energy, electricity and cooking fuel all year round, and on a sustainable basis. The sustained energy source generated by biogas means that children have electric light to study in the evening. It allows women to engage in value-adding activities instead of collecting firewood. Thanks to biogas, rural kitchens are now smoke- and ash-free, which to less damaging to health. And horticulture plots are benefiting from the residual organic fertilizer.

Biogas plants are becoming more and more popular in the rural areas of developing countries. Biogas has the potential to become the “fuel of the poor” since it does not require a big investment and is environmentally friendly.

How does a biogas plant work?
Biogas provides energy from organic waste material. Cow dung converted to biogas provides a free, sustained and alternative source of energy. A number of developing countries are embracing this alternative source of energy by building small biogas units.

The Gash Barka Livestock and Agricultural Development Project has helped Tekie Mekerka, an Eritrean agropastoralist, to build a pilot biogas unit. The construction began in July 2007 and was completed in October 2007. Mekerka collects cow dung from his 30 cows and feeds it into his pilot on-farm biogas plant.

"Every day I take three wheelbarrows of cow dung and mix it with water, and then channel it to the fermentation pits", says Mekerka. "The pits have been properly dug. We used concrete and cement to make sure they are airproof".

Mekerka’s daily efforts and the fermentation process result in 65 per cent methane gas which is collected in a storage tank and piped directly to Mekerka's kitchen. It provides the family with fuel for cooking and lighting in an area where electricity is a luxury.

"Thanks to the gas produced, we no longer have to go out to collect wood for cooking, the kitchen is now smoke-free and the children can study at night, because we have electricity", explains an excited Mekerka.

"The residue cow dung goes to an outlet and is then used as fertilizer. This is absolutely great, because it has allowed the family to set up a vegetable garden."

Mekerka cultivates peppers, lettuce, pumpkins, courgettes and other crops on this plot.

"Biogas not only has given us cooking gas, it is giving us more food, thanks to a well-fertilized horticulture plot and, even more importantly, light", says Mekerka proudly.

How is biogas technology helping poor rural families?
Biogas technology is helping improve the livelihoods of poor rural people and reduce greenhouse gas emission. The use of biogas helps minimize the carbon emissions caused by burning fuelwood and the natural decomposition of organic waste. At the same time, this alternative form of energy reduces the use of fossil energy. Its utilization is also improving sanitation conditions as cow dung is no longer burned to generate power but channelled into the biogas digesters. Biogas plants also produce excellent organic waste, which is dried and used as fertilizer.

"This technology has great potential and we are hoping to establish the use of similar biogas plants among other farmers in Logo Anseba", says Taddese Kefle, animal production expert.

"It is encouraging to see small-scale farmers, agropastoralists and pastoralists embracing good environmental principles and contributing to reducing greenhouse emissions", says Abla Benhammouche, IFAD country programme manager for Eritrea. "Together with the Government we are working to build the capacity of local institutions and farmers by sensitizing them to these issues so that they are better equipped to meet their daily challenges".

An ancient form of water management helps Eritrean farmers meet their water needs

Water scarcity is one of the many challenges faced by Eritrea. The country has two perennial river systems, the Setit River, which forms the border with Ethiopia and drains into the Nile basin, and the Gash Barka system, which collects the run-off water from the highlands. All other rivers in the country are seasonal and carry water only after rainfall, which means that most of the year they are dry. The country has limited natural sources of fresh surface water and while groundwater can be tapped, often the quantity and quality leave much to be desired.

The average annual rainfall is approximately 380 millimetres. Rain is usually torrential, highly intense and falls for a short duration. It varies greatly from year to year.

The Gash Barka region, situated in the south-west of Eritrea, has a harsh climate and rainfall is limited and unreliable. The region borders Sudan to the west and Ethiopia to the south. It has a population of 567,000 and covers 37,000 km2, one third of Eritrea's surface area. Gash Barka was severely affected during the 1998-2000 border conflict with Ethiopia. Eight years after the conflict, one can still the remains of tanks and military hardware in the region.

Every three to five years, droughts cause partial or complete crop failure in Gash Barka. In years when crops fail, the survival strategy of farmers and herders is to sell their livestock and other assets.

The IFAD-funded Gash Barka Livestock and Agricultural Development Project introduced improvements in grazing and farming practices. Infrastructure works were carried out under the project: developing and improving spate irrigation systems by harnessing run-offs and diverting rivers and small streams; improving hafirs or ponds to provide water for livestock; and water harvesting to improve groundwater.

Spate irrigation – an ancient form of water management – is one of the most viable ways of supporting the livelihoods of economically marginalized farmers. It is different from conventional perennial irrigation and is used in areas prone to unpredictable and destructive floods particularly in arid and semi-arid areas.

How does spate irrigation work?
Spate irrigation is a form of floodwater harvesting. It is a resource system where floodwater is harnessed or ephemeral streams diverted to agricultural fields using earthen or concrete canal structures. It is considered as a pre-planting system where the flood seasons come first followed by the crop season. In Gash Barka and Debub, major floods occur between June and September and the main crop growing season is between September and February.

Spate irrigation systems are usually built in the plains around mountainous or hilly terrain so that they can collect run-off, allowing the low-lying fields to store moisture for crops during the cropping seasons.

"Farmers can start planting their crops only after the floodwater harvesting", explains Efrem Tekle, crop specialist from the Ministry of Agriculture. "Since the timing, volume and number of floods are highly unpredictable, this type of agriculture is risk-prone. Farmers need to cooperate closely with each other in managing the distribution of flood flows and also in managing and maintaining the spate irrigation system."

The Government of Eritrea, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Gash Barka Livestock and Agricultural Development Project financed the construction of spate irrigation systems in the Gash Barka region.

The Hashenkit River Diversion project is strategically situated to serve 14 villages and a total of 1,300 families, of which 20 per cent are headed by women.

The farmers in this region plant traditional sorghum. Sorghum is the fifth most important cereal crop after wheat, rice, maize and barley in Eritrea but the premier crop in Gash Barka. It is used as food, feed, fodder and fuel.

"We know that improved sorghum is better quality and has high production value, but given the water scarcity we’re faced with, we prefer to plant traditional sorghum because it needs less water", says Adam Humed, a farmer.

"Before the spate irrigation system, we were engaged in rainfed farming and our yield never exceeded 5 quintals (500 kg) per hectare", explains Humed. "Spate irrigation has increased our yield up to sixfold, which means 20-30 quintals (2,000 kg to 3,000 kg) per hectare. As a result, we are able to feed our children and buy new livestock."

Spate irrigation like any other infrastructure needs to be maintained and requires farmers' organizations to establish a good relationship with local government so that they can jointly administer and maintain the infrastructure. At the same time, the farmers need to administer the spate system by collaborating and agreeing on equitable water distribution.

"We will be meeting with local government to propose that if they help us with the levelling, silage removal and channel improvement, we will take charge of maintaining the spate", says Humed.

Looming shadow of drought
"Drought is one of the many challenges that we face, and it follows a 3 to 5 year cycle", states Humed. "This year we had only 10 millimetres of rain, which means a decrease in food production and more vulnerability."

"The Gash Barka region has approximately 3.5 million heads of livestock," explains Humed. "In this community, approximately half of the households own livestock and on average each household has six to seven heads of livestock".

The pastoralists consider their livestock as a valuable resource. "Livestock is a source of money, because we can sell them when faced with hard times", says Humed. "During good times we have learned to put aside 10 per cent of our income towards a community saving scheme. As a result, today we have 240,000 nakfa in our savings account, which we use in times of crisis".

The Ministry of Agriculture and the IFAD-funded projects are conducting capacity- and awareness-building campaigns to show the benefits of good storage mechanisms as an alternative way of coping with crises such as drought.

"The awareness campaign is helping pastoralists and farmers understand that during drought the price of livestock will decrease substantially because there is an over-supply", says Yordanos Tesfamarian, Senior Economist at the Ministry of Agriculture

"The extension workers are showing the farmers how to take advantage of a bumper year by investing in proper storage, so that when drought hits they have food and also the possibility of selling their surplus at a higher price".

"By working together with the farmers to find out their needs and aspirations and involving them in decision-making processes, we are building their capacities and those of their institutions so that they can advocate for themselves", explains Abla Benhammouche, IFAD country programme manager for Eritrea.

"This is how we are ensuring full ownership and sustainability".

Women entrepreneurs in Eritrea contribute to rural household income

Women have always played an important role in Eritrean society. During the struggle for independence, they helped transform Eritrean society and today they contribute substantially to the agriculture sector and to the income of their households.

Like all women around the world and especially those in developing countries, the women in the Gash Barka region of Eritrea start their daily activities bright and early. They not only take care of the household chores, but are also very involved in agricultural activities.

"We raise livestock and we work on the farm. Recently the National Eritrean Women's Association and the IFAD-funded Gash Barka Livestock and Agricultural Development Project organized a series of workshops where we learned to weave mats and fans using palm leaves", says Brri Weldemariam, member of the women's association.

Every morning, Brri Weldemariam and Tebelsm Estfons take their livestock for grazing for about an hour in the semi-arid highlands of Gash Barka. After bringing back the livestock from pasture, they equip themselves with their yellow jerry cans and set out on another one-hour expedition, this time with their donkey, to fetch water from the village centre water pump.

Back home, after attending to the household chores and cooking a meal for the family, they get together with the other women of the community and put into practice their newly acquired skill – weaving fans, mats and baskets from palm leaves.

"We received training on how to work with palm leaves", explains Weldemariam proudly. "Recently we have started using dye to make more attractive and marketable objects."

"On a monthly basis we make approximately 50 fans, which we sell locally for 3 nakfa. We sell the mats for 30 nakfa and the baskets for 10 nakfa," says Estfons.

"Before we did not have any source of income and depended entirely on our husbands' income".

"Now that we are engaged in this income-generating activity we not only have an opportunity to socialize with other women but are also making money. This is allowing us to buy food for the family and also raw material such as dye for our new activity," says Weldemariam with a smile.

"Our dream is to open a shop on the main road, which gets a lot of traffic, to sell our hand-made products," say Weldemariam and Estfons.

"We just need a bit more training to take this newly acquired trade to the next level. This way we will be able to produce better quality products, which will allow us to sell in bigger markets such as Asmara."

Rural development projects around the world have demonstrated that investing in rural women is a secure way of enabling poor rural households to overcome poverty. Rural women are resourceful and keen to go the extra mile to learn new skills and engage in income-generating activities. And Eritrean women are no exception.