Amare Kedebe Wede, Chief Executive Director of SUNARMA, paid a visit to the MRDF offices during a trip to the UK this month. SUNARMA (which stands for Sustainable Natural Resources Management Association) has been a partner of MRDF since 2003. Its vision is to see stable, empowered, productive and prosperous communities, living in a sustainable and productive environment.
Much of Ethiopia’s highland forest area is being destroyed by deforestation and overdevelopment. With financial and organisational help from MRDF, SUNARMA is working on a large-scale project to combat this in the Wof-Washa Forest in central Ethiopia.
Amare is well-placed to lead conservation and development projects: he has two MSc degrees in related subjects and has been working on agricultural development programmes since 1970.
MRDF: What are the main difficulties Ethiopia faces at the moment?
Amare: Recurring droughts. Every 3-5 years we experience a major drought. Over 300,000 people died from a drought in 1973. Ethiopia also has a difficult political history. We had a change of government, from an Imperial government to a socialist system, wars with Eritrea and Somalia, as well as internal conflicts.
Ethiopia is extremely poor - 85% of the population are rural subsistence farmers who use traditional farming methods. Their harvest continues to decrease due to soil degradation and deforestation. It’s impossible to farm enough to be self-sufficient. There’s a desperate need for modernization, better infrastructure and skills development.
MRDF: What impact, if any, is the changing climate having on Ethiopia?
Amare: The droughts themselves are clear evidence of climate change. People can see how things have changed since they were children.
MRDF: Is the situation deteriorating, or is there cause for hope?
Amare: The stability of the government and the fact there are no major wars have helped our country enormously. The government now has a chance to build health clinics, water systems, schools, etc. And the people are coping better with the situations they face. There is also a growing awareness of conservation issues: people are aware of the ruin deforestation causes.
In response to deforestation, SUNARMA is helping communities to plant trees and play a role in managing the forests, as well as helping people to find alternative ways to make a living.
Etagegnehu Bekele has benefitted from training in new agricultural techniques:
•She harvests up to 500 apples twice a year, and 80-100 kg onions
•Currently she has 100 kg of tomatoes in her field and about 80 kg garlic
•She harvests 80-100 kg of honey every year
•She has bred and sold 30 sheep, and now has 11.
As a result, she is able to covers her family expenses such as school fees and medication, as well as attending college. In the future she wants to work in the same area, but on a larger scale. She said:
‘It would be great if the project could give more opportunities to the youth groups in my community who are not yet participating but desperate to join and be as successful as me.’
Yigezu Agzew is a 68-year old man who had no experience of growing vegetables before receiving training from SUNARMA. Because of advice and training he received, he now earns about 10,000 Birr [around £360] from his vegetable crop, twice a year. Together with 17 other farmers, he has started a savings group, and in the future he wants to expand into apple production to generate more income.