|The Courier N° 145 - May - June 1994- Dossier : European Union: the Way forward - Country Report: Ethiopia (EC Courier, 1994, 104 p.)|
|Ethiopia: Emerging from a long Dark Age|
European Union helps promote rural development
'We value each and every coin that comes from outside that is supposed to go to the peasant level. If the project changes the life of a peasant, we value it very highly.'
Dr Teketel Forsido, Minister of Agriculture
The road out of Addis Ababa into the province of Shewa, to the north-east, takes you quite suddenly from a huge, teeming metropolis of small industry and trade into another world of emptiness and silence. Rolling hills stretch to every horizon. Dry thistles and, in the hollows, occasional cultivated patches of wheat, sorghum and tees wave in the steady breeze. Everything else near the capital has been grazed to the quick by sheep and cattle or cut down for firewood, and every rainy season torrential downpours carry more of the topsoil away for ever.
As you leave this blighted scene behind, the road rises into the highlands and twists and turns dramatically as it clings to the mountainsides above deep ravines. There start to be more signs of a living being made from the land. Agriculture is the livelihood of 85% of Ethiopia's population, and it is very clear in that landscape of farmers and herders that no policy for sustainable development will work if it caters mainly for the urban business class: it has to be geared to the peasant, and motivate him to play his part. That is, indeed, the Transitional Government's policy, and the European Union too is reorienting its resources for Ethiopia towards rural development in just such areas.
Some 90 kiLomrs from the capital, and hundreds of metres higher, lies the region of Bulga. Its rugged mountains were a natural defence during the Italian occupation of Ethiopia in 19361941: Mussolini's armies were never able to penetrate Bulga, and for years it was a stronghold of resistance. Though it suffered badly, it remained free, but over the decades that followed the same impenetrable terrain made Bulga a prison in which the region's quarter of a million inhabitants languished in isolation from the outside world.
After years of official neglect, in 1971 a rural development association was set up to help the population gain access to schools, medical assistance and markets for their farm products by building the first road through the middle of Bulga, from Sembo to the market town of Arerti. The scheme was a private initiative which won the support of the government's highway authority, and soon enough of the road had been built to enable the local people to reach a clinic. Ordinary people saw what the road could mean to them and, as well as supplying labour, began to contribute small amounts of money from their meagre earnings. Clearing and gravelling were proceeding well when, in 1974, the Marxist regime of the Derg took over and everything came to a standstill.
When Mengistu fell in 1991 and private enterprise came back into favour, one of the original promoters of the road, Gaitachew Bekele, decided with friends to revive the project as a sign by 'concerned citizens of their sense of humanitarian and national obligation to assist the underprivileged section of the rural community'. Mr Gaitachew and others like him, veterans of the wartime resistance, had time and energy to dedicate to this task, but for money and equipment they applied to the government and appealed to the international welfare organisations and donor agencies for help. The Government allocated 1 m birr (ECU 160 000) for roadbuilding equipment, a figure almost matched by the European Union's contribution of 929 000 birr to pay for fuel, lubricants and workers' overtime payments through a scheme known as Shewa PADEP (short for Peasant Agricultural Development Programme). The remainder of the cost, 90 000 birr, is to be borne - when they can afford it - by the local communities who will use the road, as an incentive to them to take an interest in its success.
The 35 km, gravel-surfaced road links the highlands to the rift valley and snakes across mountains at altitudes of up to 3200 metres. About halfway along it, on a blues near the village of Sekoru, stands another 1970s project halted during the Derg's time and now completed with European Union help. Sekoru is a small community of subsistence farmers most of whose children receive no schooling at all except in traditional farming skills. Even now there is no compulsory education at any level, even primary - the government says it wants to motivate peasant families into having their children educated, not force them. So its policy, as with the road, has been to involve the local community by asking them to help build and then maintain the school. Now that the stone and breezeblock structure is ready for use, the Ministry of Education will supply teaching staff, and it is up to the 150 families in Sekoru and two neighbouring villages to send their children.
The problem is that during the period of the Derg peasant communities were thoroughly demotivated by a system of education which, where it existed at all, was tightly controlled from the top down by political appointees. In Sekoru a small school put up in the early 1970s was wrecked, and parents interested in having their children educated had to send them to boarding schools in the towns. Added to this was the Derg's policy of resettling peasants far from their places of origin, with the result that many of the people now living in Sekoru are from elsewhere and are not certain whether they will stay, especially while the state's intentions regarding the ownership of land remain unclear. Recent crop failures have also made it hard for the villagers to contribute their share of the construction costs, though local people employed on the site have agreed to accept half the usual daily wage for building work; and Mr Gaitachew says that if the school charges fees no family will be able to afford them. So the building stands ready for use, with its six classrooms end houses for the leachers, but poverty - and a lingering suspicion among villagers of projects sponsored by central government - cast a cloud over the school's immediate future. The difficult job of persuading local people how much their children can gain from education now has to be done.
Some kiLomes further up the main road lies another project financed partly from the European Development Fund, a sheep breeding station occupying 550 hectares at the town of Debre Berhan. Founded 30 years ago, this is the oldest established farm in the country, and conducts a programme to improve the productivity of local sheep breeds by crossbreeding with exotic imported types. By crossing Awassi rams from Israel and Hampshire rams from Kenya with local ewes, the ranch produces offspring which are twice as heavy as the local sheep, and distributes these animals to Ethiopian farmers to improve their flocks. An EU commitment to help improve the infrastructure as part of Shewa PADEP was given in the last years of the Derg but, owing to political unrest and lack of materials on the local market, the aid did not start showing results until 1992. The cost of sheep development and of upgrading the ranch is 400 000 birr (some ECU 65 000), including the purchase of 500 local ewes to add to the 2000 head of sheep already at the station. Given the size of Ethiopia's farming population, the amount of work to be done is still vast, but this is making a useful contribution to improving the lives of many peasant families.
The results achieved by a very ambitious rural development scheme on the other side of Addis Ababa have been more mixed. A programme to help peasant coffee farmers in south-western Ethiopia has been running since LomII and covers nearly a third of the country's main coffee production area. The aim is to meet growing domestic demand and produce larger volumes for export by expanding the area under coffee and greatly improving the yields from existing farms. Coffee production, according to the Minister of Agriculture, is not actually second or even third priority for the Government - self-sufficiency in food has to come top - but the coffee sector employs one in four of the population and therefore warrants encouragement, especially when it comes to upgrading the quality. A further incentive is that farmers are now allowed to sell their beans at auction to the highest bidder instead of at a fixed price to a government buying agency, so the price to the producers has doubled. And the devaluation of the birr has made Ethiopian coffee more attractive to foreign buyers, leading to higher export sales.
Coffee grows wild in the provinces bordering on Sudan and Kenya and since time immemorial has been cultivated as a livelihood. However, local farmers have missed out on improved yields by neglecting or being ignorant of such techniques as pruning, mulching, fertilising and spraying, and have overlooked or not had access to disease-resistant cultivars. One success of the coffee improvement project has been to establish simple but effective nurseries for top-quality seedlings, which are then planted out with guidance from extension agents. Existing plantations, however, have remained in poor condition, and the government and the EU have agreed that the programme will now have to place the emphasis on managerial and technical assistance. Again, it seems that 17 years of overcentralisation have discouraged farmers from acting on their own initiative and made them mistrustful of interference, however well-intentioned, in their traditional practices. Here, as elsewhere, a whole new spirit of enterprise has to be encouraged to emerge. R.R.