Tony Rinaudo in Ethiopia, showing a farmer how to prune a tree stump to promote Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration.
Being in Humbo again recently was for me an emotional home coming. My first ever World Vision field visit in 1999 was to the Humbo woreda, in the Great Rift Valley of Ethiopia. The area had been the recipient of food relief to one degree or another since 1984, and this continued until very recently.
The barren hills shed the heavy seasonal rains which resulted in flooding, causing deaths, loss of livestock and property and destruction of crops. It wasn’t common to send children to school because they were required to assist with fetching water, fodder and fuel wood and with farming operations. Livestock were in poor condition due to shortages of fodder. There was no resource foundation upon which income generating activities could be built. Conflict over scarce resources was common.
What I witnessed when I returned to this community is amazing and a number of us have been deeply moved. Thanks to the practice of Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration and other agricultural interventions, things have changed dramatically. Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration is a deceptively simple approach that involves pruning and tending to the stumps and remains of trees that have been cut down. Because of the strong roots these plants already have in the soil, they are able to grow back quickly.
Take this family for example. They live at the base of the Humbo mountain. Every year they used to experience severe flooding which killed livestock, ruined standing crops and even stored grain, as well as threatening their lives.
Because of the flooding on crop land there was no reason to invest in agriculture to improve their yields. They were living in poverty and often hungry.
Since this family and others in the community started practising Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration, those floods have stopped. With assistance from World Vision and the Ethiopian Government’s Department of Agriculture, the father of this family invested in improved seed and fertilizer and began harvesting enough food to feed the family and have a surplus.
He boasted that whereas he couldn’t afford to send his children to school previously, now he has a daughter who is a practising veterinarian, a son who is a high school teacher and others who are doing well. Because the hill is now covered in trees and grass, his wife does not have to travel for hours to collect fuel wood and there is enough fodder for their livestock, and plenty to sell in the market to make extra money.
Cumulatively, these types of improvements across the communities have meant that farmers now actually sell grain to the World Food Program (since 2012), whereas before they had been on food relief to one degree or another since 1984.
The forest restoration in Humbo, which began in 2006, has also resulted in a surplus of fodder, creating a substantial hay market. All households now have enough fuel wood to meet domestic needs, and it is only a matter of time before significant sustainable wood markets emerge.
The project is renowned in the region for its market supply of traditional medicines and a dozen or so wild fruits have re-appeared after a four decade absence. Income generating opportunities are emerging, including tourism, marketing agricultural produce, sale of forest tree seeds, livestock fattening, honey, and more.
In the an area named Soddo, 13 springs that had run dry are now flowing again, six of them running all year. Soddo is the water tower for more than 3 million people in the district.
There is potential to bottle and even sell water in the future. Wildlife and life itself is coming back to the recently barren hills.
In the last four years Humbo cooperatives have earned $321,971 from selling carbon credits and have invested the funds wisely in grain mills, grain storage facilities and establishment of a credit scheme for members.
Soddo has just sold their first round of credits and have built tourist huts and are planning on building a kinder garden. They have plans for purchasing a bus and truck and want to develop tourism. All children reportedly can attend school and some parents are able to pay even secondary and university fees, malnutrition rates are way down, child health is up and a general sense of hope for the future, pride and wellbeing is noticeable.
It’s extraordinary the impact that these simple programs can have – again and again we are seeing entire communities transformed. A healthier environment helps to provide communities with the resources they need to live well – and that’s something World Vision is proud to be working towards.