Wag-Himera Zone in Amhara National Regional State in the Northern Ethiopian highlands is characterized by predominantly semi-arid climate, mean annual rainfalls ranging of 350 to 800 mm, a high variability of rainfall, very limited arable land (only about 17% of the land is suitable for crop production), fragmented land holdings and a mixed crop-livestock farming system. Through the famines of 1973 and 1984, Wag-Himera Zone became well-known as an area of chronic food insecurity, high rate of malnutrition and severe environmental degradation. The soils, vegetation and watersheds of the Wag-Himera zone have been severely deteriorated due to a combination of the rouged topography, uncontrolled open access grazing and ploughing or hoe tilling in extremely steep slopes. This has left the zone highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, in particular droughts and extreme rains.
With the objective to overcome the chronic food insecurity and repeated relief aid in the area, Helvetas launched the Wag-Himera Rural Future Initiative
project in 2013, founded on a strong partnership with the local government of Wag-Himera zone and community based institutions. This project was followed by a contiguum of other projects, all aiming to strengthen the capacity of local administrations, extension services, community based organizations and the private sector in order to foster long-term strategies for resilience building. Key intervention strategies of the projects are 1) rehabilitation of severely degraded watersheds, 2) enhancing food security and agricultural productivity through improved farming and household asset building and 3) development of improved rural urban linkages and the establishment of value chains.
Helvetas’ experience in the zone shows that linking relief, rehabilitation and development (LRRD) enables multiple projects, working at different stages of the disaster cycle, to reinforce and complement their actions contributing to the resilience. The key entry point for enhancing food system resilience in Wag-Himera is sustainable natural resources management combined with locally adapted improved agriculture solutions:
- Intensive hillside farming through bench terraces: Since 2013, bench terraces were successfully initiated and promoted as an effective soil and water conservation measure to repair and control the damaging impacts of ploughing in extremely steep slopes of Wag-Himera.
- Moisture conservation tillage: Helvetas promoted contour ploughing, broad furrowing, tied ridging and the use of moisture conservation tilling devices to reduce rainwater runoff and erosion and to increase water infiltration. Compared to conventional tilling, the new practice enhanced farmer’s yields by 33 to 47 percent.
- Promotion of controlled grazing and fodder production: The project promoted controlled grazing, cut and carry practices, the provision of supportive grazing tools such as peg and rope for livestock tethering and the planting of multi-purpose tree seedlings to boost fodder sources. Through this, a total of 6,650 ha of land were preserved.
- Roof water-harvesting system: In the absence of safe ground-water or springs, Helvetas has developed the Kalamino Cistern (Image 1) as an innovative solution to overcome the severe drinking-water constraints.
- Effective homestead gardens: Through in-situ water harvesting such as ring basin infiltration pits (Slider) and ponds collection of run-off rainwater (Image 2) is promoted, allowing families to do perma-gardening, and vegetable and fruit production. The horticulture produce generates additional income and enriches the diets of the families.
- Promotion of diversified livelihood options: A set of high value, nutritious and drought tolerant crops were introduced to households. In addition, backyard poultry and beekeeping were strengthened – all valuable contributions to the families’ nutrition as well as a source of income to purchase supplementary food during periods of shortage. During the 2015/16 drought, as a part of recovery measures, Helvetas promoted the Madagascar bean, a drought resistant, nutrient rich and high yielding crop.
- Humanitarian relief to absorb 2015/16 shock: In order to meet the immediate needs of communities in Wag-Himera during the drought, Helvetas launched a short-term humanitarian response project, providing families with drinking water, livestock feed and seed. The intervention helped sustain the absorptive capacities of the families.
- Social and economic empowerment of women: Across all projects, Helvetas put an emphasis on the access of women to resilience building capacities and assets. The projects foster access of women to extension services for improved agronomic practices, effective low cost technologies and alternative options for income generation.