Boset, 7 April 2017
I met Sisay in the first stakeholder workshop we held in March 2017 for a research project called “Assessing and Enhancing the Resilience of the Teff and Cocoa value chain” (AERTCvc). This project is part of one of the flagship projects of the World Food System Center. The purpose of this workshop was to gather key stakeholders of the teff value chain in Ethiopia and establish a transdisciplinary platform. During this workshop, the participants shared their challenges, opportunities, needs and expectations in relation with the ‘teff food system’ and they identified key effects of drought and untimely rainfall on their activities. The discussions among the stakeholders the two-day workshop enabled us to forge links and participants to take ownership of this project, among them Sisay the teff farmer.
Why is Teff that important?
Teff is a lovegrass native from Ethiopia and is considered a key staple food crop for the country. It is adapted to conditions ranging from drought stress to waterlogged soil and is critically important food crop throughout the country; over a hundred million people consume it on a daily basis as injera (a pancake of fermented teff flour). Currently, the government has imposed an export ban on it, in order to ensure national consumption and tackle food security issues within the country.
Sisay Tekiselsie is a Model Farmer, in his village, Welench’ti, everyone knows him. He was selected years ago by the government for his successful work and his farming aptitudes. Besides his farming activities as a teff producer, Sisay is the director of the seed cooperative, that plays an important role in supplying the farmers of the region with appropriate teff seeds – usually, cooperative leaders are responsible for the overall administration and management of the business, and accountable for linking the business with stakeholders. He is also developing a prototype of microdosing machine; an innovative tool, which plants teff seeds and fertilizer at the same time, to support the hard labor of farmers in the region, that is mainly manual with the help of oxen, donkeys or camels.
Boset, a rural area affected by weather events
Welench’ti is located 114 km south-east of Addis Abeba, in Oromia – the biggest region of Ethiopia. Since 2014, a severe drought has affected this rural area called Boset. High temperatures and lack of rain over the last 3 years has severely impacted production. Even though teff is supposed to be resistant to drought, the intensity of the latest one is such that it affects not only farmers, but all the other stakeholders of the Teff value chain: traders, millers, processors and – obviously- the consumers. That is to say that this recent drought is affecting everyone in the region, especially the poor.
It’s 7 am and Sisay joins us in the small shop by the end of his street. This grocery is owned by a young couple that sells sodas and a few uni-dose biscuits. Here we are, the seven of us gathered around a bunna (coffee in Ethiopian) to set our objectives for the day: four researchers and one driver from the EIAR (Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research) of Debre Zeit, Sisay the model farmer and me. Today, the goal is to interview around 40 farmers and consumers on their ability to be resilient to drought and to do so, we will go to Borchetta.
18 km away from Welench’ti, we reach the village of Borchetta and its 6000 inhabitants. The first we see and hear are the children. Some big smiles are exchanged and Hailu, a farmer and workshop participant, appears to welcome us and to present us to his peers. They come gradually to introduce themselves and give us their time to answer our questions. They understood we were going to talk about teff, drought, and resilience. It’s not the first survey they have done. Just like us, other scientists, consultants or even members of the government had come to ask questions on the situation. We are all gathered on the side of the road. As more farmers are slowly joining us, village elders and more and more children come too – It seems they are playing on or around the road while avoiding the passing traffic.
The survey team takes out their tablets and we start with the first questions:
- Name? …
- Total farm size this year? The size of the farm last year? …
- Total production of Teff this year? Last year? Two years ago? …
Among all the farmers interviewed, the trend shown by the answers is unanimous. The size of the farms is decreasing drastically, as is teff production, reaching 0 in 2016 for all surveyed farmers. ZERO. In other words, no production means that these farmers and their family are fully and heavily impacted by the effects of the drought. They rely completely on the government's support: regularly organized distributions of wheat and other cereals for the families in that area.
One man told us that he shared one injera per day with his family – they are ten counting the grand-parents and the children. One of the farmers was explaining that instead of using only teff to prepare the injera, he was now replacing most of it with other cheaper grains – such as sorghum, maize or even rice. As we were conducting the interviews, we understood that in order to keep up, farmers had to sell their assets: Oxen, cattle, land, etc. Sometimes, they had no other option but to leave the village and find new ways to survive and sustain their family in bigger cities.
The need to react
Given the magnitude of the impacts of the drought, it seems crucial to question its causes and to focus subsequently on the scenarios that could enhance the recovery and adaptability to this climatic event. Especially since the Oromia Region is now classified as in an acute phase of food insecurity, induced not only by some conflicts, but also by the drought. Climate change and food security appear to be central in this context, and this survey arose as a striking reminder of its effects on the lives of too many people. These two domains are particularly fascinating, but especially alarming and it is surely one of the reason, which pushed me to begin my doctoral thesis in this field; this survey was the perfect opportunity to learn on how to carry out similar surveys for my own thesis. Furthermore, the experience of interviewing hundreds of people on the effects of weather events on food security and their livelihood gives it a different dimension. I feel that this survey led me to reshape and enhance my role as a scientist, witness but also actor regarding those global changes. It raises for me the need to act more mindfully on each decision that might affects other and adjust my attitude on what I ought to do on a daily basis. Finally, it strengthen my wish to inform more people on this subject to enable them to act and react more appropriately.
Well, it’s already 6 pm, and time to leave Borchetta. We thank everyone for their precious time and information they shared. The kids are screaming, the adults waving goodbye. I take back the tablets to upload the results of todays’ survey on my computer, and we are already planning the next day of interviews. This will be our daily routine for the next few weeks. We will interview hundreds of stakeholders of the teff value chains; we will hear many stories, from the input supplier to the consumer. Each of them will have information to kindly share with us. We will certainly learn a lot about the situation and hopefully come up with plausible scenarios to assess and enhance the resilience of this food value chain.
Debre Zeit, 7 November 2017
Seven months after this day in Borchetta, we are back for the second workshop of the AERTCvc project. With the same group of stakeholders, willing to share their knowledge and play creative games to identify measures to cope with climate change events. I am happy to find among them Sisay.
Around a bunna, like we were used to do, we exchange a bit (he doesn’t speak English and I only learnt few words in Amharic). That day, I found out that over the last month the rains have been good. Teff production in Boset area increased – maybe enough to feed the population, to help them to rebuild. Very good news!
Short movie made for the second workshop.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kenza Benabderrazik is a doctoral candidate at ETH Zurich, Switzerland. Her research focuses on the resilience of tomato producers in face of weather events and markets instability in Morocco and Ghana. Although her great enthusiasm and interest for this project, she particularly loves to spend her time discovering new music, places and tastes.