Tag: Ethiopia

Ethiopia’s child brides see marriage as key to jobs abroad – study

Ethiopian immigrants returning from Saudi Arabia arrive at Addis Ababa's Bole International Airport on December 10 2013.  Each year, thousands of Ethiopians facing harsh economic realities at home seek work in the Middle East, but many face abuse, low pay and discrimination. (Pic: AFP)
Ethiopian immigrants returning from Saudi Arabia arrive at Addis Ababa’s Bole International Airport on December 10 2013. Each year, thousands of Ethiopians facing harsh economic realities at home seek work in the Middle East, but many face abuse, low pay and discrimination. (Pic: AFP)

Up a bumpy, winding dirt track in the mountains of northern Ethiopia, past two bulls chewing pasture and a rondavel built from sticks and cow dung, is the modest home of Lubaba Abdella, its mudbrick walls reinforced by eucalyptus bark and topped by a corrugated roof.

Abdella has lived a lifetime, yet she is still in her teens. She dropped out of school, married, divorced three months later and emigrated illegally so she could cook and clean for a family in Saudi Arabia, earning money to support her parents and eight siblings. Now she is home and back to square one.

Three-quarters of girls in the Ethiopian region of Amhara become child brides like Abdella, according to the London-based Overseas Development Institute. Many also join the so-called “maid trade”: up to 1 500 girls and women leave the east African country each day to become domestic workers in the Middle East. A study has shown for the first time how these pernicious trends feed off each other.

In Ethiopia’s Muslim communities it is often deeply shameful or “sinful” for girls to remain unmarried after they begin menstruating, notes the ODI. But once girls are married and sexually initiated, parents consider their social and religious obligations complete.

The thinktank’s researchers in Amhara found it was therefore becoming common for parents to insist on marriage followed by a swift divorce so that their daughter was free to migrate and send her earnings home to her parents, not her husband. The fact a girl had already been “deflowered” meant she was seen as less likely to be disgraced by foreign men. “It’s a question of virtue and virginity,” one local researcher said. “Better to lose it in a dignified way.”

Girl Summit
The findings are being released ahead of the first Girl Summit, hosted by the British government and Unicef on Tuesday with the stated aim of ending female genital mutilation and child marriage within a generation. The ODI will warn that parents who see their daughters as commodities are pushing record numbers of girls into abusive early marriages. Some 39 000 child brides marry every day – 14 million a year – often against their will. Amhara has Ethiopia’s lowest average marriage age – 14.7 years – and one of its highest illiteracy rates.

Abdella, now 19, illustrates the constrained choices and warped pragmatism that many here face. She was 16 when she dropped out of school for an arranged marriage to a 22-year-old. It lasted only three months. “He used to hit her,” said Abdella’s mother, Zeyneba Seid. “They didn’t like each other so divorce was inevitable.”

It was hastened when Abdella’s husband wanted to seek work abroad. Speaking Amharic through an interpreter, she recalled: “If a man migrates alone to the Middle East, he will cheat on you. But it’s difficult to migrate with your husband and still support your family. That’s why I wanted a divorce.”

Nevertheless, Abdella believed even her short-lived marriage would be an advantage overseas. “I was told I’m young and it’s better if I know what marriage is before migrating. People in the Middle East might force us to sleep with them. If a girl has been married and goes to Saudi and is raped, it’s not as bad as for one who’s single. If she’s single and bears a child, it’s really difficult to come back here. But if she’s been married, it’s OK.”

The ODI found that some girls also choose to migrate, against their parents’ wishes, out of a sense of filial piety that tends to be weaker in boys. Abdella says it was her own decision because her family was in poverty, farming just one hectare of land. Notably she has an elder brother who is still at school. “He was asked to migrate but he wanted to continue his education, so I had to go and earn. I wanted my family to be better off.”

For the residents of Hara, a remote mountain village where the air fills with birdsong, cocks crowing and the Muslim call to prayer, and the streets with bajajs (motorised three-wheeled rickshaws), camels and boys herding goats, Saudi Arabia offers an alluring promise of riches just as America once did to Europe’s huddled masses. The results can be seen in a series of neat concrete houses with colourful paintwork, barred windows and a sprinkling of satellite dishes that have sprung up in the past five years, funded by wages from the east. Owning a corrugated roof is a status symbol here. For those still living in older houses made from mud and thatch there is the perpetual struggle of keeping up with the Joneses.

“Seeing the houses that were built makes you wish you’d migrated,” said Abdella, who sleeps with her family on the floor of two cramped rooms. “We have a lot of needs: clothes, shoes. Most of the time we cannot afford them, whereas people in Saudi had money.”

Working in Saudi Arabia
It is now illegal under Ethiopian law for anyone under 18 to migrate to work but Abdella, like thousands of others, got a passport by using a fake ID and lying to the authorities that she was 27. The entire process cost 15 000 birr (£445). She cooked, cleaned and washed clothes for a Saudi couple and their three children and was paid 800 riyals (£125) a month, paying off the debt and earning enough for her family to be connected to electricity and water and cover food bills.

The job came to an end after 20 months when Saudi Arabia carried out a mass deportation of illegal foreign workers. “I’m doing nothing at the moment,” sighed Abdella as two chickens scampered across the house’s dirt floor. “Seeing my family suffering here, I don’t want to remarry, I just want to support my family. I want to go back to the Middle East. There’s no other option because the wage is really low here.

“My younger sister, who’s 15, is planning to go. I advise her to because she can earn more and do whatever she wants. But she would have to marry first – it’s our custom.”

The pattern of marriage and divorce is becoming increasingly common. Aesha Mohammed (16)  recently married a man six years her senior, only to divorce after two months because she refused to quit school. Her elder sister also married and divorced, then migrated to work in Saudi Arabia. Mohammed, who wants to become a doctor, said: “Sometimes when I joke with her, ‘I want to drop out of school and come to Saudi’, she says no, stay in school because it’s hard there. There is a lot of work and it’s a burden.”

The journey to get there can also be treacherous. For some it involves more than a week on foot to Djibouti, then a six-hour boat ride to Yemen after dark, followed by 15 to 20 days travelling by road to Saudi Arabia. Habtam Yiman (24) who married aged 12 and has married twice since, said she was detained in Yemen because officials did not believe she had a sponsor. “They check your blood type and take some of it for the hospital,” she said. “I saw a man whose blood was completely drained out of him and he was left to die.”

Yet still thousands are pouring in for the sake of their families. The ODI, which hosted a field visit by the Guardian last week, reports that some girls go because they “feel inferiority” and have been “seduced by the glamorous stories” told by illegal brokers. The fate that awaits them can include overwork, non-payment, social isolation and abuse.

When Zemzem Damene set off to work in Kuwait, she was a normal girl who wanted to earn money and be like her friends. Today she is confused, withdrawn and virtually mute, a stranger to her own family. Something happened to Damene in Kuwait and no one knows exactly what.

As the 20-year-old peered nervously from under her veil and picked at her hand, her mother, Engocha Sete, recalled: “She wanted to go and I couldn’t stop her. She said her friends went to the Middle East and brought home shiny objects. She wanted that and she had to have what she wished for.”

Her father, Damene Alemu, added: “I was sad she wanted to go. I asked her to marry here but she said, ‘You don’t have a lot of money to marry me off, it’s not logical.’ Marriage is an expensive thing for the father, with buying clothes, organising a party, paying two months of utilities. She said it’s best that she go off to the Middle East.”

But the plan backfired and Damene actually lost more money than she made, forcing the family to sell cattle. According to Alemu, his daughter’s first employer took all the money she had and even the clothes she brought from home, and that was the start of her decline. “She went to a hospital in Addis Ababa but they didn’t tell us what the problem was, only that it’s a mental illness.”

Damene’s mother added pensively: “She doesn’t do anything now. She doesn’t speak much. Most of the time she sleeps. Now she’s sick, there’s nobody wants to marry her. If she gets better, we’d like her to get married. But because she’s lost so much, the only thing she talks about is money.”

Ethiopia’s building boom driven by rapid economic growth

Above Addis Ababa’s concrete skyline, cranes tower high amid blasts from nearby drills and diggers. At the feet of buildings shrouded in bamboo scaffolding, excavators dig up dirt tracks, to be replaced by paved roads and a modern railway.

It is a scene common to most neighbourhoods in the Ethiopian capital, which has turned into a giant building zone and a city in transformation.

“It looks like a construction site when we compare from the previous time,” said Berhanu Kassa, manager of B.B. Construction in the Ethiopian capital.

“Especially in the past five years, it’s a really big change,” he added, speaking at the site of his latest project, a mixed-use commercial building on one of the city’s main thoroughfares where workers offload concrete slabs from a delivery truck.

Addis Ababa’s construction boom – funded both from private and public coffers – is being driven by the country’s recent rapid economic growth.

But the government hopes it will attract further investment and help industrialise the economy in order to reach middle income status by 2025.

A light railway under construction in Addis Ababa on January 15 2014. The Addis Ababa Light Railway system contracted by the China Railway Group Limited will have a total of 41 stations. (Pic: AFP)
A light railway under construction in Addis Ababa on January 15 2014. The Addis Ababa Light Railway system contracted by the China Railway Group Limited will have a total of 41 stations. (Pic: AFP)

The public works projects, worth billions of dollars, include new roads, railways and massive power generation schemes across the country.

Meanwhile the majority of new buildings are owned by private investors, who by law must be Ethiopian citizens.

The development promises to boost Ethiopia’s economic growth, officially 9.7% last year, though the International Monetary Fund (IMF) pegs it at closer to 7%.

“The basic engine blocks of economic transformation are the infrastructure,” said Zemedeneh Negatu, managing partner and Ernst & Young in Ethiopia.

“The Achilles heel of Africa is power, lack of power, lack of road networks, lack of the basic needs that you need to transform your economy.”

Few other opportunities
But analysts point out that the boom in construction is also a symptom of the weakness of the financial system, which leaves the business community with few investment opportunities outside of the sector.

“This is the most attractive investment opportunity in the country for the time being since we do not have a financial market that is working properly,” said the head of the IMF mission in Ethiopia, Jan Mikkelsen.

“There’s no financial markets, no stock exchange, so real estate investments seem to be the most attractive from that point of view,” he added.

The majority of the new buildings are hotels, apartments and offices.

Most are being built by Ethiopian-owned construction firms, though foreign-owned contractors from China or Turkey are cashing in too.

The government said the big push in the sector – which is bolstered by state-led incentives such as tax breaks and ready access to land – is driven by the need to create jobs for Ethiopia’s 91 million people, about one in four of whom are unemployed.

“We are struggling to eradicate poverty and create jobs,” said Desalegne Ambaw, state minister for urban development and construction.

Officials say four million jobs have been created in the last three years, including an increase in construction sector employment.

But Mikkelsen warns that resources should not be pooled too heavily into infrastructure projects, no matter how crucial for development.

“There is a need for construction, but of course there’s a limit to how much you can get out of that and these are potential resources that could have been used for other means and maybe more export-oriented businesses as well given that there is an urgent need for more foreign exchange,” he said.

Imports outweigh exports by a factor of four, according to IMF data, which starves the country of foreign exchange.

A city transformed
The ambitious state-funded infrastructure projects also threaten to strain public finances in Ethiopia.

IMF forecasts see the public deficit possibly swelling to 44% of gross domestic product within several years, nearly double the current level that means the country is borrowing a fifth of what it spends.

As it is, the financing shortfall for public works projects is already ten percent of GDP.

But for now, Berhanu said he is grateful for the government’s focus on the construction sector, since his business is booming.

“From a business perspective we are busy, sometimes it is even beyond our capacity,” he said, adding that his company has grown from three people to over three hundred over the last 20 years.

Berhanu said Ethiopia’s economic growth is fuelling the expansion of his business by creating a demand for new infrastructure, and he in turn was contributing to this by creating employment and supporting local industries.

“I hire a lot of workers here, I use a lot of local materials, I use a lot of subcontractors and because of that all we grow together and the country benefits,” he said.

Zemedeneh is confident it will continue to attract investors from abroad who witness the country’s growth for themselves and said he only expects the city’s transformation to continue.

“The bottom line is you will not recognise Addis if you come 10 years from now, it will be a completely, completely different city,” he said.

Ethiopian seed bank’s novel approach to preserving diversity under threat

(Pic: Flickr / IITA)
(Pic: Flickr / IITA)

There is concern that the work of small farmers as custodians of diversity will be undone by the G8 New Alliance, writes Claire Provost

Inside the Ethiopian Institute of Biodiversity’s unassuming office complex in Addis Ababa, a series of vaults houses tens of thousands of seed samples tightly sealed into small envelopes and neatly catalogued in cold storage – a treasure trove of genetic diversity painstakingly assembled and set aside for future generations.

Founded in 1976, Ethiopia’s national seed bank is the oldest and largest of its kind in sub-Saharan Africa. It is also part of a pioneering experiment to link scientists with small-scale farmers to collectively revive and conserve traditional, indigenous seeds in the face of drought and other threats.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that 75% of the genetic diversity of agricultural crops worldwide was lost over the course of the 20th century.

Melaku Worede, the former head of the seed bank, says recurrent droughts have put the country’s agricultural diversity at risk, a problem compounded by farmers in some areas abandoning their local varieties for new, high-yield, commercial seeds.

Hundreds of other respositories, including the famed Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway and the UK’s Millennium Seed Bank, have cropped up around the world to store and save samples of major crops and their wild relatives. But funding shortages and political upheaval have threatened collections in some countries. Other samples have been in storage for decades, and may be dead, prompting fears that seed banks are turning into seed museums or morgues.

In Ethiopia, scientists have taken a different approach, opening their doors and collections to farmers and spearheading new partnerships with rural communities.

Farmers’ knowledge has been discounted by too many for too long, says Melaku. “They are underestimated out of prejudice … but we have to give due credit, and farmers also have to be rewarded for being custodians of our natural wealth.”

Melaku was head of the seed bank in the 1980s, when drought and acute food crises threatened the lives of hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians. “I thought, what are we doing? We have one of the best facilities and yet cannot help. I thought then of doing more than just storing seeds.”

Melaku and his colleagues left the capital for rural areas where they found farmers eating the seeds they would have normally planted or saved. Alarmed, they gave out raw grain in exchange for the farmers’ seeds, to be returned after the drought.

Soon the scientists were launching rescue missions and expeditions to collect and conserve seeds. They also experimented with community banks that could house bigger volumes of seeds and keep them in farmers’ hands.

Just south of Addis Ababa, hundreds of dark, tightly sealed jars are filled with legume, pulse and cereal seeds and stored on tall wooden bookshelves at the Ejere community seed bank. After each harvest, local farmers deposit samples, and in exchange get access to the bank’s stores.

Regassa Feyissa, who worked with Melaku for several years, says community seed banks offer the chance to conserve genetic diversity at the level of local farmers, where seeds are dynamically and frequently exposed to changing environmental conditions rather than held in suspension at sub-zero temperatures, while serving as a grain reserve in times of crisis.

Outside the Ejere bank, Tadesse Reta is planting wooden stakes in the ground, labeling sections of tilled land with the names of crops planted. Tadesse, 47, a local farmer, says he is looking forward to the bank’s forthcoming “field day”, where up to 400 farmers are expected to inspect crops, and debate the merits of the various seed varieties.

This is how participatory plant breeding works, Regassa says. “There is no recipe for developing varieties. It depends on who wants what.”

It is also an interesting approach for scientists, he adds. Unlike formal research, which looks for seed varieties that can work across different climates and soil types, farmers are constantly selecting for diversity, conserving a range of varieties and choosing them not just for their yields but also for their taste or because they are particularly resistant to disease or drought.

A new push to commercialise agriculture in Africa could, however, put the future of the continent’s diverse, indigenous seeds at risk.

New regulations
Regassa says the “indiscriminate push of technology and inputs” by industrial farming schemes and their supporters has proved costly for farmers and needs to be challenged. “Seed security is more important than anything at this point, especially when the government is under all of these external pressures.”

In September 2013, the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (Comesa) ministers approved regulations that would require all seeds to be registered and deemed “uniform, stable and genetically distinct” before being traded and sold. Critics say this could, in effect, criminalise farmers’ traditional practices of saving and exchanging their seeds, while allowing corporations and those who can afford the registration process to capture the market.

Private investment in seeds is one of the stated indicators of success for the G8’s landmark agriculture and poverty plan in Ethiopia. Under the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, Ethiopia is to change its seed law and policies to increase and incentivise private investment in the development, multiplication and distribution of seeds.

This could spell disaster for small farmers, says Million Belay, co-ordinator of the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa. “It clearly puts seed production and distribution in the hands of companies … Yes, agriculture needs investment, but that shouldn’t be used as an excuse to bring greater control over farmers’ lives.”

Ethiopia’s teff poised to be next big super grain

At Addis Ababa airport, visitors are greeted by pictures of golden grains, minute ochre-red seeds and a group of men gathered around a giant pancake. Billboards boast: “Teff: the ultimate gluten-free crop!”

Ethiopia is one of the world’s poorest countries, well-known for its precarious food security situation. But it is also the native home of teff, a highly nutritious ancient grain increasingly finding its way into health-food shops and supermarkets in Europe and America.

Teff’s tiny seeds – the size of poppy seeds – are high in calcium, iron and protein, and boast an impressive set of amino acids. Naturally gluten-free, the grain can substitute for wheat flour in anything from bread and pasta to waffles and pizza bases. Like quinoa, the Andean grain, teff’s superb nutritional profile offers the promise of new and lucrative markets in the west.

In Ethiopia, teff is a national obsession. Grown by an estimated 6.3-million farmers, fields of the crop cover more than 20% of all land under cultivation. Ground into flour and used to make injera, the spongy fermented flatbread that is basic to Ethiopian cuisine, the grain is central to many religious and cultural ceremonies. Across the country, and in neighbouring Eritrea, diners gather around large pieces of injera, which doubles as cutlery, scooping up stews and feeding one another as a sign of loyalty or friendship – a tradition known as gursha.

Outside diaspora communities in the west, teff has flown under the radar for decades. But growing appetite for traditional crops and booming health-food and gluten-free markets are breathing new life into the grain, increasingly touted as Ethiopia’s “second gift to the world”, after coffee.

Sophie Kebede, a London-based entrepreneur who, with her husband, owns Tobia Teff, a UK company specialising in the grain, says she was “flabbergasted” when she discovered its nutritional value. “I didn’t know it was so sought after … I am of Ethiopian origin; I’ve been eating injera all my life.”

The gluten-free market is the backbone of Kebede’s business. Today, Planet Organic shops in London stock 1kg bags of Tobia Teff flour (£7 each), while 300g packets of its teff breakfast cereal sit alongside milled flaxseed and organic, sugar-free Swiss muesli, and cost £5.44 The company also sells readymade, gluten-free teff bread with raisin, onion, sunflower and other varieties. (Teff is available at other UK stockists).

Pancakes made with teff. (Pic: Flickr / verymom)
Pancakes made with teff. (Pic: Flickr / verymom)

As western consumers acquire a taste for teff, how to ensure that Ethiopia and its farmers benefit from new global markets is a critical question. Growing demand for so-called ancient grains has not always been a straightforward win for poor communities. In Bolivia and Peru, reports of rising incomes owing to the now-global quinoa trade have come alongside those of malnutrition and conflicts over land as farmers sell their entire crop to meet western demand.

Ethiopia’s growing middle class is also pushing up demand for teff, and rising domestic prices over the past decade have put the grain out of reach of the poorest. Today, most small farmers sell the bulk of what they grow to consumers in the city.

This may have helped boost incomes in some rural areas but it has had nutritional consequences, says the government, as teff is the most nutritionally valuable grain in the country. Estimates suggest that while those in urban areas eat up to 61kg of teff a year, in rural areas, the figure is 20kg. The type consumed differs too: the wealthy almost exclusively eat the more expensive magna and white teff varieties; less well-off consumers tend to eat less-valuable red and mixed teff, and more than half combine it with cheaper cereals such as sorghum and maize.

Increased production
The Ethiopian government wants to double teff production by 2015. Its strategy, published in 2013, argues that the grain could play an important role in school meals and emergency aid programmes, and help reduce malnutrition – particularly among children and adolescents.

It notes that teff is also gluten-free, so it is well suited to address growing global gluten-free demand, and calls on companies to start testing, promoting and mass manufacturing teff-based products such as cakes and biscuits.

Though Ethiopia has a fast-growing economy, it remains on the UN’s list of least-developed countries. An estimated 20% of under-fives are malnourished or suffer stunted growth, and the UN’s World Food Programme estimates the costs of chronic malnutrition could be worth 16.5% of GDP.The government’s agricultural transformation agency aims to boost yields by developing improved varieties of the grain, along with new planting techniques and tools to reduce post-harvest losses.

The Syngenta Foundation, the non-profit arm of the Swiss seeds and pesticides company, has also joined the quest for increased teff production.

Government restrictions, instituted in 2006, forbid the export of raw teff grain, only allowing shipments of injera and other processed products. But this could change: the goal is to produce enough teff for domestic consumption and a strong export market, according to the government’s strategy.

In Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, dozens of women painstakingly sift and mill teff at the factories of Mama Fresh Injera, one of the few domestic companies that exports teff products.

Stacks of teff near Addis Ababa. (Pic: Flickr / Carsten ten Brink)
Stacks of teff in Addis Ababa. (Pic: Flickr / Carsten ten Brink)

Mama Fresh is a family firm that has been selling injera to top restaurants and hotels in the Ethiopian capital for years. It also ships the flatbread to Finland, Germany, Sweden and the US, primarily for consumption by diaspora communities. But the company has its eye on the gluten-free market. It aims to double exports to America in 2014, and will soon start producing teff-based pizzas, bread and cookies.

David Hallam, trade and markets director at the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, says while there is money to be made from new global markets for traditional crops, governments have to support small-scale producers to ensure they share the benefits of increased trade.

“Typically, these products are going to go through many hands before they reach the shelves of Sainsbury’s or wherever. There are [profit] margins at every step, and small farmers are not necessarily well placed to bargain with the bigger traders,” says Hallam, who sees quinoa’s popularity as a cautionary tale of how export opportunities can be a mixed blessing for poor countries.

Regassa Feyissa, an Ethiopian agricultural scientist and former head of the national Institute for Biodiversity, warns that without careful planning, increased teff production for export may displace other important crops for farmers. And efforts to boost production could benefit business interests at the expense of small farmers.

With little Ethiopian teff on the international market, farmers in the US have started planting the crop. Farmers in Europe, Israel and Australia have also experimented with it.

Kebede says she gets her grain from farms in southern Europe, though she would prefer to source it from Ethiopia. “Teff is second nature to an Ethiopian; so who better to supply it? We have this sought after grain being grown in the country, so why can’t an Ethiopian farmer benefit from this?”

Young landless Ethiopians find hope and security in beekeeping

In the Tigray region of Ethiopia, increasing numbers of young people have no access to the land and its resources. Farming land here is already scarce, and many farms are very small. Many young people risk their lives by migrating to countries in the Middle East to work in domestic servitude, while others are resigned to living in extreme poverty.

With no opportunities to work close to home, Gebre Egzaibher (21) felt forced to take a dangerous job as a traditional gold miner close to the Eritrean border. He would stand for 18 hours a day in a river bed panning gold deposits for the equivalent of a £1 a day, and contend with occupational hazards, such as being shot at by Eritrean militias.

“I had no choice. My father was sick and my younger brothers and sisters had only one meal a day. I needed to work to support them,” he says.

As life expectancy increases the potential for sub-dividing plots of land reduces, leaving many of Ethiopia’s young people with no assets and limited employment opportunities.

The issue of landless youth is fast becoming a national crisis in Ethiopia where 30% of young people are unemployed.

In Gebre’s hometown of Sero Tabia, where 2 200 families live, 560 young people are unemployed and have no access to land for earning a living.

The prospect of earning money in Middle Eastern countries as a domestic maid or as a construction worker has spurred many young Ethiopians to overseas. But for some the dream has became a nightmare as employers exploit them and ignore their rights.

Last month, the Ethiopian government ordered the repatriation of more than 100 000 young Ethiopian migrants illegally working in the Middle East and placed a travel ban on workers going to the region for six months.

To help mitigate this crisis of land scarcity and spiralling youth unemployment, Farm Africa, an NGO, which has directors based in Addis Ababa, Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, has begun supplying beehives to 900 landless young people in the Tigray region to give them a resilient means of making a living.

Gebre smiles as he proudly puts on his bee-keeping protective clothing for the first time and delicately removes the roofs from two beehives to inspect his new bee colonies.

“I am very happy today because I know these bees will help improve my future security and give me what I never thought possible – hope,” he says.

Ethiopia is Africa's largest honey consumer and producer. (Pic: Reuters)
Ethiopia is Africa’s largest honey consumer and producer. (Pic: Reuters)

In his first year Gebre expects to sell 16kg of white honey after keeping 15% of his harvest for household and nutritional purposes. He stands to earn £150 a year and has the option of increasing production by splitting the bee colonies.

The project will have a ripple effect, says Desta Araya, Farm Africa’s project coordinator. “After the first year of beekeeping and training, the beneficiary will supply another member of the landless youth with one of their bee colonies. If every targeted youth does this the impact is potentially unlimited.”

Ethiopia is Africa’s largest honey consumer and producer. The white honey produced in the Tigray region is widely regarded as a national delicacy and in high demand across the country.

Young landless families in Tigray suffer high levels of poverty and malnutrition. Women in the region suffer in particular from poor nutrition and a recent survey showed that nearly a third were underweight, while more than half of the children under-five were affected by stunted growth.

Letebrahane Gebreegizeabre (28) struggled to feed her family of four, earning just £1.25 a day as a farm labourer. This was just enough to feed her children a single daily serving of injera, a sour pancake.

This year, Farm Africa gave her two beehives. “With my additional income from selling honey I will save enough money to buy a sheep, a goat and more  bee hives,” she says. “I look forward to supporting my family with three meals a day and giving my children an education.”

In Tigray, the erratic rainfall and a population expected to jump from 90-million to an estimated 278-million by 2050, makes the issue of land access seem insoluble.

But small acts can have big effects; Farm Africa’s beekeeping programme gives young people an opportunity to build their own businesses and reduce their dependency on diminishing land access.