Women’s Empowerment Initiative: One Step Back, Two Steps Forward

Back in February, we shared an update from GrowEastAfrica, one of Seed Program International’s lead partners in Ethiopia whose programs serve several women’s agricultural groups. Positioned at something of a crossroads for Kenyan – Ethiopian IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons), GrowEastAfrica is constantly adapting their program to accommodate the shifting political climate and resulting change in their communities. SPI recently had the privilege of catching up with co-founder Yohannes Chonde about what’s happened since the spring.

Community women at grain distribution

We’re sad to report that not everything has worked in their favor. First, hostilities in the area continue to prevent farmers from planting, tending, and harvesting their crops. They avoid the conflict as a matter of survival. However, in avoiding conflict, their women’s groups lose time that they need to spend plowing and sowing, and what they do sow is often looted or burned. The next few months will be very challenging for the farmers and those who depend on those crops for food. As a stopgap measure, GrowEastAfrica is leading an effort to provide two months of grain rations for their IDP communities, and a small amount of cash for essential needs like medicine and housing.

“Rain burned everything that we had planted.” — Yohannes Chonde

Weather has been another major challenge. SPI’s partnership with GrowEastAfrica began as a response to severe drought in the region, but this year’s rains have proven to be too much. All of their spring seedlings were destroyed. Farmers tried to plant a second round of crops in several locations, but all of those seedlings were also destroyed by the rains. The wet ground prevented GrowEastAfrica farmers from preparing the new field, and they were only recently able to start plowing.

Preparing fields while waiting for floods to drain

Moving Forward

GrowEastAfrica is already preparing for the next growing season, with support from folks like Sweet Blossom Gifts. GrowEastAfrica will be purchasing seeds, installing a water tank, renting a tractor to expedite plowing, and preparing the new land they’ve leased for their farmers — all forward movement.

In addition to farming activities, GrowEastAfrica is training the Soyama Ladies’ Association and facilitating exposure to local markets. Agricultural training is being offered in partnership with the Burji District Agricultural Department staff. Complementary training around proper hygiene and sanitation will help farmers maintain the quality of their produce and extend its shelf life with proper handling, packaging, and storage. Finally, they’re working with these women to develop an understanding of the local markets so that they will be prepared to sell their crops when the time comes. Yohannes is also in negotiation with a local NGO who could potentially package and sell their produce throughout Ethiopia and neighboring countries.

Bridging the People Gap

This is not simple work. Yohannes deeply and ongoingly assesses his program, and he continues to build strong relationships within both the IDP and local communities. GrowEastAfrica is tasked with not only providing a short-term solution for folks who are fleeing their homes and establishing new lives, but they must also provide a long-term solution that enrolls and integrates local communities in ways that benefit both groups.

“Change comes from more than one spark, if we have enough firewood or grass, it will start taking off. If the results are clear to our friends, they’ll see it and offer more help. This is community-based self-help to improve lives.” — Yohannes Chonde

What Yohannes and GrowEastAfrica have already accomplished is inspiring. Despite the setbacks described in this report, he remains not only hopeful, but determined to succeed. Thank you for your support of Yohannes and GrowEastAfrcia through the Sweet Blossom Gifts Women’s Empowerment Initiative!

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