Ethiopian Farmers Made a Desert Bloom Again
Ethiopia is in the middle of the worst drought in 50 years. It’s the sort of shock to the system we are likely to see more of with climate change. But Ethiopia is also home to a successful experiment to make the land more resilient to drought. If we are going to adapt to our changing world, it’s experiments like these that will show us the way.
In the steep fields of Ethiopia’s highlands, when rain falls on the parched, overworked land it runs downhill, carrying soil with it. Farmers commonly lose 130 tons of soil per hectare a year, comparable to the worst erosion documented on U.S. farms in recent history. Then, because the water has all rushed downhill, instead of seeping underground, wells go dry. Without water, crops wither, and that exposes bare soil to further erosion.
This cycle turned a watershed in Adisghe County, Ethiopia, into a near desert, prompting the government to consider moving the farmers. Instead, they decided to try to rescue the land. With the help of an international project called Africa Research in Sustainable Intensification for the Next Generation (Africa RISING), they began building dams, terraces, and recharge ponds. They planted trees on hilltops and planted cover crops on degraded areas.