Alternative solutions for drought-prone Ethiopia

Enset, also known as the false banana, has been perhaps the least studied domesticated crop in Africa, but new research shows that it may provide a key resource for guarding against famine. The "Tree against Hunger," enset, not only is nutritious, but can be harvested at any time and stored for long periods. Moreover, enset can survive stresses that reduce other food sources, and it tends to enrich rather than deplete soil as do other crops.

Too little rainfall had been causing catastrophic droughts in Ethiopia since the 1970s. In 1984-85 alone, the estimates on famine-related deaths in Ethiopia ranged from 250,000 to one million people. Since then, relief and development efforts have focused on finding long-term, sustainable solutions for food production in Ethiopia, with some of the country's regions faring better than others. For instance, in those areas of Ethiopia where enset was grown, the residents survived the droughts at a significantly higher rate than those in areas that did not rely on enset.

Despite enset's potential as a nutritious food source, it faces some obstacles, Its usefulness is not widely known, even in Ethiopia. Moreover, there are some cultural barriers, with some viewing it as "peasant food." While there are those who like its taste, others find it unpalatable.

To leverage this resources, CHF's programs in Ethiopia have been organizing asset building groups (ABGs) to provide memebrs with the skills and resources they need to make the most of limited resources. In addition, CHF staff recently helped establish a market linkage between food-insecure women-headed households and a fiber product producing factory. The women's ABG is comprised of 100 poor women and sold the first truckload of enset fiber to G7 Trading & Industry in the capital city of Addis. The factory also delivered a technical training on standards of fiber, fiber storage and management free of charge so that the women can supply a high quality fiber in the future. By having a stable consumer for their raw materials, these families are now successfully able to supplement their food allowance from the income they generate from sale of the fiber--a resource that would otherwise be wasted with out any use.

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