More powerful together: Bridging hunger gaps in Ethiopia

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CARE International is establishing small saving and lending groups in Ethiopia. Working with partners and the Ethiopian government, these projects aim to bridge hungry times in poor, rural communities. This Earth Day we take a look at the effects these projects are having on the lives of women and their families.

Etenesh has lived with hunger most of her life. Every year in the dry season she adjusts her eating habits, like other farming families in her community. While this strategy works in an annual cycle, it is a continual struggle. It has become even harder recently due to shifting rainfall patterns, more frequent drought, increasing food prices and a lack of suitable land.

“We should be planting our crops right now. But there is no rain. We eat in June what we plant now,” Etenesh explained in late February this year. “We are very scared. Four years ago the same thing happened and there was a famine.”

More hungry people

The World Food Programme predicts worldwide decreases in food production (influenced by changing climate) alongside increasing economic inequalities. This will mean more hungry people. In Ethiopia, these trends are visible now. The country is already suffering the effects of changing rainfall patterns. Volatile food prices in the past few years have caused more problems.

To survive, many women are forced to take out loans. Longer term this often leads to more debt and hardship.

When the rain doesn’t come and crops fail, there is less money for increasingly expensive food. In these times there is often no other option for people like Etenesh. Sometimes even this option is not available. ‘Our situation was terrible’, she said of times her crops have failed. ‘No one would give us a loan.’

Collective saving, an opportunity to for women to unite

Since early 2010 CARE and partners have been establishing and strengthening Village Saving and Lending Associations in the region. People whose lives are easily affected by fluctuations in climate and by the changing seasons are trained to save collectively.

Over time they accumulate a buffer through seasonal times of hunger. They also build a social fund to tap into when a group member faces an emergency, such as a sick child needing cash for medical treatment.

Instead of taking out a high-interest loan, last year Etenesh had the opportunity to unite with other women to overcome hunger and provide for her family.

The members of Etenesh’s group are all women. The group plans ahead and is careful. Last year some members could move from grass-thatched huts into roofed houses. All their families now eat better. They have money to send their children to school.

Trained to monitor animal health

In addition CARE and FARM Africa are providing training for one woman per village to become a Community Animal Health Worker. Etenesh was selected. She now monitors the health, births and deaths of farm animals, providing basic treatment and advice. As a result fewer animals die because of climate hazards. “I was provided with equipment to treat the animals,” she said. “When this is beyond my capacities, I let FARM Africa and the district authorities know, so they take care of it.’

For women like Etenesh, having their own income means empowerment, self-confidence as they demonstrate their capacity to contribute.

But perhaps most importantly it means that a delayed rainy season, drought or poor harvest no longer puts them in danger; putting a stop to the downward cycles of poverty and hunger.