Defying drought

The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH is supporting farmers and pastoralists in Ethiopia in protecting their supply of food and income through periods of drought.

The international community regards the drought that Ethiopia is currently experiencing as its worst for decades. Its cause is the climate phenomenon El Niño, which occurs every seven years or so. El Niño brings about changes in the Pacific Ocean currents around the Equator, which affect the climate in many parts of the world and trigger extreme weather events, including drought and flooding. As a result, there has been less rainfall than usual during Ethiopia’s rainy season. This year, around 17% of the country’s population is reliant on food aid; more than twice the proportion requiring such aid in 2015. On behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH is supporting the population in several regions of Ethiopia to better withstand periods of drought.

GIZ and the Ethiopian Government are working together in six of the country’s nine federal states to promote sustainable land management in the Ethiopian highlands. The company is training trainers to guide farmers in terracing wide areas and ensuring that the vegetation growing on hillsides is not overgrazed. Rain water is now able to seep gradually into the dry soil, avoiding the problem of run-off. Springs that ran dry decades ago are now filling with water again, and clay rainwater retention basins are being built on slopes, which will improve water availability throughout the year.

Farmers are also being trained to divert water into their fields using clay and gravel channels several kilometres in length and to employ water-saving irrigation techniques. ‘Drip irrigation’ slowly drip-feeds water into the soil from pipes, which minimises evaporation loss. This is helping farmers to improve their yields, which have increased by up to 85% over the last five years. Small-scale farmers are now better able to feed their families and are also in a position to sell excess produce and help feed other people. The project supported by German development cooperation has so far benefited around one million people.

GIZ is also working in the lowland region of Afar in eastern Ethiopia, where it is advising local people on measures to combat drought. The semi-nomadic Afar people traditionally take their livestock to areas where adequate food and water is available for the animals. Weirs slow the flow of water from sporadic floods, so considerably more water is now soaking into the soil and raising the groundwater level. Fertile soil from the highlands is also being deposited in lowland regions. These two improvements are now creating better conditions for growing crops. Humans and livestock have access to water again, and the groundwater level has risen, securing the drinking water supply for 30,000 people in one district.

The manager of the ‘Sustainable land management’ project in the Ethiopian highlands, Johannes Schoeneberger, and the manager of the ‘Measures to combat drought in the lowlands of Ethiopia’ project, Elisabeth van den Akker, are available for interview. Please direct all enquiries to GIZ Press Office

The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH is a federal enterprise with worldwide operations. It supports the German Government in the fields of international cooperation for sustainable development and international education. GIZ helps individuals and societies to develop their own prospects and improve their living conditions.