Farmers in Ethiopia fight drought and climate change

farmer in field
One hundred thousand Ethiopians are benefiting from new, drought-resistant ways of growing crops. (Photo: UNDP Ethiopia)

Throughout most of his 55 years, Mohammed Hassen and his family have suffered  during recurring droughts that have ravaged his district of Kalu, South Wollo Zone, in northeastern Ethiopia.

The country, once defined by rural poverty, is developing a strategy to address pockets of extreme poverty in its growing urban areas, and UNDP’s pioneering satellite mapping is helping.

In Hassen’s case, it has meant providing him and his neighbours with high-yielding seeds that are drought-resistant. Hassen’s income has improved, and his large family is now able to enjoy three meals a day; he even has extra cash to buy school supplies for the children and to start saving for the future.


  • With hundreds of thousands of drought refugees from the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia’s rural communities struggle to provide stable crops during erratic rainfall. Thanks to a new project providing farming training, as well as drought-resistant seeds, many are increasing their crop yields.
  • 100,000 Ethiopians are benefiting from the drought-adaptation project, a joint effort of UNDP and Ethiopia’s Ministry of Agriculture (with financing of US $995,000 from GEF).
  • In addition to providing high-yield, drought-resistant seeds, the program includes knowledge-sharing between participating countries and communities.

Hassen and his family are benefiting from a three-year UNDP and GEF pilot project covering four African countries—Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique and Zimbabwe—where the most recent drought has had disastrous consequences.

A key component of the initiative includes ensuring that participating countries and communities can share their drought and climate change experiences with one another, with the ultimate hope of achieving some kind of sustainable and transformational change in the face of the ongoing and worsening effects of climate change.

Drought refugees

Ethiopia absorbed about 275,000 drought refugees from the Horn of Africa in 2012 alone. The country’s rural communities are already fragile, with increasingly erratic rainfall patterns magnifying a vulnerability to climate-related shocks and food shortages.

Saed Ibrahim, 41, knows all too well about food insecurity. His 400-square-metre plot used to produce less than 50 kilogrammes of food per year, forcing his family to be dependent for nine months of the year on government food relief.

While this arrangement helped keep his family from starving, Ibrahim felt frustrated and powerless.

“My family considered me a useless head of the household because of my inability to feed them,” he says. “The time I asked my wife if we could have one more child she asked me, ‘What are you going to feed it?’ and I felt ashamed. We didn’t have peace in our family because of our deep-rooted poverty.”

The UNDP and GEF drought adaptation project helped Ibrahim join 200 fellow Ethiopian farmers on a 2010 learning tour to the southern part of Ethiopia to gain insight into water harvesting techniques, vegetable production and beekeeping. He applied what he learned and is now able to earn about $3,657 per year, in addition to owning $10,000 worth of livestock.

Ibrahim says he feels he is on his way to dealing with poverty, thanks to the expertise he accessed through the project. Today, the family vegetable plots are not only a source of income but also help provide much-needed nutritional balance to his family’s diet.

“My daughter will not be forced into an early marriage due to a shortage of food, clothing and school materials,” adds Aregash, Ibrahim’s wife.

The project is also empowering communities to take charge of their crop-cycle planning with the introduction of easy-to-use early warning systems that can predict the rainy season.

By Wubua Mekonnen, Programme Analyst in UNDP Ethiopia.

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