Green Shoots of Economic Prosperity in Ethiopia

seed fair

Beletachi shows off her green field of crops made possible from CRS seed fairs. Photo by Benjamin Krause/CRS

Benjamin Krause, a CRS International Development Fellow in Ethiopia, sends in this story from a field visit last fall.

Driving through the Rift Valley in southern Ethiopia, the dust-crusted fields of failed crops remind me of John Steinbeck’s descriptions of the Dust Bowl in the U.S. in the 1930s. Looking across farmland as flat and inviting as that of my home in Nebraska, only sputtering attempts of parched wheat, teff and corn break through the soil. After three long years of failed rainy season after failed rainy season, farmers have used up their seed stores and have nothing to plant even when rains do finally arrive.

But just as commentators back home have been talking about ‘green shoots’—signs of new life for the U.S. economy—many CRS-supported communities here in Ethiopia are also seeing green shoots, literally.

As our Land Cruiser rolls into one of our project areas just outside of Sodo, I feel like Dorothy stepping out of black-and-white and into the Technicolor Land of Oz. We stop at a modest, mud-walled home surrounded by the flowering vines and bushes of a vegetable garden.

A CRS beneficiary named Beletachi emerges from her home with a tremendous smile on her face. She immediately takes us out to her fields where green shoots of teff—the most popular grain in Ethiopia—are well on their way to a successful harvest. Then we return to her home garden, where she proudly points out the different vegetables she is now growing, repeatedly thanking CRS and our partners.

How is all this possible? Recognizing the crushing long-term impact of drought, CRS in partnership with the local Catholic Church ran a series of seed fairs in this area. These are essentially market days that let villagers identified by the community as the most needy select seeds of various crops using CRS-provided vouchers. Participants can choose whatever seeds they like, with an emphasis placed on drought-resistant varieties of staple grains and vegetables that can be sold at a profit. Through these seed fairs, CRS is helping people to replenish their seed reserves while promoting varieties that will be much more successful given the current climate.

The end result is hundreds of people like Beletachi beaming at the sight of their own green shoots—signs that their lives are indeed getting better.

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