Woman in a maize field.


Ethiopia: turning dry soil into fertile land

In the lowlands of Ethiopia, droughts alternate with flash floods. This damages the soil and makes the land difficult to farm. GIZ is building weirs to protect these areas.

Temperatures topping 50 degrees Celsius, months of drought and parched soils. And when the rains do finally come, they pour down on the Ethiopian lowlands in torrents. Instead of giving the ground a steady watering, they erode the upper layers of soil and stream through the valleys uncontrolled. The result: crops and fields are destroyed and people are forced to rely on food aid.

Aerial view of a river sill in the middle of the desert.

This is where the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH comes in. On behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), it is working with the Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture and other local partners to build weirs from natural stone. These slow the flow of water, allowing it to disperse and soak into the ground. The ground stores the water, the water table rises and the land gradually becomes fertile again. A total of 514 weirs are now in place, allowing 38,692 hectares of land – about the area of the German city Cologne – to be used for agriculture once more. Local people maintain the weirs, which are digitally monitored.

Since the weirs were constructed, the living conditions of the local pastoral communities have improved. They can plant staples such as maize and sorghum, which also provide feed for livestock. Moringa, mango and papaya trees, among others, stabilise the soil. This protects the livelihoods of some 48,500 people, including Malyun Ahmed, who lives in a village near the regional capital of Jijiga. In the past, she faced a three-hour walk to collect water for her family from a well. The water was often contaminated and made them ill. Today, things are different: ‘We can now collect water daily and wash our clothes every other day. The livestock gets enough to drink too,’ she says. ‘After the rain, the water held back by the weirs lasts us almost right through the dry season.’

In the long term, the plan is for the local communities to maintain and expand the weir system themselves. GIZ is therefore offering training sessions and programmes on topics such as soil conservation or mapping of the lowlands. A knowledge platform promotes dialogue between everyone actively involved in or benefiting from the project.

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