Famine inspires food scarcity redress (Ethiopia)

Ethiopian scientists and farmers are jointly taking ‘the fight against climate change and food insecurity down to the ground’.

This comes after the country’s 30 year famine that killed more than a million people.

The famine was a product of both natural and human causes, but scientists at the state-owned national gene bank for seeds, have said that even at the time of the crisis they identified a lack of multiple seed varieties adapted to changing weather conditions as a major factor in the failure of crops.

Over the past few years, a number of community-based seed banks and training centres for farmers were established.

The most recent one was inaugurated at the beginning of June in the farming locality of Ejere, in the centre of the Oromia region.

Regassa Feyissa, director of Ethio-Organic Seed Action (EOSA), an NGO that promotes agricultural biodiversity and seed security programmes said: “A failed planting season used to be a death sentence for farming communities. The centralisation of the national gene bank in the 1980s led to inefficiency and a slow response to the hunger emergency.”

There are currently 18 seed banks spread across Ethiopia’s three populous states – Oromia, Amhara and southern regions.

These were created by EOSA and the Ethiopian Institute of Biodiversity, which oversees the national gene bank and is partly funded by Norway. There are plans to expand into more areas of the country.

Feyissa explained that climate change had been a problem. “We’re seeing an increase in heat, and a growing shift in the pattern of the seasons, which is confusing farmers.”

According to Feyissa, one of the lessons learnt from the famine was that farmers needed more information and greater variety in the seeds they sow to cope with the effects of climate change.

“For example, different varieties of sorghum can be planted at different times of the year to lessen the impact of climate variability. Local seed banks will eventually enable farmers to boost their food security by practising sequential cropping rather than mono-cropping,” Feyissa said. – allafrica.com