When spider webs unite, they can tie up a lion banner image

When spider webs unite, they can tie up a lion

Ethiopia-story-19.jpgBy: Tezeta Meshesha, Communication & Knowledge Manager,
Benishangul Gumuz Food Security and Economic Growth Project

Gofa Dera from Ethiopia has not heard about this day. She is a 45 year old widow, and a mother of 5 girls and 4 boys living in Atsetsa in the Region of Benishangul Gumuz, along the border with Sudan. She grows soybeans on her half hectare plot of land, having experimented with new seed varieties and new ways of planting. Gofa Dera is a quick learner. She was trained on agricultural technology management and quickly applied what she learned; after increasing her harvest of soybeans, she is now looking to plant sesame and maize for next year. Gofa Dera regularly shares her newfound agricultural skills and knowledge with neighbouring farmers that visit her small farm; after seeing Gofa Dera’s most recent harvest, many of them leave with big hopes to improve their own farm productivity.

Almanesh Balbasha lives in Belo Jiganfoy, a neighbouring community. She is a born leader. Together with 25 other women in her community, she created a women’s self-help group and eventually became the group’s Secretary. Recognizing their productive potential, the local government gave the group five additional hectares of land on which to grow other crops. “The government saw us coming together as a group, producing carrots, beets, onions, cabbage and potatoes.  They saw that we had a shortage of land, and gave us five hectares to plant maize,” says Almenesh.  Very often smallholder farmers, and in particular women, are taken advantage of by local collectors who fix prices for their produce.  Self-help groups allow women to increase their bargaining power and to negotiate better prices for their produce.

Not far away in Tenkara, Kemise Tesfa recently joined an irrigation group where she learned new water diversion strategies that she is now applying on the group’s shared farm.  She and the 13 other women in the irrigation group grow sugar cane, corn and onions, and this year plan to add tomatoes, bananas and potatoes. Kemise and the women working with her have a clear business strategy – access more water, improve the water flow, and teach and mobilize more people in irrigation, all with the intent of ensuring sustainable income for their  community.

Yeshi Ejeta is proud of a noticeable and big achievement in her community in Dadessa. The livestock in her community can now benefit from regular animal health care. This is because of a new animal health post built in her community, complete with the capacity to vaccinate livestock – from cattle to chickens – in order to prevent disease. It’s important because owning livestock in Belo Jiganfoy is the equivalent of money in the bank, security for the future and food for today. Yeshi is on the oversight committee for the animal health clinic. “Before the animal health posts were constructed,” Yeshi said, “our cattle were treated in an unstructured manner on an open field; now we have a new health post for our cattle which benefits our communities greatly. This clinic is ours, the services are better, it will help us become stronger as a community, to better take care of our families.”

All of these women are working hard for their families and transforming their communities in Ethiopia – and they do so against incredible odds. Women generally have limited access to information, skills enhancement opportunities, finances and other inputs. These inequalities dramatically hinder development.

Like Gofa Dera, many women in Ethiopia have not heard of International Women’s Day. But they are doing amazing things in their communities, in spite of challenges that would otherwise hold them back.  Today, March 8, they are demonstrating just how important it is for all of us to acknowledge and honour them for their hard work, including their work to bring about collaboration and change. There is a telling Ethiopian saying  Dir biyaber Anbesa Yaser (When spider webs unite, they can tie up a lion). When women join hands and bring together all in their communities, the achievements in surmounting challenges can only increase.

All four women are being supported through the Benishangul Gumuz Food Security and Economic Growth Project in Ethiopia. A project that supports communities in Ethiopia to grow more food, improve agricultural productivity and engage in sustainable income-generating activities in an effort to improve their food security and economic well-being. With financial support from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), the project is a unique partnership between Government of Ethiopia and six Canadian NGOs: Save the Children Canada, Food for the Hungry, World Vision Canada, Oxfam Canada, Canadian Physicians for Aid and Relief, the Canadian Hunger Foundation and the International Network of Bamboo and Rattan.