GEA cooperative farmers at harvest.
Today’s report comes from GrowEastAfrica in Ethiopia via Yohannes Chonde, GrowEastAfrica Co-Founder. One of our deeper partnerships, we try to understand what’s working for them, what’s not working, and how we can support their cooperative's growth and goals. This means not only learning how vegetables fit into their work, but also learning about how the other parts of their program fit into their broader aims.
If you’re not familiar with GrowEastAfrica, they’re a cooperative near Moyale in Ethiopia that prioritizes women’s access to resources like land, training, and tools. Many of the women are IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) from tribes and regions that have been historically targeted for displacement.
Vegetables: Cabbage, Peppers, and Tomatoes
If you have been following GrowEastAfrica (GEA) through our reports, you’ll know the tremendous work that has gone into preparing and learning about their fields. Thanks to their planning and preparation, including negotiating cooperation with the surrounding community, their plots are irrigated and doing great. The cabbage doesn’t have any disease or pest issues, and the soil is perfect for the crop. The peppers are also growing well, though some of the plants appear weak.
“Things are growing wonderfully; it helps people to have fun. The cabbage harvest was not large enough to sell, but does provide food for the family. Our plan after the season is to expand land for peppers and [cabbages].” — Yohannes
Mentioned in our last report, a local commercial farm donated the tomato seedlings for this season’s crop. A photo of the staked seedlings being stringed for support is attached to this report. Unfortunately, almost half the crop was lost to a fungus. Farmers in the group have been trained on the effective use of fertilizer and disease prevention, but they work the crops two days each week and day labor the other five days. This is not enough time to manage their farms, and they are seeking additional labor and better equipment.
Re-establishing viable farming livelihoods in a new area isn’t easy. In addition to learning the nuances of their new farmland and climate, the women of GEA’s farmer group have to manage the psychosocial effects of displacement and setbacks from natural and human causes. They continue forward together, a testament to their collective ingenuity and resilience.
Teff & Quinoa
Teff is an important traditional grain crop for this region. Injera, a flatbread typically made from teff flour, is the national dish of Ethiopia. The plants are labor-intensive due to the work involved in removing weeds and collecting the grain. Because machines are not available in this area, the harvested plants have to be threshed by hand. A photo of their recent harvest, double the size of the prior season’s harvest, is attached to this report. As a traditional crop, teff is more easily sold at market. Money from this crop will be reinvested back into the cooperative.
One of GEA’s aims has been to add new crops that complement and fill out the nutrition available from a traditional diet. Vegetables play a large role in providing new sources of nutrition, and quinoa has been introduced as a grain alternative to teff. Market crops are important for economic growth, and having an alternative relieves the tension of deciding whether to eat or sell a crop.
GEA farmers are experimenting with both white and red quinoa, both of which can be used for injera or boiled as a grain. They’ve already learned that quinoa cannot be planted the same way that teff is planted (walking animals over the seed) because the seed is pushed too deep into the soil and will not germinate. Having learned from this, they will adjust their training.
Higher in protein, quinoa has been growing well in this environment. Red quinoa also has a larger, edible leaf and a larger seed head (the head produces the grain), but the plant takes up more space. They’ll continue growing both varieties and expanding the crop size as land and labor allow. A photo of farmers standing in red quinoa are attached to this report.
Further, the cooperative is trying to bring a more drought-tolerant quinoa into the country by working with universities. They’ve planned to provide farmers outside the cooperative with quinoa samples to show its benefit and possibly spread the crop (and its benefits) in the region.
The next planting season is October through December, which leads into the dry season. Because farmers will rely on irrigation to water their crops, they are working with a local extension officer (an expert agricultural consultant) to learn about new drought-resistant crops that might do well during this season. We’re looking forward to learning what they decide for the next season, and we will report on their work in a future report.
For now, thank you for your support of this project and GrowEastAfrica. Gardens and farms really can provide a foundation for hope.
— The SPI Team
Stringing staked tomato plants for support.
Teff harvest, twice the size of last season's.
GEA cooperative farmers showing red quinoa.