Workineh’s Support of Local Farmers
By Len Barson, Board Member
Agriculture plays an important role in the life and livelihood of most Ethiopians, where about 12 million smallholder farming households account for an estimated 95% of agricultural production and 85% of employment. This makes it even more impressive that Workineh Genetu, Project Ethiopia’s leader of its Farmers’ Association program, has been named Ethiopia’s Farmer of the Year four separate times.
In addition to his own farm, Workineh currently has 11 Farmers’ Associations up and running for Project Ethiopia, representing 11 different kebeles (communities) and 550 farmers, with plans to start two more associations this year. When an association is first organized, Project Ethiopia provides each farmer with five good quality sickles. Why sickles? Sickles are an indispensable tool, allowing farmers to remove weeds, harvest crops and grass, and chop vegetables. And why five sickles? Research shows each farmer has an average of five family members working on their farm, so we provide a sickle for each of them. Farmers can also select cow feeders made from recycled tires or a modern beehive and get help setting up a savings account.
Farmers’ Associations meet once or twice a month and allow members to experience advantages such as buying seeds more easily and at a better price. Crops grown include fruits such as oranges and mangoes, as well as corn and organic teff, a supergrain that has been cultivated in Ethiopia since at least 1000 BC. Teff is packed with protein and calcium and is a remarkably efficient crop: one pound of teff seed can plant one acre of land, compared to one hundred pounds of wheat seed to plant the same acreage.
A typical Farmers Association meeting is focused on discussing current farm activities and sharing successful practices and ideas. And Workineh has ideas! He has developed and encouraged projects for harvesting rainwater, reducing and eliminating the use of harmful pesticides, and fostering the use of compost pits and organic fertilizer. What keeps members coming back is what they describe as “fruitful ideas” for improving their farm practices and yields. Farmers also say the meetings are efficient and don’t waste their time.
Why does Workineh promote Farmers Associations when he has already been so successful on his own farm? For him, individual success is not enough. As he puts it, “You will be like one tall tree – all the animals and nature will bump it and weaken it until even a cow can pull it down. Instead, it is better to be a tall tree with many trees around it and just grow taller as they grow – like the peaks of a pyramid.”