POWr Social Media Icons

Friday, March 25, 2016

On World Water Day, we highlight coffee farming communities in Ethiopia that are taking action for clean water. 
To provide for his five children, farmer Belayneh Otisso relies on the income he earns supplying coffee to his local cooperative’s wet mill. But he could see the environmental damage caused by the mill every harvest season, when it would send noxious wastewater into the neighboring river. “When the animals drank from [the river], they died. The children of the community were stricken with waterborne illnesses. When the wastewater was used for irrigation, the crops were destroyed,” he said. The wet mill would have to shut down for a week or two at a time when the pollution was at its worst, driving down the price that local farmers received for their coffee.
It’s a problem that has been shared by many coffee-farming communities in Ethiopia. Wet mills, which separate the coffee bean from the cherry that surrounds it, produce a consistent, high-quality product, allowing the cooperatives or companies that operate them to offer farmers higher prices. However, older wet mills use large volumes of water to process coffee, and then that water – filled with decaying organic material stripped from the coffee beans – often overflows the lagoons where it is stored, pouring into neighboring rivers. The wet mill owners have been faced with a difficult dilemma: operate the mills and degrade the community members’ quality of life, or shut down the mills and threaten community members’ livelihoods?
Fortunately, there is a solution that allows wet mills to operate without polluting the rivers. Since 2012, Mother Parkers Tea & Coffee and TechnoServe have partnered on the Water Wise Coffee Initiative to protect the rivers of Ethiopia’s Sidama coffee region. The project works with wet mill owners to implement an innovative solution to their wastewater problems. With support from TechnoServe advisors, wet mill operators and workers learn how to monitor and reduce their water usage, separate the coffee pulp from the wastewater, and plant vetiver grass wetlands. The wastewater is then absorbed by the vetiver grass or evaporates harmlessly in a shallow pool, while the coffee pulp is composted and distributed to farmers as organic fertilizer.
The program has helped 49 wet mills along the Kola, Malebo and nearby rivers to implement these solutions. In 2015, participating wet mills processed 13,812 metric tons of coffee cherry and converted coffee pulp into over 2,400 metric tons of compost, which will be distributed to farmers. Testing downriver from wet mill sites has shown that the Water Wise approach restores rivers to their pre-harvest condition.
That’s the case in Belanyeh’s community. After constructing a vetiver grassland, reducing water usage, and composting the coffee pulp, the local wet mill has been able to run throughout the harvest season without polluting the local river. Community members can once again use the river for washing, watering their animals, irrigating their crops and other daily activities. “The vetiver wetland has made a real difference in so many ways,” Belanyeh said.
- See more at: http://www.technoserve.org/blog/clean-rivers-and-profitable-farms-in-ethiopias-coffee-country#sthash.pK5Ec0jh.dpuf
Two women in Sidama Zone, Ethiopia. Alan Nicol
Two women in Sidama Zone, Ethiopia. Alan Nicol

Selilah stares out over a landscape she has inhabited for 70 years. In the valley below, deep gullies scar the slopes where rains have carried away the soil. Living with three of her four sons, she is struggling to make ends meet in this part of Sidama Zone, Ethiopia, where, she says, there used to be a forest more than 40 years ago.
Now most trees have been felled and water is scarce. Selilah spends two hours a day collecting her two jerrycans (50 liters) from a neighboring kebele (neighborhood), but when that source fails she has to buy water from a vendor at ETB 6 (30 US Cents) per a jerrycan, a huge cut into her income.
In the last 10 years, she says, the rains have changed – they are lighter than before and more infrequent. As a result, production from her meager plot – just 0.25 ha – is declining. After her husband died more than a decade ago, she now only makes ends meet through the daily wage-labor income of her sons. Like many others, Selilah is on the frontline of climate change in a landscape under increasing pressure.
But transformations are possible. Her friend, Kababot, of similar age and also widowed, nods in agreement as Selilah sets out how she helps to restore their degraded Kolante watershed under a GEF Small Grants Program. Along with other men and women, Selilah and Kababot help build terraces, plant trees and introduce other measures to reduce soil erosion. In return, they receive harvested grasses for fodder, and fruits for consumption. The ecosystem is slowly being restored, but it’s taking huge community effort.
In North Shewa, hundreds of kilometers to the north, farmers are waiting for the Belg (short) rains, this year disrupted by El Niño. The rains are already a month late.
A feeder road completed in the last four years cuts through barren fields, ploughed but still bone dry, where harsh winds carry away the fragile topsoil.
The road has opened up new markets for farmers, including dairy products. But it has also driven demand forkubet, round dung cakes produced by farmers using vital organic matter that would otherwise help bind the soils and increase moisture retention. At the same time they have value as a cooking fuel. A truck load can fetch $1,000. The irony is that farmers stack up piles of kubet for sale while at the same time purchase chemical fertilizers to maintain their crop yields.
These stories have a common thread – that landscapes share an increasingly fragile natural capital base. The importance of integrating landscape protection with measures aimed at supporting the resilience of food production is now the centerpiece of an Integrated Approach Pilot project being designed by UNDP-GEF.  This requires new ways of valuing (and maximizing value from)  natural capital as well as diversifying livelihoods away from reliance on ecosystem resources.
Water-smart agriculture is also a central feature – ensuring that soils are effective soaks and pumps for crop root systems, that watersheds are effective water-harvesting systems and can mitigate the destructive effects of more erratic rainfall patterns in this part of Africa.
Selilah looks out at the recently-planted saplings in the watershed below and talks of the need for her grown-up children (and their children) to work in towns and gain more cash income. Her 0.25 ha of land is unsustainable as a basis for future livelihoods, she says.
In North Shewa, too, a farmer explains how he sees little future for his six children if their livelihoods continue to depend on just a 1 ha plot and the uncertain skies above. He sees technological change as critical to enabling a shift to more productive systems in which his family can shift to refining products and achieving greater value from farming.
Watershed management is now at the center of efforts across Ethiopia to restore landscapes and, through restoration, underpin future production and productivity.  The challenge lies in constructing approaches that are comprehensive enough to have an impact at a landscape scale and that can sustain actions by communities beyond the usual project cycle of 3-4 years. This is truly an inter-generational effort.
Selilah smiles and remembers a past when there used to be animals in a thick forest below. Now too old to travel, she sees her role as an elder and mother deeply involved in restoring the community’s landscape and ensuring future generations do the same.
At the same time, she says, the future belongs not just to ensuring environmental sustainability. It also requires livelihood security and resilience that derives from her children (and their children) having job opportunities and cash income that extend far beyond reliance on the natural capital around them.