How a Potato Turns Into School Books


Admasu Mulu, 45, and his wife, Melkam Achamyelhu, 35, are very delighted when they talk about what has changed in their lives over the last three years.

"No more worries on how to buy food, clothes, and exercise books for our children. We are able to eat a balanced diet three times a day."

How have they been able to have this remarkable change?  It all starts with a potato. With new training and a start up loan of improved potato seeds, they are growing more and better food as a result of adopting better agricultural techniques on their small farm.

For years, Admasu, Melkam, and their five children have not had enough food from their farm, which is about the size of 3 soccer fields (2 hectares). They were part of a government food assistance program that gave them wheat rations for 6 months every year.  But it wasn’t enough. Even with that assistance, Admasu struggled secur­ing enough food for the family, educating the children properly, and buying clothes for all.

"Though we had land, most of the time our harvest was poor due to lack of knowledge on fertilizer use and improved seed, as well as on how to cope with erratic rainfall."

In this situation, CARE’s GRAD program came to work with Admasu and other farmers like him. Admasu’s family joined a Village Economic and Social Association and started saving every month with the other members. In addition to saving, Admasu received training on improved production techniques, gender equality, nutrition, and climate change ad­aptation. He also brought all this train­ing home and works closely with his wife and children during both on- and off-farm activities.

The turning point for Admasu and his family was the improved potato seed he received as an in-kind loan coordinated through the program. Using recommend­ed techniques and inputs, they were able to produce nearly 4,000 pounds—that’s nearly 15,000 servings—of potatoes.  And by connecting to market opportunities, they sold the potatoes at a profit of $525.

The benefit didn’t stop there. Admasu and Melkam used the money from the potato sales to buy improved barley seed that was more drought resistant. Admasu recounted that, “during the first year, we harvested 10 quintals [2,200 pounds] of malt barley and sold each quintal for 1,000 birr [$47]. In the current season, we harvested another 13 quintals [2,900] of barley which we sold for 1,035 birr [$49] each.”

With an in-kind loan, the right know-how, and some smart investing, Admasu’s family income went up by nearly $1,000 a year. That’s more than 3 times what they were making before the program came.

Admasu says that the reason for his success was applying what he learned from the program about better inputs (i.e. fertilizers and improved seed), as well as better cultivation skills. He did not even need a formal loan, which is hard to come by in Ethiopia. 

So where does the money go? Into peace of mind and a better life for the family. “No more worries on how to buy food, clothes, and exer­cise books for our children.” It’s not just about money, either.  What they have learned in the program extends beyond the fields. “We are able to eat a bal­anced diet three times a day thanks to the knowledge we have gained on nutrition at VESA. We also bought oxen and sheep. My wife and I have started supporting each other with both farm and household chores.”

His wife, Melkam sees a bigger change than the income and diet.  She feels more equality at home.  She says,

"The project has en­abled us to support each other. I and the children sup­port Admasu with farm activities. Unlike earlier times, my husband is also willing to support me in household chores. In short, there is more understanding among family members."

The household’s exemplary hard work and accomplishments are even benefiting other farmers in the neighborhood, in Gobgob Kebele, Lay-Gayint Woreda of the Amhara Regional State. CARE is using learning from the GRAD program to help the Government of Ethiopia re-design their poverty support program to make sure it can help farmers not just subsist, but to graduate out of poverty.

About the Project: GRAD is a USAID-funded project implemented by a consortium of seven partners under the leadership of CARE in 16 woredas of four regions across Ethiopia (Tigray, Amhara, Oromia and the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Regional States). The project seeks to graduate at least 50,000 chronically food insecure households from the government’s Productive Safety Net Program (PSNP) in part by increasing each household’s income by at least $365 per year. GRAD’s implementing partners include the Relief Society of Tigray, Organization for Rehabilitation and Development in Amhara, Agri-Services Ethiopia, and Catholic Relief Services. The Netherlands Development Organization (better known as SNV) serves as technical partner for value chain development. Tufts University’s Feinstein International Center leads the project’s impact evaluation.

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About the Author: Massresha  Tadesse  is the Knowledge Management Advisor for CARE Ethiopia's GRAD program