Deviating from the Norm to Ensure Food Security

Deviating from the Norm to Ensure Food Security

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Massresha Tadesse, CARE Ethiopia

In a culture where the husband is usually expected to be the breadwinner for a household, Zerfu Mehari is a woman who has taken the lead and is working closely with her husband, Asmerom Niguse, to radically boost their household’s income and improve its livelihood status. 

Zerfu, who is 38 years old, lives in the Enda Mohoni woreda (district), Tigray region of Ethiopia. Two years ago, her household largely relied on Asmerom’s meager monthly income, along with food support from the government's Productive Safety Net Program (PSNP) to feed their family of six. “My husband only earned a monthly income of 100 birr (about $5), 30 kilos of flour and two kilos of red pepper from working at a mill. We also received about five quintals (500 pounds) of grain per year through sharecropping our 0.75 hectares of land,” Zerfu said. Providing food, school materials and clothing to the children was very challenging for them. 

Zerfu joined CARE Ethiopia’s Gradation With Resilience to Achieve Sustainable Development (GRAD) project to improve her family’s livelihood. She could not have imagined how dramatic that improvement would be. 

At the beginning, the project supported Zerfu and 27 other households to establish a Village Economic and Social Association (VESA). The VESA has served as an effective platform for training on saving and credit, entrepreneurship, nutrition, gender equality, climate change adaptation and other topics. “After we received the training,” Zerfu said, “my household got involved in sheep rearing and fattening, as well as grain trade with an 8,000 birr ($400) loan from the Dedebit Credit and Savings Institution (DECSI). We bought 11 sheep for 6,400 birr ($320) both for rearing and fattening, and used 1,600 birr ($80) to initiate the grain trade. Within six months, we sold five fattened sheep for 7,080 birr ($354).”

Using the first-round profit, Zerfu immediately repaid 65 percent of the loan to DECSI and invested the remaining in grain trade that helped her earn more than 2,000 birr ($100) profit weekly with her active engagement at four market days per week in the neighboring woredas. The hard-working household got additional income from sheep fattening. “Before the Easter holiday, we sold three fattened sheep for 4,600 birr ($230), which helped us repay the loan before the due date and expand the grain trade. Currently, we own 12 sheep, which are a significant part of the net profit we have made from sheep rearing and fattening.”

With her increasing income and hard work, Zerfu’s household has gained more respect and trust from relatives and neighbors. “Previously, it was very challenging for us to get support from others,” she said. “After our success, one of our neighbors offered us his backyard for poultry production. We accepted his offer and bought 24 hens for 900 ($45). Now we earn up to 600 birr ($30) monthly revenue from the sale of eggs after consuming some at home.”

The household has also started to harvest more from the farm, thanks to the VESA training on use of improved seed and fertilizers. For the past two harvest seasons, Zerfu’s household produced a total of 38 quintals (3,800 pounds) of sorghum through hiring labor and oxen instead of using the land for sharecropping. Furthermore, the income enabled her husband to pay 5,000 
birr ($250) to secure a driver’s license. As a result, Asmerom has been hired as a driver and earns a monthly salary of 2,700 birr ($135). Thanks to the project and her commitment, the situation of Zerfu’s household has changed radically, from being a PSNP-dependent household to being a resilient household with tremendous success. Their total annual household income now exceeds 100,000 birr (or $5,000) as the result of sheep fattening, grain trade and the other income sources. 

And the long-term possibilities look endless for this industrious family. 

“Currently, we have more than 10,000 birr ($500) savings,” Zerfu said. “We constructed a house at the cost of 63,000 birr ($3,150). We have 14 quintals (1,400 pounds) of barley, teff* and sorghum in stock. We spent 27,000 birr ($1,350) to buy a TV, beds and mobile phones. Our children get nutritious meals and nice school bags. We also planted papaya trees and vegetables in the backyard. Our long-term plan is to buy a minibus.”

*Teff is a fine grain – about the size of a poppy seed – that comes in a variety of colors, from white to red to dark brown. It is a staple food for Ethiopians.

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Zerfu Mehari, 38, tends to a lamb in her family’s compound. The family’s livelihood has improved dramatically, thanks to Zerfu’s participation in CARE Ethiopia’s GRAD food security project.