Community leader Gebremichael Giday explains how, under the MERET programme, the people of Abraha Atsbeha have constructed small dams and water catchments like this one to help control seasonal rains, reducing flooding and erosion while making more water available for agriculture all year round.
WFP programme officer Ato Awash Mesfin leans on a treadle pump used to draw water from a shallow well for irrigating nearby crops. Since MERET started in Abraha Atsbeha around a decade ago, soil and water management projects have helped replenish the community's depleted groundwater table, making wells and irrigation more affordable, practical and effective.
Village chairman Gebremichael Giday points to the hills above town and says the MERET programme has literally remade the environment around Abraha Atsbeha, a community in the arid Tigray region. Rain only falls a few months of the year, but villagers are now able to grow crops year-round.
The natural environment in the Tigray region had been devastated by decades of deforestation and erosion, coupled with drought in the arid hills. Through MERET, villagers have planted flowering trees and fruit orchards. With little employment available locally, a group of local graduates decided to pool their resources to start their own business - a honeybee farm, which now gives them a healthy income. The new trees help the bees survive, and vice versa.
A decade ago, Askal Halefom couldn't support her family of 6 without food assistance. Now, she doesn't need it. Working in the MERET programme, she began planting fruit trees on her land, and is now able to produce several crops of different commodities per year -- some to eat, and some to sell. She's invested the proceeds to start a small business selling drinks, and has been able to buy a cow. "Now, I have everything I need," she says. "My children are studying hard to live better than the way I do, and I'm assisting them."
The village chairman in Abraha Atsbeha, Gebremichael Giday, recently traveled to the Rio +20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development to receive the Equator Prize for community-led environment and poverty solutions. He has devoted years of energy and leadership to building his community through MERET, in partnership with WFP. "Twenty years ago, drought was so bad here that we were begging the government to relocate us," he remembers while standing in the garden of his home, surrounded by fruit trees and coffee plants. "Now, you couldn't force us to move with a bulldozer."