Eritrea – Farming in a fragile land

Ray Jordan - CEO of international agricultural and development organisation Self Help Africa In downtown Asmara there are boys sitting on church steps, studiously pouring through the text on the well-thumbed pages of bibles that are printed on

  • Ray Jordan – CEO of international agricultural and development organisation Self Help Africa

In downtown Asmara there are boys sitting on church steps, studiously pouring through the text on the well-thumbed pages of bibles that are printed on a rich, thick parchment.

The text is in ancient Ge’ez, a classic language of the Horn of Africa. It is still used in the liturgical writings of the Orthodox Christian Church here in Eritrea, and over the border in neighbouring Ethiopia.

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The continuing existence of Ge’ez, whose earliest usage has been traced by scholars back to the 5th century BC, is just one of many examples of this remarkable society’s veneration for, and conservation of its history and traditions.

Colonised by the Ottomans, the Egyptians, the Italians, the British and then the Ethiopians, Eritrea finally won its independence in 1991 after a 30 years war with its southern neighbour, to become Africa’s newest country. South Sudan subsequently assumed that mantle in 2011.

Just as it doesn’t forget Ge’ez, the Eritreans don’t forget their independence struggle either.

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Relics of war, such as its famous ‘tank graveyard’ on the outskirts of Asmara, and rusting tanks and army vehicles at the bottom of many of its sharp ravines remain a national reminder of the long and bitter struggle that forged the nation, more than a quarter of a century ago.

For over 15 years, Self Help Africa worked in Eritrea, implementing agricultural development projects that sought to improve food production, nutrition and the incomes of rural poor communities.

Undertaken in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture, this work was hugely rewarding, with the development of horticultural production under irrigation, seed distribution, livestock husbandry, together with the promotion of crop diversification and farmer training making a real difference to the lives of tens of thousands of rural poor households.

In a country that includes within its borders a segment of the Danakil Depression – the hottest region on earth – Eritrea’s rocky mountain ranges and barren scorched-earth landscapes make it one of the most hostile regions on earth to attempt to farm.

Indeed, this is why one-in-four of the country’s five million inhabitants are ‘agro-pastoralists’, semi-nomadic livestock farmers who move from place to place with the seasons, to find grazing and water for their animals.

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The ‘self-help’ approach to farm development work promoted by Self Help Africa resonates with Eritrea’s own vision for its self-determination. This is why I am currently visiting the country to explore the possibilities of re-starting a programme of development work that ended for us, in 2011. I believe that our contribution can be valuable.

Eritrea is currently the African state with the highest number of people trying to make that desperate journey to Europe in the migrant crisis gripping the continent.

The US think-tank ‘The Council on Foreign Relations’ reported recently that Eritreans were the most common users of the dangerous central Mediterranean route to Europe. Figures show that 30,000 Eritreans arrived as migrants to Italy during the first eight months of 2015, while 2,700 others died trying to cross that perilous sea route from North Africa.

Critics blame repressive government policies, including unpopular army conscription, for the flight of thousands. But there is little doubt that poverty too is responsible for many risking their lives in order to seek a better life in Europe.

In a country that is estimated to receive one-third of its entire GDP from remittances sent home from Eritrean nationals living overseas, there is little doubt that agriculture, which employs 80% of the workforce yet accounts for under 13% of GDP, must increase if the country’s wider economic prospects and the prospects for millions in Eritrea are to improve in the years ahead.

It is my firm believe that the need for effective farm development work to end extreme poverty is more pressing than ever.

 

aseye.asena@gmail.com

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5 COMMENTS
  • FITHI ynges4 March 18, 2016

    Ican not belive assena post good news about ERITREA

    • Sol March 19, 2016

      Hi Fithi,
      If you consider the struggle of assenna on exposing the fascistic regime and the struggle for justice, freedom, equality, and rule of law as bad news, then you have to check your conscience.

  • mikielle March 18, 2016

    ‘Critics blame repressive government policies, including unpopular army conscription, for the flight of thousands. But there is little doubt that poverty too is responsible for many risking their lives in order to seek a better life in Europe.’

    The poverty is still the outcome of bad governance which in the end leads to the question of political power being concentrated in the hands of the dictator. Without freedom of movement you are restricted in the options to pursue opportunities which may seem economic on the surface, but a scratch beneath the surface – it is political. The dictator is accountable to no one. There is no rule of law. please stop describing a political problem as economic.

  • Tsehaye March 19, 2016

    selam to all,

    Poor Eritrea, I pray for thou. Mr. Ray Jordan has written the above article to make the world’s worst known tyranny to look a little bit humane. I found the article full of contradictions. I guess he never thought his post would also be read by Eritreans.

    Back to some of the inconsistencies:

    1. He said Eritreans were colonized by the Ottomans and the Egyptians, and then he displays a photo of a child reading the Bible written in Ge’ez. If the Ottomans and the Egyptians had the chance to colonize highland Eritreans, the child that he saw reading the Bible would have been reading the Quran instead.

    2. He said the country is “rocky and barren scorched-earth landscape”, and then he showed us a green landscape and a farmer plowing a field that seems to have very fertile soil.

    3. He said “one-in-four” Eritreans are agro-pastoralists and semi-nomads. This is 25% of the “five million” people. Then he turned around and said agriculture employs 80% of the work force. He did not tell us whether that 80% work force is employed by the government in the agriculture industry or it represents the farmers. How did Eritrea manage to transform 85% of the population who used to be farmers and nomads at the down of Eritrea’s independence into some other forms of industries? He did not care to tell us either.

    4. No, it is not the popular conscript that Eritreans are running from. It is the endless and barbaric slave labour. Eritreans are chained by a perpetual bondage called “national service” which has forced the population live in the most wretched poverty state. The poverty is not nature made. It is not because the land is “barren scorched-earth. It is the result of that oppressive and tyrannical system.

    The article reads like a maze: full of contradictions. Strangely enough, Mr. Ray Jordan is an engineer by profession per his claim. Due to the nature of the work that they often do, engineers are guided by the highest ethical standards. They avoid speaking or doing something that is beyond their area of competency and expertise. Sadly, Mr. Ray Jordan is all over it. He has written about something that either he has no knowledge of, or the tyrannical PFDJ mafia has spoon fed him.

  • new eritrea March 19, 2016

    Why are our people using Ethiopia’s geez .when we have latin and arabic.When is the forced ethiopianism going to stop.

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