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Ethiopia: Farmers plant trees to reduce impact of floods and boost yields

It’s a calm morning with beautiful clouds in the sky. The heavy rainfall has stopped and Zemezeme Awol is in her field eagerly tending different crops. The beautiful, bright haricot bean plants give hope of a bumper harvest to the resilient and hardworking 42-year-old woman who has dedicated her life to farming. 

Mrs. Zemezeme hails from Andegna Choroko in Ethiopia’s Great Rift Valley. She grows maize, haricot beans, and peppers, and has also started planting trees to protect the land and water sources on her farm. 

To curb erosion, she is planting trees in and around her field and on the edges of water sources. She says that the trees in the fields protect her crops from wind damage and wind erosion, while those on the edges of streams prevent flooding and soil erosion and stop pesticides and fertilizers from polluting the nearby Bilate River. 

She adds, “This approach provides multiple sources of income and food for our households. It also significantly improves the overall productivity of my land.”

Before she started practicing this type of agroforestry, Mrs. Zemezeme’s average crop yield had been consistently declining, meaning less income to support her family. Her crops had also been threatened by heavy rains and flooding.

She explains: “In some cases, flood could destroy up to 100% of the crops on my farm … Heavy rainfall, weather variations, rain season fluctuation, and floods have been the major contributing factors for low yields.” 

Halaba Zuria is a district agricultural expert in Ethiopia. He says: “Government and non-governmental organizations are training farmers on how to avoid land degradation, the effects of heavy rainfall, and flood disasters. This is helping to protect land and reduce the runoff water which washes away chemicals and nutrients into the nearby water sources where communities depend.”

He adds that agricultural experts are encouraging Nature-based Solutions such as planting trees to manage floods and restore riverbanks, as well as reduce soil erosion in farmers’ fields. 

Abedela Hussan is a 33-year-old farmer in the Great Rift Valley. On his half-hectare farm, he grows maize and haricot beans. His yields and income have been decreasing because of the unpredictable weather patterns, heavy rains, and floods. He says, “Land on my farm is severely degraded, and up to 30% of my crops are frequently destroyed by floods.” 

Like Mrs. Zemezeme, to reverse the situation on his farm, Mr. Abedela has started planting trees to restore riverbanks and control floods, and to conserve soil and improve yields.

Dessalege Gumer is an agroforestry expert in Ethiopia. He says that these kinds of practices can effectively address floods, natural disasters, land degradation, and biodiversity loss, which affects both the general environment and community members’ livelihoods. 

Mr. Dessalege says: “Riverbank restoration can help to prevent erosion and improve water quality through water filtration. It also helps to create new habitats for wildlife. Soil conservation can help to maintain soil fertility and reduce the need for costly chemical fertilizers and other inputs.”

Mrs. Zemezeme says she received guidance from a local development expert on Nature-based Solutions that enabled her to plant 1.2 hectares of red beans and 0.5 hectares of pepper last season. Her yields are significantly increasing.

She says, “I plan to use the money from the harvest to build a better house for my family, buy education materials for my children, and prepare my farm for the next season.”