In most parts of Dodola district, you can see slow-moving oxen ploughing open stretches of farmland. But in one field, a red tractor is speedily tilling the soil ahead of the rainy season.
Dodola district is 300 kilometres south of Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, and the tractor driver is Kamso Bame, a widowed mother of 12 and owner of two-and-a-half acres of land. The tractor saves her days of gruelling labour.
Mrs. Bame is among the more than 2,000 small-scale women farmers involved in a UN program to boost sustainable agricultural production and economically empower rural women through training and co-operatives.
After Mrs. Bame joined a women’s co-operative in her village of Wabi Burkitu, she received a loan of 7,000 Birr ($243 US), which she used to start a cart transport service. She uses her daily average income of 400 Birr ($14 US) to support her children, four of whom live independently. Her co-op membership also enables her to cultivate her land with a tractor owned by the co-operative.
She recalls: “Before the death of my husband, whenever the rainy season came, I remember him spending three to four days ploughing the family’s land with the pair of oxen we owned. Each day, he and the oxen used to come back home exhausted. Today, it is different, as I am privileged to farm the same land with a tractor and it takes a maximum of three hours.”
The co-operative uses the tractor to till their collectively-owned land as a team, as well as each member’s own land. The co-op also rents the tractor out to farmers in 26 villages across the district. Charging up to 1,500 Birr ($52 US) per hectare, the co-operative currently earns an average of more than 6,000 Birr ($208 US) per day from tractor rentals.
Tulule Knife is a 38-year-old member of a co-operative in the Adami Tullu district of Oromia region. She says that the training sessions she received have improved her yields and provided a livelihood for her family of nine.
She says, “My village is known for growing maize in traditional ways, which involves scattering seeds by hand all over the prepared land.” Last year, equipped with new sustainable farming techniques, she sowed wheat seeds, a rarity since wheat doesn’t yield enough with traditional planting methods.
She explains: “During last year’s planting season, I sowed 50 kg of improved wheat seeds using a better way of planting I learned from the training known as line sowing. I harvested 15 quintals [1,500 kg] of wheat and sold that to the community for 15,000 Birr ($520 US). With traditional planting, for the same amount of seeds and other inputs, there are times when the yield is not even a quarter of that.”
She says that some members of her community found it so unbelievable that they accused her of witchcraft. But the village administration acknowledged her publicly, awarding her a modern grain storage facility. Mrs. Knife now trains men and women farmers in these new agricultural techniques and has organized a self-help savings group with 20 members.
Letty Chiwara is the UN Women representative to Ethiopia. She says agricultural co-operatives—especially those established by women in rural areas—play a key role in enhancing productivity through sustainable farming practices.
She says: “Injecting basic labour- and time-saving technologies, along with the relevant knowledge, to smallholder women farmers’ co-operatives are critical elements in the sustainable escalation of the value chain in agriculture. This, in turn, results in quality of life improvements for women farmers and communities at large.”
Alima Bakuye chairs the co-operative in Adami Tullu district and says the impact of the program has been profound. She explains: “The support is a turning point in effectively empowering the women and in making it a norm that women are benefiting and owning assets equal to men. For example, children and youth in the community used to refer to assets owned by the family, such as livestock, as ‘my father’s sheep’ and ‘my father’s goats.’ Today, they are saying ‘my mother’s sheep,’ ‘my mother’s goats.’ This leads to a long-term change as it is impacting future generations.”
This story was adapted from an article titled, “Success stories from Africa – Women’s cooperatives in rural Ethiopia,” written by UN Women and published by City Press. To read the original article, go to: https://city-press.news24.com/News/success-stories-from-africa-womens-cooperatives-in-rural-ethiopia-20180809 
First from right, Alima Bakuye with some of the members inside the women cooperatives newly established modern cattle-fattening facility through the support of the joint programme.Picture: UN Women/Fikerte Abebe