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Climate adaptation: an award-winning Dutch answer to the drought in Ethiopia

NETHERLANDS, February 28 - News item | 28-02-2022 | 12:51

The latest IPCC report shows that climate change is having a huge impact. That’s why the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is committed to climate adaptation, especially in the most vulnerable countries, like Ethiopia. Ethiopia’s rainy season has failed for the third year in succession. With the Drylands Development programme, valleys have become greener, and farmers are able to make a better living.

‘The first time I went out into the fields here in Ethiopia, I was really impressed by what the Drylands Development programme had achieved,’ says Jelmer Veen, water policy officer at the Dutch embassy in Addis Ababa. ‘I saw green valleys, where wheat was being harvested.’ DryDev projects have been implemented in five countries in the Sahel and the Horn of Africa. Climate change has put these areas under severe pressure. ‘Sustainable greening of dryland areas has been most successful in Ethiopia,’ says Jelmer. For this reason, he decided to extend the project by another two years.

Constructing terraces

Rain falls all year round in the Netherlands. But in Ethiopia it all falls in two to three months. This makes it essential to harvest and store rainwater for the dry months. The hilly countryside make that possible. ‘We construct terraces, so that the water can sink into the soil slowly, and is available in the valley,’ Jelmer explains.

Apart from measures to harvest and retain water, irrigation channels and pumps have been installed so that farmers can also grow food during the dry season. This contributes to food security. ‘During dry periods, products are scarce, so farmers who succeed in growing fruit and vegetables can get a good price for them,’ says Jelmer. ‘That is an additional advantage.’

Underground forest

Trees also help retain water in the soil. ‘But planting trees is not usually the best way to green areas,’ says Jelmer. ‘Some 80% of the saplings don’t make it, because goats eat them, or because they dry out.’

The Australian agronomist Tony Rinaudo – also known as the forest-maker – came up with a natural method that does work. Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration is a technique for regenerating trees from existing root systems, which are often still intact. Rinaudo calls this an underground forest. Through careful selection, pruning and protection, they soon grow into trees.

Working according to the principles of Locally Led Adaptation is another success factor. Farmers are themselves responsible for taking care of the trees in and around their own fields. They learn how to regenerate and protect existing local vegetation. This benefits the farmers because by selling fruit, oil and, ultimately, timber, the trees are a source of income. ‘In this way, you can green dryland areas at minimum cost, while improving farmers’ resilience and earnings,’ says Jelmer.

Resilience to climate change

The World Resource Institute researched this method and recommended it as one of the most cost-effective ways of halting desertification. In Niger, for example, more than five million hectares of land, with more than 200 million trees, have been restored. In Ethiopia, too, it has proved successful.

This initiative led to the greening of 50,000 hectares of dryland and improved the water supply. Agricultural production and the incomes of more than 60,000 farmers have doubled. ‘In some areas where DryDev was active, 70% of the participants were dependent on the Ethiopian government’s Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP),’ says Jelmer. ‘Now they earn enough to make a living, and are more resilient to the impact of climate change.’

Energy Globe Award

The Dutch embassy to Ethiopia saw its work rewarded. On 5 June 2021, it was announced that the Drylands Development project had won the Energy Globe Award, an international award for sustainability. The jury, chaired by India’s former environment minister, Maneka Gandhi, selected this project from more than 2,500 entries from 187 countries.