Ethiopia is seeing its once rich biological and crop diversity eroded by industrial agriculture practices, including the introduction of hybrid seeds and chemical inputs. The ensuing deforestation and soil fertility degradation, coupled with the rising global costs of agricultural inputs, are also further straining farm productivity and threatening food security. Resolving these crises has been the main driver behind the work of MELCA in Ethiopia.
MELCA is a not-for-profit, non-governmental organization founded by environmental practitioners and lawyers to empower local communities to conserve their biological and cultural diversity. MELCA is also a member of the African Biodiversity Network (ABN), whose vision and objectives they share.
MELCA seeks to continue its efforts to tackle the food and biodiversity crises by strengthening the productivity and resilience of local farming and food systems. It will promote agroecological practices at the grassroots level in the Wereilu District of the Amhara Regional State, while also supporting policy advocacy at the national level.
Seeds of empowerment
The new project draws from traditional knowledge to build agroecological awareness and capacity among smallholder farmer families. This approach is central to MELCA’s work.
Through MELCA’s Social Empowerment through Group Nature Interaction (SEGNI) program, local elders have been conveying to younger generations the importance of preserving natural resources and related cultural assets of their communities. SEGNI aims to mobilize rural communities for the preservation of their environment. Youths in three schools have formed SEGNI clubs to get parents and the community involved in the preservation of traditional knowledge and even seeds of local species. The meaning of the acronym segni in Oromiffa, one of the widely spoken languages of Ethiopia, is “seed.”
Schooled in sustainability
As part of preserving traditional knowledge and culture, the project aims to restore local and locally adapted seed varieties and agrobiodiversity. It also aims to promote traditional agroecological practices such as ecosystem rehabilitation, water conservation, organic soil fertility management, integrated animal and crop husbandry practices, and Indigenous seeds preservation.
MELCA will promote these practices in partnership with the community-based Endelibe Local Seed Conservators and Producers Farmers Association it helped establish in 2019. MELCA also hopes to increase the number of members in the association, and thus contribute to sustainable food system transformation, notably through increasing the size of and access to the local seed bank.
Women at the forefront
The project will notably aim at strengthening the active participation of local women in the production and marketing of agroecology-based healthy food products, thereby further enhancing their empowerment.
This aspect of the project will build on an existing women-led economic infrastructure in the Wereilu district. Since 2016, MELCA has supported the establishment of more than 50 women’s self-help groups. These micro or grassroots saving and credit groupings, now comprising around 865 women, have already been engaged in eco- on-farm or off-farm livelihood improvement schemes or income-generating activities, including the production and supply of organic foods to local markets.
From micro to macro
The result of these activities will be the increased dissemination and adoption of agroecological practices, with clearly measurable social, cultural, and economic benefits, as well as long-term environmental gains.
Supported by this body of evidence, MELCA intends to influence Ethiopia’s agriculture, seed, and food policy with the objective of getting agro-ecology based farming practice accepted by the government of Ethiopia.