Published in October 2023

When dryland communities have access to water from a sand dam, new possibilities open up for them to diversify their livelihoods. Speaking with a member of the Alteargude community in southern Ethiopia, we hear how their sand dam project, particularly the training they have received, is opening new windows of opportunity for them.

Oito Mulea is a 32-year-old agro-pastoralist woman living in the Alteargude kebele (sub-district), who is married and is a mother to five children. The community in Alteargude completed construction of their sand dam in August 2023 (with funding from Jersey Overseas Aid, Isle of Man Government and the Beatrice Laing Trust), but had struggled with their food and water security for some time before this.

When asked about their living situation prior to the construction of their sand dam, Oito had this to say:

"Before this project we had very little; I only had a few fruit trees on my farm which were not very productive, as we didn’t have the skills or training to improve them."

Lacking an adequate supply of water has a significant impact on the ability of farming communities to produce enough food to sustain their livelihoods, since agro-pastoralist communities rely on farming to both feed their families and to generate an income.

Oito expands on this further, "Before the sand dam project, the only source of food we had was our livestock. To afford 50kg of sorghum or other food, we would have to sell a goat, which is an important asset to us farmers."

Selling livestock or animal products, such as milk or eggs, is a key source of income for farmers in the region. Oito explains that during long dry seasons, the lack of water and the effect this had on agriculture meant an even greater reliance on livestock farming in order to afford daily necessities.

However, since constructing their sand dam and receiving agricultural support, the community is beginning to see positive change. With a water source nearer to her home, Oito shares that she is now able to cultivate her crops and fruit trees with much more success, even during dry seasons:

Oito Mulea - member of the Alteargude community"Now I have a number of fruit trees on my farmland, as well as multipurpose crops such as pigeon peas. These crops can be eaten by both people and livestock, which makes them very useful for us."

Oitio Mulea, member of the Alteargude community, southern Ethiopia.

A major part of sand dam projects is the training sessions that communities receive, which cover many skills that help local people to get the most out of their sand dam water. Oito mentions that the training she received has helped her to improve her agricultural practices, whilst being supplied with seeds and seedlings by Action for Development (our partners in Ethiopia) has helped her to grow new produce like papaya and moringa trees.

Oito added that, because of this project, the variety of food she can grow has significantly increased. Moringa trees, onion plants, and pigeon peas are new food items that she could not grow before.

"Previously I didn’t have knowledge of producing onions, but this project has trained me and supplied me with the seeds to do so. With my first harvest, I was able to feed my family and sell my surplus for 500 Ethiopian Birr (approx £7.30), which I used to buy clothes."

With the training and resources the community has been supported with, new windows of opportunity are now opening for rural communities to develop and diversify their livelihoods. Oito concluded our interview by sharing her plans to do exactly this in the near future:

"My first harvest was just a small plot, but now I have three times more produce than I did then. I also have a papaya farm; in time I will start selling the papaya fruits, save the money I make, and use it to buy more goats."

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