Photo: Now Medina earns enough to feed her five children. Credit: Kizito Makoye | IDN-INPS - Photo: 2018

Building Climate Resilience through Women’s Entrepreneurship in Ethiopia

By Kizito Makoye

BOYNA, Ethiopia (ACP-IDN) – A long spell of drought three years ago made life extremely challenging for 48-year-old Medina Igahle, a mother of five living in Boyna village in the Bubta Wodera region, when some of her goats, cattle and camels starved.

“When disaster hit, I had to bundle up what little I owned and together with my family head out to meet an uncertain future,” she says.

In many parts of Africa, changing weather patterns and environmental degradation are putting small-scale farmers at risk of extreme poverty, hunger and displacement.

Due to climate change, pastoralists – whose livelihoods depend on their livestock – are continually roaming as they desperately try to find water and pastures for their herds.

However, many rural inhabitants in drought-hit Ethiopia are discovering new tactics to cushion themselves from extreme weather by lessening their sole dependency on pastoralism and instead engaging in alternative income-generating activities.

Medina, who has often moved with her family and animals to Chifra Worenda – a village located 200 km away – for as long as three months, no longer makes such epic journeys.

Medina recently borrowed 2,500 Birr (roughly 90 dollars) from Afar Microfinance Bureau – part of a Farm Africa women’s empowerment initiative to start small businesses – and supplement her husband’s income from a sugar factory.

She has used the money to set up a small shop for selling food items including sugar and pasta. Sales have increased and Medina’s profits have surged, and she is now on the road to meeting her family’s needs and ensuring that her children go to school.

Traditionally, many women in pastoralist families have not had their own income. While men roamed with their herds in search of pastures, women shouldered the burden of caring for families and had little time to engage in economic activities.

However, as part of Farm Africa’s Market Approach to Resilience Project (MAR), communities in drought-hit Ethiopian lowlands are being assisted to build their resilience to extreme weather, protecting the landscapes they depend on and lessening dependency on pastoralism.

The project, which is part of the Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Extremes and Disasters (BRACED) programme funded by the United Kingdom, has helped local residents cushion themselves by building up savings and diversifying their incomes.

Through access to Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs), people are able to access short-term loans to help them in times of economic distress. Through these loans, many women have become economically active, earning money from various activities, including selling clothes or opening small food shops.

To help reduce migration while boosting their ability to engage in alternative economic activities, men are being supported to regenerate rangelands and switch to the “cut and carry” method for feeding livestock.

As families bolster their incomes, they are able to better cope with climate shocks, while women become economically empowered and have their status within the family elevated.

As part of the initiative, women have a greater voice and fully participate in decision-making processes regarding their children’s education, food and household finances and in the community.

Medina’s small shop also benefited the local community by saving people time and effort. Previously, villagers had to travel to the town of Woreda, 18 km away, to buy consumer goods.

The income from the shop has given Medina financial confidence. She no longer asks for money from her husband for daily expenses. It has also increased security in the event of a weather disaster.

Medina’s shop has freed her family from a livelihood totally dependent on livestock, although she still owns a few goats, which provide the family with milk. If and when a drought occurs, however, she will not migrate with them in search of grass but, rather, sustain her flock on processed animal feed, which she is now capable of purchasing.

“I am planning to expand the shop to earn more money to secure the future of my family. The few goats we own will provide milk to supplement the family diet,” she says.

Farm Africa works with micro-finance institutions to assist vulnerable households gain access to credit to start small businesses.

Photo: Zahra giving her children goat's milk. Credit: Kizito Makoye | IDN-INPSPhoto: Zahra giving her children goat’s milk. Credit: Kizito Makoye | IDN-INPS

Zahra Humed, who lives in Chifra town, lost her livestock during a recent drought. When her husband died of illness, she was left alone to support their five children.

According to tradition, Zahra was inherited as a wife by the brother of her deceased husband, who had two children. The MAR project then enrolled Zahra, and project socio-economic experts educated her and other vulnerable women about the benefits of saving and assisted them in setting up a village savings and loan association.

Zahra and the other women formed a village savings and loan group named Wadba. The group’s 36 members meet twice a month. The group currently has a capital of 1,900 Birr and has lent money to ten members, including Zahra.

“I took a loan,” says Zahra, “and used it to buy goats at one market and resell them for profit at another market place.  In this way, I was able to gain a profit of at least 50 to 100 Birr.”

The MAR project supports the appropriate diversification of economic activity among the most vulnerable people. Wadba members were supported to produce and market energy-saving stoves. The project supplied them with moulds for making the stoves and the initial inputs for the production.

“I have built a new house and own a few goats. Now, life is better. We will keep on producing the stoves and save money as well to educate our children so they will have a better future,” says Zahra

Through the project, the Wadba saving and loan group has been able to earn alternative income and secure markets for their products, let alone adapt to extreme weather, profoundly changing Zahra’s outlook and improving her livelihood, along with many others. [IDN-InDepthNews – 14 September 2018]

Top photo: Now Medina earns enough to feed her five children. Middle photo: Zahra giving her children goat’s milk. Credit: Kizito Makoye

This report is part of a joint project of the Secretariat of the ACP Group of States and IDN, flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

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