Integrated Bioeconomy System in Mekele
Mekele is the capital city of Tigray Region in the far north of Ethiopia 750 kilometers from Addis Ababa. Mekele’s environment represents much of Tigray with rocky, arid, high plains encircled by a chain of mountains. Tigray suffers from significant water shortages in drought years and has on average just 650 millimeters rainfall per year. The Mek’ele biofarm was one of the first demonstration farms established in 2003. It is located in the Mek’ele city limits and utilizes a natural stream that flows through the property for irrigation. In this site, BEA teaches farmers how to create water storage and ponds from a natural springs as well as build hand dug wells with hand pumps. Drip irrigation systems using plastic water bottles and other methods are taught to conserve water. Before the training many farmers rely solely on the intermittent rainfall for irrigation. This comprehensive site demonstrates honey processing, biogas digesters, descriptions of all seeds and plants, solar energy design, and other components of the Integrated Biofarm System. The use of chopped up Neem tree for pest control is encouraged to avoid chemical pesticides. Trainings happen about five times per year and the rest of the time follow-up is done on farms randomly selected by the Mekele BEA staff. As part of BEA’s goals to advocate for gender equity, one hundred women from a women’s community association called Marta Group were also trained on solar power and irrigation at the biofarm according to their interests. The manager states that 90% of farms they check are successfully applying some of the methods from IBS, primarily the diversification of crops. These successful farmers are rewarded with vegetable seeds provided by BEA.
Gebre Kiros Belay was trained four years ago at the Mek’ele biofarm. His farm had no house, no animals, and he was growing about four quintiles of wheat and teff only. He now has cattle, oxen, donkeys, chickens, two water pumps, beekeeping, dairy, and is growing 12 quintiles per hectare of teff, wheat, and barley. Gebre Kiros’s reported income has gone from 3000 birr to 35,000 birr per year (USD $176-$2,058). With his increased income he has built a two story house. BEA supported Gebre Kiros to develop a biogas system which provides all of his cooking fuel. He has trained eight farmers on his own farm about biogas, irrigation, and diversification. When asked about the family planning portion of the training he said he heard it but chose to have nine children because he “only has one brother and needs to contribute more”.
As one of the first model farmers trained by BEA, Gebre Kiros was selected to visit Switzerland for an ecofarming training alongside other BEA staff last summer. “My life has changed from the knowledge gained from Bioeconomy. Before it was difficult to provide food and healthcare but now it is not a problem to care for my family.”