FAO Regional Office for Africa

FAO Resilience Building Projects Pay Off in El Niño Affected Communities

Livelihood diversification and access to water boosted the capacity to survive drought impacts


18 February 2016, Addis Ababa – FAO’s water and income diversification projects have become instrumental to tackle the negative impacts of El Niño induced drought for pastoral and agro-pastoral communities in the Afar Region of north eastern Ethiopia.

FAO supports the Afar regional government’s effort to improve the livelihood of pastoral and semi-pastoral households through animal and crop production, animal health and feed, water supply for livestock, crop and fodder based irrigation and livelihood diversifications. These projects have partly built the resilience of the local communities against natural hazards like the ongoing drought which affected nearly half a million people in the region.

Access to water

Water is very vital for Afar region where the climate is generally arid. Nearly 95 percent of the 1.7 million populations are pastoralists who rely on animals for a living. This year the drought has made water availability much worse for the communities. To tackle similar hazards and build the resilience of pastoral communities to drought situation, FAO supported the construction and rehabilitation of water harvesting structures – microdams and steam water facility in the region.

Amadou Allahoury, FAO Representation in Ethiopia said, “Water is the most needed and same time the most precious resource in the region. We are proud to witness that FAO’s water harvesting projects have benefitted the local communities to survive the current El Niño impact.”   

Less than five percent of the population in the region relies on farming. FAO supports these communities with irrigation and provision of improved crop seeds. Using water from the river that crosses through the region, some farmers grew maize and onions, for own consumption and local market. Even if the current drought hit the area, they were able to produce some crops for their families to eat and make income.

Having visited the project, Patrick Kormawa, Sub-Regional Coordinator for Eastern Africa and Representative to AU and ECA, said, “We have seen potentials in irrigation. We talked with agro-pastoralists who grow maize using irrigation. They provided food for their family. And more interesting, their animals could survive on crop residues where other pastoral communities could not enjoy this opportunity as they only rely on their animals.”

Income diversification

Because of the growing impact of climate change and El Nino phenomena, it became extremely challenging for pastoral communities to pursue traditional means of livelihoods – looking after animals. FOA and the regional government have been working to create optional means of livelihoods for the local communities. Local community members were organized into cooperatives of animal feed producers, dairy products processing and value chain and date-palm production. These projects successfully created income diversification opportunities which supported them to increase their capacity to withstand shocks like the ongoing drought.

“Income diversification programs are very positive aspects. In the region where livestock is a major means of livelihood, but extremely vulnerable to hazards, livelihood diversifications are very much vital. People have the income and money to buy food. But when the people do not have the income and money, and if the drought hits, the drought is like a double-edge sword.”  

Scaling up   

Learning from the present benefits of water and income diversification projects for the communities, they were suggested to be scaled up and expanded in all districts of the region. In a project like steam water harvest, FAO stepped in to improve the local knowledge of harvesting water from underground steam through condensation. There are potentials in the steam water and rain water catchment in the region. FAO and the regional government agreed to move forward to heighten the current cooperation with this regard and other projects to continue building the resilience of pastoral communities and bring lasting changes in their lives.

His Excellency Mr. Seyoum Awal Aybahis, the President of the Afar Region said, “FAO’s support to the region is changing the lives of many community members. I encourage FAO to extend projects on livestock, water and crop production throughout Afar during and after the El-Niño response. FAO’s is already considered as one of ‘Afar clans’, because of its strong bond with the region’s pastoral communities.”


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