Gallery: Farm Africa charity helps make back-breaking labour easier for women farmers in rural Ethiopia

Children roaming the streets in Oromiya region, Ethiopia

Children roaming the streets in Oromiya region, Ethiopia - Credit: Archant

What may seem a simple thing to people living in a warm home with running water and three meals a day is life-changing for those families struggling to make ends meet in rural Ethiopia.

Reporter Lauren Everitt recently travelled to the Oromiya region of the country to find out for herself how Farm Africa is helping hundreds of families to improve their lives.

Every day is a long day, filled with exhausting and back-breaking manual labour for women in rural Ethiopia.

But thanks to Farm Africa’s project designed to help save farmers time and energy, women’s lives have been made that much easier with just basic equipment, tools and machinery that people in Suffolk may take for granted.

In general, women are responsible for tasks such as land preparation, planting, weeding, harvesting and activities such as threshing, while the men take charge of land clearing.

Farm Africa is helping 300 female farmers from West Hararghe district, in Ethiopia to earn more money from their maize and sorghum.

The project is introducing basic equipment like manual seed drills, long handle weeders and sorghum threshers which are reducing the time the women spend on time and labour intensive farming tasks. By reducing amount of time and energy spent on manual labour, the women are able to use this time to plant more, harvest more and have time to care for their families too. Farm Africa is also teaching local people to make and mend the tools.

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But perhaps the tool that has made the most difference, having seen it in action first-hand, is the maize crushing machine.

Using it for the first time, Maruma Mohammed and Nuria Abdulahi were in floods of tears as they realised just how much of a difference it would make to their lives.

Maruma, 30, who provides for her family by growing and selling sorghum said the machinery has completely changed her life.

“Last year it took days for my husband, neighbours and I to crush the sorghum, and this year, it took less than an hour,” she told me. “If the machine wasn’t here, it would have taken me two days with help from labourers and I’d be expected to cook for them.

Previously the huge amount of labour required to manually plant, weed and harvest her crop - not to mention the work needed to make it ready for market - meant Maruma lost the majority of her income to pay for labourers.

But now she has the money to invest in her family’s future, secure in the knowledge that she now has access to the tools she needs to make the most from her land.

She added: “Thanks to the crusher, I can now use that money to buy school uniforms and materials for my children and sanitary products for my daughters.”

Nuria, 40, who farms tef (a cereal) and maize, had tears streaming down her face as she told me: “In less than an hour, around 13 quintals (one quintal is 100 kilograms) of my maize had been crushed which would never have been possible before.

“Before I would have had 10 people helping me over two days which was very expensive but now I have more time and money for other activities.

“The machine has also enhanced the quality of the crops as it’s not got dust and dirt in it.”

Once the machine had finishing crushing 20-year-old Musteria Ahmed’s maize, she told me she would be able to sell it for 8,400 Ethiopian Birr (£262.50) and already had grand plans for the profit of her hard work.

“I want to decorate my home,” she explained with a huge smile on her face. “I want to buy a painting for the walls as well as make improvements to the floor and roof.

“I also want to buy a traditional bed which we can sit on during the day and sleep on at night.”

After the crops had been crushed, the crowds of people who had gathered round to watch the process leapt into the air and starting singing and dancing in joy.

While I was visiting the project, members of the district’s government were also seeing for themselves how the machinery works. The government is interested in learning from Farm Africa’s efforts to work with local farmers.

Farm Africa is keen to share tried and tested ways to help farmers to increase their harvests and incomes with government and other community organisations which in turn can roll this learning out to other communities around the country, reaching even more people.

Martha Araya, an agronomist for Oda Bultum Woreda (district government), said: “This project has helped the people to save their time and money because previously the farmers are expected to spend a lot of money on the people who help them harvest their crops.

“The crusher improves the quality of the crop as it properly separates the cob from the maize and that can be used to feed goats and fatten them for market.

“The project is incredibly good but right now the government office doesn’t have a budget to buy maize crushers.

“But in the future we are planning to include this machine in our budget plan to adopt the project in other districts.”

As well as providing tools to reduce the unnecessary hours of manual labour, Farm Africa runs a goat fattening project where women are provided with three goats on the condition they pay back half the cost.

Aster Tefera, 30, who lives with her husband and son, has had her animals for around three months.

“We have been taught how to feed the animals with the right foods by experts,” she explained. “I hope to sell the goats when they are fat enough and buy a dairy cow which will change my economic status. I’m very hopeful for the future.”

Each goat will sell for around 2,000 Ethiopian Birr (£62.50) and a cow will cost 4,000 Ethiopian Birr (£125).

Another strand to the scheme is Village Saving and Loan groups where women set up a jointly-run fund. They all pay a small amount into a week so they can access loans from their group fund to afford to buy essentials such as tools.