Partners Cope with World Food Crisis through Epicenter Strategy

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September 2008 Trip Report

Cathy Burke, Country Director, The Hunger Project-Australia

In mid-September, I visited The Hunger Project's work in Ethiopia. This trip occurred in the midst of a major food crisis. I was interested to see how sustainable our Epicenter Strategy is in the midst of such a critical time.

I visited three of our epicenters: Mesqal, Jaldu and Debre Libanos. All of these epicenters have buildings, although none have a recognized bank, and the oldest one is still 12-18 months from being self-reliant. Essentially I saw our work, and how epicenters cope, in communities that are yet to be self-reliant.

While the publicized food security issues are most critical in the southern part of the country, while our work is located in the middle area of the country, it is very tough for our partners at the moment, particularly at the Jaldu Epicenter.

In August in Jaldu, 25,000 kgs of grain were distributed from the epicenter food bank for families in need. This food had been grown and stored by the community. Unfortunately this still left about 5,000 more people whom the epicenter food bank could not support. The remaining 10,000 kgs in the food bank will be distributed in October, leaving the bank empty. Harvest is in November and thankfully farmers felt confident of a reasonable harvest.

I spoke to a number of people who live about five kilometeres from the epicenter building and had not been part of the epicenter food distribution. They are living on a diet of potato and cabbage. Although they said they ate one meal each day, with further questioning, it became evident that people are eating once a day (not one meal a day), sharing one meal portion with five to six people. Families are sharing with one another, but also families with very little are sharing what they have with others in their community.

Due to the epicenter activities, drip irrigation was installed by the partners into the five hectare community garden behind the Jaldu Epicenter. Though it is run on precious (and expensive) diesel, it means that beginning in 2009, partners will be able to harvest twice a year, instead of once, thus significantly increasing food production for the people.

I was really impressed by the culture of savings and loans the people are developing through the microfinance programs for women and men. I heard numerous stories of proud partners sharing the impact that their 300 birr (US$30) has made in their lives.

Also, through the trainings at the epicenter, traditional harmful practices like abduction, female genital mutilation and early marriage are being addressed. There has been an increase in the status of women and girls as a result of The Hunger Project's work.

Overall I was extremely impressed with the work of The Hunger Project-Ethiopia in a very challenging economic and social situation. The team has accomplished a lot in a few short years, under the good direction of Country Director, Mr. Gubaie. He truly understands the principles of The Hunger Project and this has taken root in all the staff and is getting stronger in the epicenters we visited. The team is dedicated and diligent. I am confident of the continued growth of our work there.