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Farm Radio Weekly

Ethiopia: Sheep fattening transforms lives (International Livestock Research Institute)

When asked what life was like a decade ago, Misku Abafaris says, “In those days, I was never exposed to any new ideas, any new approaches.”

Ms. Abafaris lives in Gudeta, a small village 30 minutes’ walk from a tarmac road. Until recently, her daily routine was little different from earlier generations of women in Ethiopia’s Oromiya Region. In good years, the coffee harvest was plentiful. In bad years, the coffee failed or droughts shrivelled food crops. But new ideas and new approaches, so lacking in the past, have recently helped to transform lives.

The most obvious differences are in the fields below the village, where half a dozen handsome sheep are being fattened for market. Ms. Abafaris says, “With the profits I’ve made from my sheep, I’ve been able to buy a Boran heifer, which will yield much more milk than our local breed of cow.” She recounts how last year, there was no coffee harvest, but she still made enough money from the sheep to pay all their household expenses. Ms. Abafaris is particularly proud that her sheep-fattening business paid for her eldest daughter, now 21 years old, to live and study in the nearby town of Agora.

Her husband, Abafaris Abamaliky, says, “Misku’s forgotten to tell you about the chairs we’re sitting on. It was the money from the sheep that paid for the timber and the carpentry. And it paid for the wooden box where I now keep my clothes and my private things.” The pride he takes in his wife’s achievements is plain to see.

Ms. Abafaris and her husband are among tens of thousands of farmers to benefit from a project which has helped them improve the productivity of their livestock and crops and market them more effectively. The Improving Productivity and Market Success of Ethiopian Farmers project was launched in 2006.

Yisehak Baredo is the project’s Research and Development Officer in Goma, one of the districts where the project operates. He explains, “Many farmers were keen to develop sheep fattening, but they didn’t have the knowledge or skills to improve production … it took them up to a year to fatten them.” Ms. Abafaris’ experience was typical. She kept just one sheep, whose only supplement was kitchen food scraps, and she made hardly any money fattening its lambs.

In 2008, the project provided training on sheep fattening for Ms. Abafaris and 119 other farmers. They learned about the importance of providing their animals with protein-rich food supplements and how to keep them in good health. The first training was so successful that it was repeated for 92 farmers a year later.

Without access to credit, provided by a local microfinance institution, none of this would have been possible. Talk to any of the farmers who benefited and they’ll tell you in great detail how they spent their first loans. Ms. Abafaris borrowed 1500 birr ($US 115). She bought five young sheep, a supply of cottonseed meal, life insurance for herself and insurance for her five sheep, plus de-wormers and other veterinary products. Three months later, she sold the fattened sheep and paid back the loan, earning a net profit of 1200 birr ($US 90) – a considerable sum of money in this area. Subsequent fattening cycles have resulted in similar profits for Ms. Abafaris.

The group of 30 small-scale farmers which she chairs was immediately able to repay its loans in full. As a result, the microfinance institution has been happy to provide her with several further loans. Many other farmers have succeeded in fattening their sheep and increasing their income. More than four out of five who received training shortened the fattening period to just three months.

Suchare Abamaliky is one of Ms. Abafaris’ neighbours. She says, “With the profits I’ve made from the sheep, we’ve built an extension to our house and bought a high-yielding Boran cow.” Musa Kadir, who belongs to the same farmers’ association, used his profits to pay school fees for his children. He says, “I’m earning as much money in three months as I used to make in a year from the sale of coffee beans.” He has ambitious plans to expand the number of sheep he fattens, and he’s begun to raise avocado and mango seedlings, having observed the activities of one of his neighbours.

This is the way new ideas spread, across hedges and fields, from farmer to farmer.

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