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Training Agents of Change: A New Approach to Reach Ethiopia’s Climate-Vulnerable Farmers

fields and wind turbines in ethiopia
Fields along the expressway between Addis Ababa and Adama, Ethiopia. Photo: Elisabeth Gawthrop

Driving on a new, six-lane expressway, it takes about an hour and a half to get from Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, to the city of Adama, about 60 miles to the southeast. Around 300,000 of Ethiopia’s 100 million people live in Adama, and at its center it feels just as bustling as the nearby capital, even though the city sits in a region that is predominately agrarian.

A few blocks off of one of Adama’s main roads is an office of the Oromia Regional State’s Agriculture Bureau. It’s a small compound of single-story buildings that surround a dusty courtyard peppered with trees, trucks, tractors and scooters. Mekonnen Diriba has been an agronomist here for the last four years, advising surrounding farming communities on new and best practices in agriculture.

In October 2018, Diriba was one of 55 participants who completed a two-week training held in Addis Ababa on using new climate information products available online. The course, supported by ACToday—a Columbia World Project led by the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI)—was the first to bring personnel from district offices of the National Meteorological Agency as well as those from agriculture, health and disaster risk management agencies. The training marked the next major step for ACToday in Ethiopia, as the project aims to equip farmers with the best available climate information to manage their food production in times of drought and other climate extremes. Agronomists like Diriba play a key role in ensuring that this happens.

Mekonnen Diriba in his office
Mekonnen Diriba, agronomist, at his office, a zonal branch of the Oromia Regional State’s Agriculture Bureau. Photo: Elisabeth Gawthrop

Managing rainfall variability is the most important issue farmers face in Ethiopia, Diriba said. “Because the onset and ending of the rainy season are highly variable, this makes a big challenge for farmers to practice their normal agriculture.”

Ethiopia is still heavily reliant on smallholder farming, which accounts for 85 percent of the country’s employment and 95 percent of its agricultural production, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization. Most of the country’s 12 million farming households do not have access to irrigation, making the timing and amount of rains even more critical.

“In Ethiopia, which is frequented by drought, climate variability has drastic impacts on crop yields, which leads to lower incomes for farmers and less available food,” said IRI’s Tufa Dinku, who oversees ACToday efforts in Ethiopia. Dinku worked extensively with the Ethiopian government to bring together different government ministries for this training. “It’s only through trainings like these that we can solve the problem of how to get actionable climate information to those who need it to make decisions that can affect millions of people.”

Read the rest of the story on the IRI blog.

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Congratulations to our Columbia Climate School MA in Climate & Society Class of 2024! Learn about our May 10 Class Day celebration. #ColumbiaClimate2024

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