One of the more successful members of the Shasha Korke water users committee is Sentayehu Mulugeta, who farms slightly more than seven acres. He is an energetic man of 60 who looks 20 years younger. "I don't ever get sick unless I am idle," he said standing next to the concrete irrigation channel running through part of his farm.
His list of products is impressive. He grows cabbage, beets, carrots, onions, as well as coriander, fenugreek, and basil.
Like many others in the area, Mulugeta used to grow sugar cane, and was struggling to make it work. "The first year I had a good harvest," he says, "But after three years I could see it was declining every year." He switched to raising cattle, but had trouble keeping his herd healthy. Financial pressures pushed him to raise khat, a mild stimulant that can be harvested three times a year that is always in demand. It looked more attractive than sugar cane, which could only be harvested annually. Growing khat meant much-needed income for his family, but he was determined to find a way to grow food crops that are nutritious, but also bring a decent profit.
"I was just wondering what to do when CDI (Center for Development Initiatives) came and gave me seeds for carrots, beets, onions, and carrots," says Mulugeta. CDI also helped him start growing enset—nicknamed "false banana"—a starchy staple in a neighboring southern region of Ethiopia that looks like a large banana tree.
Although Mulugeta and many others harvested their first crop at the same time and had trouble finding markets at first, this has improved as has his income. Thanks to the steady water supply and hard work, his farm is prospering. He now believes he can increase his monthly net revenues from 6,000 birr to 20,000 birr ($640 to $2,100).
Mulugeta's next big move is to grow apples: he is one of six farmers in the area working with CDI experimenting with trees from Spain. Apples are a rare fruit for Ethiopia, and could fetch a handsome price. "If I can transform my farm into an apple farm it would be good for me and the community," he says. "I want to be shoulder-to-shoulder with other big apple producers in the world economy. This would be good for the economy of our country."
Mulugeta's ambition arises partly from a sense of responsibility. He says that since CDI and Oxfam America were able to help him, he feels obligated to put in a good effort for the opportunity. It's his personal philosophy: "If someone gives me something, I have to match it nine-fold," he says, making sure that his own labor and other contributions are worth nine times any aid he receives.
"I know that others want us to have a better life," Mulugeta said sitting under the shade of a tree near his enset field. "I will plant everything they give me so I can prove the money for this project did not go to waste."