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New irrigation channel changes lives in Shasha Korke

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It's water day at Dedefi Dalacha's house in Shasha Korke. A narrow, shallow ditch running through his front gate, across his yard, and into the vegetable field behind his house carries a steady stream, which Dalacha diverts into the various sections of his half-acre field. For a little while he irrigates his cabbage. Then he waters his onions. Finally his, carrots.

The next day another farmer nearby will have a turn, but there is enough to go around. Dalacha says that he now has no water worries—even in January, a dry time of year. "We used to have to wait for rain, but now we use water whenever we want, and there is no difference between the rainy and dry season." Dalacha, 40, is well over six feet tall and rail thin, but still looks powerful and projects an energetic attitude. He is married to Safiye Bediya, and they have eight children between the ages of four and 20.

Dalacha says his income has increased and he is more secure now. He built a new concrete house next to their traditional mud and thatch round house with the money now coming in from vegetable sales. And Dalacha says all his children can now go to school. "Before, I had a shortage of income. Now it is no trouble to keep them in school with everything they need."

A steady supply of water for the families in Shasha Korke has been a big improvement. It came about through a project by the Ethiopian agency Center for Development Initiatives (CDI) funded in part with a $75,000 grant from Oxfam America starting in 2005, when dry weather in the scenic Rift Valley south of Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa, was causing serious hardship for farmers, who were growing primarily sugar cane for a cash crop. Sugar cane is difficult to grow: it needs a lot of water and does not contribute to the nutritional needs of small-scale farmers like those in Shasha Korke. This left many families there suffering from malnutrition if their crop yields were low, and income fell off.

Before the irrigation system was improved, the community had traditional earthen canals that fed water from the Dedeba Tina river to the farm plots, but it was inefficient. "There was a lot of water loss," says Dalacha. "It seeped into the soil, and could not reach the fields. Sometimes it would get clogged with grass and silt, so we could not irrigate our fields properly." CDI's proposal was ambitious, but straightforward: with help from the community famers, it built new irrigation channels lined with cement and gravel, with outlets leading directly into the small farms. CDI also built foot bridges over the channel, and gates to manage the flow of water to the different members of the community. The 1.8 kilometer channel (1.2 miles) was finished in 2006 and is now directly helping 68 households cultivating 25 hectares (61 acres) of farmland.

Visible changes

Woya Shakule, the 34-year-old chairman of the Shasha Korke water user committee, says all the farmers played a role in the project. Each bought shares in the irrigation system to help maintain it. The water users agreed on guidelines for sharing the water and maintaining the system, and helped CDI ensure the new channels would meet their needs. The committee organized training for the farmers, and distributed seeds to help them transition from growing sugar cane to vegetables, which they could eat as well as sell. "Most of them produced a crop once a year, but now they are harvesting twice a year," Shakule says, while standing next to one of the main irrigation channels, thought which water quietly gurgles "We see big changes here, and they are really life-changing."

Mekonnen Koji, CDI's project manager in the Shashamene area, says it is easy for him to see an improvement in the health of the children. They used to be malnourished, and the mothers looked worried. Now he says the children are healthier looking and more active. "It is vivid, the changes in the faces of the children," he says.

Safaye Bediya, wife of Dedefi Dalacha, agrees. "My children would catch cold easily," she says, noting that before the irrigation system was improved they could not grow enough food to eat and had to buy vegetables from the market. It was expensive and the quality was not as good as the fresh produce they now grow themselves. As their diet improved, so did the health of her children.

"Now they are healthy and happy," she says.

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