Dams boost income for Eritrean farmers, improve food security

Farmers make the most of improved food security thanks to a new micro dam, part of a $1.2 million UNDP food security project.

On arrival at Lamka village on the outskirts of Asmara, one may be tempted to think it is deserted. The movement of people is limited and only a handful of children play in an open field. This is because almost everyone has gone to work on their farms in a nearby valley irrigated by two micro dams.

About the Project

  • The Adi hakefa-Lamza micro dam is about 12 Km South East of Asmara, the capital city of Eritrea.
  • The micro dam was constructed as part of a $1.2 million UNDP food security project initiative implemented jointly with the Eritrea Ministry of Agriculture.
  • The micro dams provide water for small scale horticultural irrigation farming throughout the year.

Located in the horn of Africa, the area is semi-arid and stays dry most part of the year.  Using irrigation water supplied by the Adi Hakefa-Lamza micro dam, the community is able to produce high-quality horticultural products throughout the year.

The micro dam was constructed over a period of a year starting in 2010. The dam is 24 meters deep, and 200 meters wide and currently holds 600,000 cubic meters of water but has a capacity of one million cubic meters of water if the rains are sufficient.  The community members provided labor for construction while the excavation was achieved through mechanical means under supervision of the Eritrean Ministry of Agriculture.

Water from the dam is pumped though irrigation canals to feed 1,200 household maintained small scale farms in the valley via gravity. The farms are irrigated once every two weeks.  The farmers make monthly contribution that enable them purchase the diesel for the pump and also carry out canal and equipment maintenance. The farmers receive extension service support from the government through the ministry of Agriculture. 

“Sometimes, there are shortages of fuel and we receive support from the Ministry of Agriculture who are always at hand to support us.” says the village administrator Ms. Abrahazion.

She hopes that there can be another form of technology like solar and wind that can ensure the water pumping is a continuous process even if there is no diesel. With the new dam the ministry is planning to increase the land to 100 ha and introduce new modes of farming like drip irrigation for increased production.

The community in Lamza was introduced to irrigation farming by the Italians during the colonial period.  They depended on one micro dam and they could not expand their farm land. The dam occasionally ran out of water during prolonged cases of drought.  UNDP worked closely with the government to construct a second dam, a part of an initiative to empower the country to improve food security and improve livelihoods among small scale farmers.

The UNDP project is already showing some successes after the dam was inaugurated. With the introduction of a new micro dam the community has been able to open new lands for farming. The total acreage under cultivation is now 25 hectares (61 acres). The community now has more water and they are able to carry on with their farming activities throughout the year. 

This hasfood security in the area and excess production is sold at the main Asmara market, where products from the area are known for their high quality and are in high demand.

Abrahazion pleased that the second dam was constructed.

“We have seen improvement of nutrition among the children because they are able to access highly nutritious vegetables from the irrigation scheme," she said.

"The children are also able to attend school consistently because they are healthy and fall sick less often.”

Abrahazion further adds that the success of the project has attracted more people who would also want to benefit from the irrigation scheme.

“We had set aside a land bank to give to those who wanted to participate in the farming as new members; we have allocated most of it to new members, now those who are coming may not have any land to work on.”

The success of the village has  attracted more people who would like to also benefit from such projects.  

This growing population has prompted the community members to think about redesigning the canal and leveling the ground so that they can get open more land to share with the new settles in addition to increasing the average size of land per household.

Abrahazion said she has seen improvement in the living standards of the population and particularly women and children who are the main beneficiaries of the project.

"Water is readily available at our doorsteps; we do not have to walk long distances to fetch water.”

The community jointly markets its products in order to gain from economies of scale. To achieve this they harvest their produce on Friday and jointly transport the product to the Market in Asmara where they have a common wholesale market. Due to the high quality of their products, many of those who buy are small scale retailers who would then sell in different locations of the city.

In addition to the environmental and ecological advantages to the area, the micro dam has enabled farmers to boost their livestock rearing due to ease access to fodder from the irrigation scheme. 

Plans are underway to introduce bee keeping and poultry farming. The total cost of the project is estimated at about $1.2 million with the aim of improving the household food security of 1,200 households approximately 6000 people. UNDP has also assisted construct three other similar micro dams across the country.

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