Head of Tigray’s Bureau of Agriculture and Rural Development in the Tigray interim administration, Dr. Abadi Girmay, sat for an interview with Fana, a government TV. The interview shows the grim reality of Tigray through the lens of agriculture. We present a full translation of the interview below.
[00:00] As can be recalled from last year, there were locust invasions in many areas in Tigray that left farmers devastated. Right after this, the war broke out. To make things worse, the timing of the war overlapped with harvest time. It is known that more than 25% of the total production of Tigray was destroyed by the locust swarms. Moreover, what was left from the locust invasions was still scattered all over the farmlands without proper harvesting. What was left on the crop fields was burned and ruined due to different causes. Some of the crop fields were either appropriated or devastated. On the top of all of this, because of the war, many people have been displaced from their homes and lands. They couldn’t take their belongings, livestock and produce with them.
[1:00] Therefore, what we are saying is, the farmers do not have grains for the coming season. Not even for crop growing purposes, let alone for daily consumption. The greater part of the population is displaced from their lands and homes, families are separated, and are scattered in diverse places and in camps set up by humanitarian agencies. Many killings have been recorded. They seized all the grains and produce from the farmers. Livestock, mainly oxen, were slaughtered and some were looted. In some places, thieves were even using pickup cars and trucks to steal the livestock of the peasants and farmers. When we look at this in general and in addition to the locust invasions the war has devastated the region entirely and famine is looming as well.
[2:00] So what should we do? We can look into relief for the time being, but in the long run this is not the way out and this won’t last long. If life as usual is expected to continue, if the Tigrayans’ lives should continue we have to at least make up what we have lost last year due to the locust, we have to restart farming and agricultural activities and we have to harvest what we can. But the main question is that the farmers are not on their farm lands, their livestock has been looted and they have no crop grain. And if a farmer has no grain and livestock and cannot use his land to plough and cultivate, agricultural activities would be very difficult to restore. The agricultural sector is the worst hit due to this war and the farmers are among the worst devastated segment of the society.
[3:00] If we are unable to plant and harvest yields this season for whatever reason, we will be in deep trouble for the coming three to five years. And If this is combined with famine, we will witness an unprecedented humanitarian crisis worse than ever seen in this nation. Therefore, any Tigrayan, other people of Ethiopia, and other stakeholders that can help us must coordinate efforts and do all that we can to start planting this season. Otherwise, we will see even a lot worse migration, death, famine, and other terrible things than what we are now witnessing in the war. This is not even going to be for one year, it can potentially go to four or more years.
[4:00] We are in a very difficult situation and time is not in our favor. Accordingly, we must do all that we can in this month to start ploughing and planting. If we are unable to do that, if farmers are not helped to return to their farm, if agricultural inputs are not made available then we will lose this small window of time that we have. There are excuses given here, even some of those stakeholders that want to help us say “But there is no peace, what can we do?”. How do you say that? In all the wars elsewhere in the world, Agriculture is not stopped, schools are not stopped and students continue education even out in the open because life must go on, because the society must not cease to exist. We must search for alternatives.
[5:00] Accordingly, as part of the agriculture bureau what did we attempt to accomplish? We have five main activities. The first one is fertilizers, it is essential. Second, we need seeds. Third is livestock. We don’t even have feeds for the livestock, nor veterinary clinics or pharmaceuticals. It is all destroyed! Most importantly the biggest asset of a farmer the oxens are at risk. What is more, we do not even have offices anymore. All the structure all the way from Regional to Tabya level does not exist anymore. In the Woredas, there is nothing, not even staplers or print paper. All the bureaus, all the stores, all the cars are looted. Every property that one can think of have been looted and/or destroyed.
[6:00] When we studied it, to reinstate the existing county structure, at least 200 million birr is needed and an additional 120 billion birr is required to get agriculture up to normal levels. This is not achievable at this point, it’s like a dream, maybe in the next 5 to 10 years with the help of our aid partners and by crafting various projects we can get there. But we cannot just wait idly. We made use of everything at our disposal and with 800 thousand quintal aid from the regional interim administration, we have made purchases and are in the process of transportation. So we hope that we will be able to distribute fertilizers in time. The second major problem is, as I told you before, grain, our farmers do not even have grain to feed themselves much less to use as seeds for farming.
[7:00] I wish you could go to Tigray and witness it firsthand. I would be happy if you could go and visit. Question is what do we do then? We have to save our people. So what do we do about the lack of grain? There is no budget from the federal government, what do we do? One big effort we have made in the past one and half month is searching for funds for seeds. Fortunately, there was a 150 million birr fund from last year reserved for locust swarm attack rehabilitation that we re-directed to the seed fund and purchased around 40 thousand quintals. We have also reached out to international organizations like the World Bank, European Union, FAO and other internal NGOs.
[8:00] The good thing is they have the desire to help. We need both the desire and the aid. But the problem is the aid covers only 1% of the demand of our people. Agriculture, however, must start soon in order to save the life and soul of the people. The farmers also need to return to their cultivation with hope for this year and years to come. We need to start agriculture this season using all our resources. Currently, we have raised enough funds for 120 thousand quintal from various organizations. But Tigray needs 600 thousand quintal which demands around 24 billion birr.
[9:00]Those that are most affected must be helped and we are doing all we can by shifting funds from other projects to seeds, fertilizers, and other inputs. We hope to get upto 120,000 Quintal and save our farmers. It is very difficult to recompense the loss of an oxen. It costs 25,000 to 30,000 birr, we don’t have money, and you can’t find an oxen to buy in Tigray at this time. So, what can we do? We need to find other alternatives to replace an Oxen. We have requested upto 350 million but we haven’t got any response yet. So what options do we have?
[10:00] As much as possible, we are trying to find ways of ploughing using tractors in some of the tractor suitable parts of Tigray. We need to do that and start seedling as soon as possible. Accordingly, around Qola raya upto 6000 hectares, around Adigudem 1000 hectares, the most damaged hawzen about 1000 hectares, Axum surroundings 3000 hectares, and around Shires and surroundings about 4000 hectares. So in total if we can plough about 15,000 hectares twice and we will need 120 million birr for this. If we try our best, and the government takes responsibility, and this is ploughed we can at least have some yield and seeds for next year. Preparing the land is therefore very challenging.
[11:00]So what can we do? As Tegaru, As Tigrayan that loves our country, this is not politics. Agriculture must start. So everyone must help the Tigrayan farmer be it monetarily or using their knowledge, in all that one can! All Tigrayan business people at home or abroad must support the Tigrayan farmer. Be it in terms of money or sharing tractors. If we can secure some funding we can even try to rent the tractors and plough the land. Otherwise, it will be very threatening. These are the steps we have taken so far. The other biggest problem is that, as I told you earlier, we don’t have the structure anymore upto Tabiya level. We don’t have any property. To restore this will need about 200 million and we don’t have that money.
[12:00] So all our employees are saying that “this is our country and this is our people. We will walk on our feets to work even if we don’t have cars.” They are showing commitment. But to do this, we have security problems. The farmers also need to return to their farms, they need to feel the same to work on their land. Otherwise this will be difficult and the government needs to arrange that on its part. Our sector is preparing to do all that we can with our stakeholders. The other biggest problem is the rehabilitation work we have labored for 40 years and even received a global recognition for is reduced into nothing. All rehabilitated areas are being destroyed, trees cut, burned, and used for making charcoal.
[13:00] We can’t save it. We fell from global recognition to now below zero. It might take us another 50 years to return to where we were.We were not even able to pay for guards, which is the least that we could do, and most seedling centers have been destroyed and their employees unpaid for the last 5 months. At least, to save what is left, we need to communicate with the community elders and other stakeholders.