This month, Oxfam launched its GROW campaign with a new report on food security. The campaign is for a world without hunger and the report shows how our global food system is failing the very poorest.
“Hunger is not a natural phenomenon. It is a man-made tragedy,” wrote Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a GROW ambassador, last week. “People do not go hungry because there is not enough food to eat. They go hungry because the system that delivers food from the fields to our plates is broken. And now in this new age of crisis — with increasingly severe and extreme weather and dwindling natural resources – feeding the world will get harder still.”
For me, three facts stood out. The first was that 80% of the world’s hungry people are directly involved in food production. Oxfam says that the 500 million small-scale farmers in the world together feed one-third of humanity – but they themselves go to bed with empty stomachs. I remembered the figure that 80% of Ethiopians are small-scale farmers.
The next was that crops in sub-Saharan Africa will yield 20–30% less (and maybe even less) by 2080 because of climate change.
The third was that foreign investors had bought 110 million acres of arable land & water in developing countries in 2009 (the size of California and West Virginia combined).
I remembered our driver, exasperated with locals in the remote south who were using a steamingly-fresh bitumen road to walk their animals to market one morning; “The people love these Chinese roads because now their clothes are not covered in dust – but they don’t know they might die walking along here!” – Beeeep! I remembered Chinese cement factories and acres of European flower farms along the lakes region south of Addis Ababa. I also noticed much less obvious poverty on the streets of the capital than I had on a trip five years earlier.
In 2010, Ethiopia offered 7.4 million acres of virgin land to foreign corporations to grow food for export.
With a history of extreme drought and famine, a future especially vulnerable to climate change and a present at the centre of a farmland grab by fast developing countries like China, India and Pakistan – How can Ethiopia protect its natural riches and provide for the health of its people into the future?
We spoke to Dr Tesfaye from the Ethiopian Institute of Biodiversity Conservation about protecting Ethiopia’s unique natural heritage and why this is important.
The land behind Lakew’s house in Fiche drops 2000 metres into the Great Rift Valley; it becomes teff and grain crops, and salty white river banks, as far as the eye can see in any direction.
It was on the slopes and crags of one cliff face (which we were also told is one of the top hang-glide launch pads in Africa!) where we would spend an afternoon in the high plateau sun; collecting and tagging native herbs for identification at the Institute of Biodiversity Conservation.
We set off with Lakew, Dr. Tesfaye and the Fiche men who knew this ground so well. We came back with a mini living pharmacy of plants and a troop of ten local boys, out of school for the afternoon, who called themselves ‘The Soccer Team’.
Here is some footage of this incredible place…
We set off on the road North from Addis Ababa to see the garden site in Fiche for the first time, and to meet with local herbalists to introduce ourselves and the Living Pharmacy project.
As we drove further into Oromo territory the landscape changed to broad, sweeping valleys of farmland, hugged by distant hills and forests of young eucalyptus trees.
The high central plateaus, which cover half of the country, are some of the most fertile land in East Africa – and Oromia is said to be the breadbasket of Ethiopia, producing more than half of the nation’s crops.
We passed fields of grain and pasture for cattle, and started to see garies or horse-drawn carts and little tuk tuks along the road. Women, some quite old, walking bent-double with bundles of sticks for firewood on their backs, children herding cows and goats, and then random groups of young men by the road, jumping together in circles with tall sticks in the air. It’s still Orthdox epiphany time here, and this is the traditional Oromo dance to celebrate. The Oromo people are the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia, with their own culture and language, Oromingna.
I’d been told that an old and well-known herbalist was willing to meet me to talk about his work. He lives at a monastery 18 km out of Addis, so Lakew picked us up early one morning and we traveled north to Menagasha.
On the outskirts of the city we passed acres of huge flower greenhouses, which are taking up so much land and apparently rendering it useless for growing anything much at all in the future. Past these, Lakew pointed to one densely treed area with cottages in the distance and said it belonged to the Fistula Hospital – I think it may have been the Desta Mender Centre for permanent residents, who have been treated for the injury but who cannot return to a normal life in their village or community.
We arrived at the home of Merigeta, a herbalist/priest who has built a church near his home and sees many patients a day.
Before he appeared, we met his assistant, who asked us to sit on a long bench under a plum tree and brought us a plate of the small fruit, inviting us to eat. Lakew looked at me and said “Ah well, let us pray they are ok,” and we wiped off the dust and hoed in.
Where better to begin a study of Ethiopia’s healing plants, than a city whose name means ‘New Flower’ – Addis Ababa.
Elizabeth d’Avigdor 16/1/2011
After a long flight, with a host of delays to do with visas and extra aid baggage, we stepped out of the sparkling airport in Addis at six in the morning and were very nearly knocked off our feet by a mad donkey, tearing at fast trot between the taxis along Bole road and headed goodness knows where… We’re in Africa!
And I’d forgotten how much there is to love about this place; even dusty, chaotic Addis Ababa.
Many things look as they did five years ago, though the recent investment and development in the city is obvious. Those construction sites with wonky tree-branch scaffolding now share parts of the road with rows of expensive looking houses and office buildings. There are new sealed roads, but still of course, the dusty grey bundles of rags and tarps by the side of them. Sadly, this is still how many live here.
After just a few days, I feel like I’ve been here for a long time. It’s familiar, I feel quite at home out and about, producing a lot of laughs with my feeble attempts at Amharic. I’ll always stand out as a Ferenji (foreigner) but I’m getting the hang of the language again and the Ethiopian ‘way of doing things’ – nothing much is organised ahead of time here; almost everything is done face-to-face.
But a bit like the manic traffic and the road rules (or seeming lack thereof), most things somehow just work and our first week has been a full and productive one.
This week, the project spreads its wings.
Lizzie, Alemayehu and sister Bizunesh touched down safely in Addis Ababa on Tuesday; they’re busy immersing themselves in all things Ethiopian, adjusting to the altitude, making connections and preparing for travel to Fiche next week.
Botanica Ethiopia also received more generous (and public) support from home and afar. South Australian author (and part of the family), Phillipa Fioretti, wrote this lovely, personal post about the project…
Sometimes I get impatient with the continual inward focus and isolated lifestyle writing demands. It’s a relief to get away from myself and be around others who are doing interesting and worthwhile things – it always helps to put that editing trauma or plot hole in perspective.
Over the Christmas break I spent time with one side of my extended family and, as usual, everybody is getting on with interesting activities, work or personal interests, and not writing related. My sister’s sister-in-law, Elizabeth d’Avigdor, a herbalist and naturopath with Blackmores, is flying to Ethiopia today to establish a herbal healing garden in Addis Abbaba. Now that’s interesting. Read more here
And for those who prefer their news in portuguese, the very beautiful journalist, Deni Ferreira, writes from Brazil…
Tô, não tô – Botanica Ethiopia
Para quem não sabe, meu irmão mora na Austrália há 7 anos. Já deu tempo de ter até uma família adotiva (uma step-family mais precisamente) por lá: Lizzie, Michael, May, Adelaide e Alemayehu Slater.
A família Slater tem uma história muito legal: o Alemayehu é etíope e foi adotado aos 11 anos pela Lizzie e o Michel, depois que outro casal da família tinha adotado os seus irmãos, aos 3 e 5 anos. Hoje, os três irmãos crescem juntos, criados como primos-irmãos. Ler mais aqui
Traditions of herbs to flourish
Manly Daily (Sydney, Australia) – Tuesday, January 11, 2011
Author: Peter Bodkin
A MANLY naturopath will travel to Ethiopia to help locals preserve their rich history of herbal remedies before the generations of knowledge are lost forever.
Fairlight resident Elizabeth d’Avigdor, who has been practising in Manly for about 14 years, will journey back to the African nation this week with her daughter, May, and adopted son, Alemayehu.
She plans to establish a medicinal herb garden in the rural town of Fiche as part of the Botanica Ethiopia project, with the aid of locals who can pass on their understanding of traditional medicine and indigenous herbs.
See the full article here, Page 8.
The small town of Fiche, in the Oromia region of central Ethiopia, is where we will be planting the medicinal herb garden.
Fiche is about four hours drive North of the capital, Addis Ababa.
Our partners in Ethiopia have been successful in securing land for the project in Fiche, and have already begun work preparing the soil for planting – here are some photos!
For Australian Naturopath, Elizabeth d’Avigdor, the connection with Ethiopia began with the adoption of her son 14 years ago. But the seed of an idea for a project to support health in rural Ethiopia using indigenous herbs, was planted in her kitchen in Sydney some years later.
“An epiphanal moment for me was when I was brewing up some Fenugreek tea and my son said ‘I know that smell, I know that smell – my mother used to make that for me when I had a stomach ache,'” says Elizabeth.
“I felt this huge connection with his mother, and with Ethiopia, and being a herbalist, I thought I really wanted to know more about how herbs are used there everyday for common ailments and preventable diseases.”
In January next year, Elizabeth and her son will travel back to Ethiopia to research and record traditional herbal medicine use and establish a medicinal herb garden in Fiche, a rural town North of the capital, Addis Ababa.
The project, ‘Botanica Ethiopia – A Living Pharmacy’ was developed by Elizabeth as part of her Masters in Clinical Science (Complementary Medicine). It will be delivered in partnership with the Fiche community and Global Development Group, with funding from Australian natural healthcare company Blackmores Ltd.
Elizabeth says native herbs can provide a very cheap, safe and accessible means of health care in Ethiopia, and in rural communities in particular.
“These plants are immensely important. Many Ethiopians don’t have access to a doctor and this is often their first port of call, if you like, in medicinal approach. ”
But according to the World Health Organisation, the World Bank and the United Nations, herbal medicine practice is in danger of being lost due to lack of documented knowledge, and the threatened extinction of medicinal plants.
Interview with Naturopath Elizabeth d’Avigdor
Botanica Ethiopia is proud to be a partner for project ‘J655N Botanica Ethiopia – A Living Pharmacy’ with Global Development Group (ABN 57 102 400 993), an Australian AusAID approved NGO carrying out quality humanitarian aid and development projects with approved partners to relieve poverty and provide long term solutions. Global Development Group takes responsibility for this project according to AusAID rules, providing a governance role and assisting in the areas of planning, monitoring, evaluating and auditing to ensure that project J655N Botanica Ethiopia – A Living Pharmacy is carried out to Australian requirements.
For more information about Global Development Group, visit www.globaldevelopment.org.au
Click here to make a donation to the Botanica Ethiopia ‘Living Pharmacy’ project.