Survivor of 1984 famine tells his story

Survivor of 1984 famine tells his story

57-year-old farmer Sheh Yasin Mohammed is working contentedly on his loom. He lives in Abecho village in Wollo, Ethiopia.

Sheh and his young daughter survived the devastating 1984 Ethiopian famine. But his first wife died and Sheh was left near destitute. He was obliged to rent out his small landholding and rely on emergency relief distributions and weaving cloth for income.

“I had to rent out my land because I had no oxen to work it. That meant I only received half of what the land produced. That wasn’t enough to feed my family. After a few months, I needed emergency food aid,” Sheh recalls.

No longer struggling

Today though Sheh is no longer struggling to survive; he is thriving. Remarried and now with five more children, he is one of 6,000 people who are benefitting from a livestock fund scheme run by Concern.

Six years ago, when the scheme was started, Sheh received two sheep. The sheep bred and he was able to sell on the lambs. In two years, he had paid back the loan. Today, he has a herd of oxen, cows, camels and donkeys and a chicken coop.

A success story

Poor farmers can’t get loans from commercial banks. So in 2002, Concern decided to loan money to farmers. Initially just under 2,000 households benefited, among them Sheh’s family. That number has now trebled with almost 90% of the farmers no longer needing any external support.

The success rate is 97%. As the fund grows, more marginal farmers can be helped. In six years the co-op, which was in debt, now has a fund that has increased by 50%. Today it can consider branching out and developing other projects supporting marginal farmers and the fragile environment in which they live.

Today Sheh is well-off again. He no longer has to rent out his land but can hire out his animals for additional income. He has built a new house, which he is planning to extend. All his children – bar one who has chosen to work with him on the farm – have been or are being educated.

Remembering the famine

He still remembers the dark days of the famine in Wollo and still longs for a profession other than farming, which has been both cruel and kind to him.

“I want to educate all my children so they don’t have to rely on agriculture for a living,” he says. “Our landholdings are small and that means productivity is limited. I’d like them to have their own business or work in a Government office,” he says.

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