An Update on the Ethiopian Sustainable Food Project
By Steve Johnson (Dese, GhoaTsion 1969-71)
The Ethiopian Sustainable Food Project (ESFP), founded in 2007 by Dr. Charles (Charlie) Higgins (Haik 69–71) and Dr. Fred Bechard (Dese 69–73), continues to make progress in the Amhara region of Ethiopia. The project works under the auspices of the Amhara Regional Agricultural Research Institute (ARARI) located in Bahir Dar. ARARI reports to the Ministry of Agriculture in Addis.
Charlie Higgins and Fred Bechard return to Ethiopia each November for an audit tour. Together they work with ARARI field staff to assess year’s project growth, acceptance, production, as well as challenges and pending needs.
During the audit tour Charlie and Fred meet with ARARI staff at ARARI HQ to assess compliance with the plan and uncover obstacles to future growth. They also ‘go over the books’ to ensure expense and income (donations) are not out of line. Further, they are often asked to lecture at the near-by Bahir Dar University on subjects suggested by their contacts there.
As the project and the needs it serves continue to grow it became apparent a more formal approach is needed to ensure long term success as well as funding, and during the August 2015 Wisconsin bi-annual reunion of PC XII ( there have been 20 since 1976 according to Nancy Schewe (Gambella, Addis Ababa 69-71) a proposal was brought forward by Attorney Joe Bell (Alamayata 69-71) to move forward to form the project as an unincorporated association with the longer term goal of reaching 501(c)3 status. With the assistance of Attorney Tom Countryman (Ghoa Tsion 69-71) a slate of officers and a Board of Directors has been established, the stated purpose of which is to ensure the continued flow of necessary gifts to support the stabilization of the food supply in Ethiopia. Funds are directed by the ESPF Board Chair through the Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture and the Amhara Regional Agricultural Research Institute, however the best way to do this is to eventually move the project to a 501(c)3 tax status, which will facilitate fund raising, open the project to a broader donor pool, and ensure the project’s mission continues into the future.
The Board meets twice a year, generally by conference call. During the most recent call Charlie told the board that potato tuber production at ARARI had increased from 25,000 in 2014 to 100,000 in 2015; about 250 farms have been positively impacted by the program to date; seven new large screen houses are to be built south of Bahir Dar at Adet, and that the mini-screen house project is taking hold in Sekala, Injibarra and Debra Tabor. Five more mini screen houses are to be built this year at a cost of $60 USD. The mini screen house is critical as it offsets the bacterial wilt seed from Adet prior to distribution to farmers. Finally, Charlie introduced oats as an excellent crop opportunity for higher altitude towns such as Debra Tabor and Adet.
It is to be seen how well the Amhara region fares in the current drought crisis, but it is expected the ESFP’s efforts will provide a bridge over the past “hungry times” for a growing number of farmers.
Of course, it is not all work during the tour and the chance to once again enjoy Ethiopia and its people, hospitality and countryside brings back many old memories and makes new memories and new friends. The team in ever mindful that it is working in a 3,000-year-old culture, and as desirable as change may be, kas ba kas is still the order of the day in so much of everyday life … but even that is changing.
Also see a 2013 article in The Herald about the ESFP.