Eritrea is located in one of the driest parts of the African continent. Like its neighboring countries the country suffers from repeated shortfall of rains which affects agricultural production and availability of drinking water. However, the country has long graduated from dependency on food aid.
Eritrea has taken ensuring food security as one of the top national priorities and the cornerstone for sustainable economic growth and poverty reduction. The food security strategy, adopted more than a decade ago, aims at ensuring that all Eritreans have sufficient quantity of nutritious food at an affordable price at any given time and place within the country. This is to be achieved largely from a combination of increases in domestic food production and importation from abroad.
One of the pillars of strategy is soil and water conservation. In order to avoid dependence on the unreliable and inadequate rainfall, Eritrea has made huge investment towards the construction of dams.
In many parts of the country once dry areas have been rehabilitated with the construction of hundreds of dams, micro-dams, reservoirs, check dams – all with local resources and capacity. In the past few years alone, a number of dams each with a capacity of storing tens of millions of cubic meters of water have been built. Some of the newly built dams include Gerset, Kerkebet, Fanko-Rawi, Fanko-Tsimue and Badmit in the Western lowlands; and Mslam and Tekera in the Central Highlands. The Gahtelay Dam in the Eastern Escarpment is slated for completion this year. The aggregate volume of water harvested in these dams is around 250-300 million cubic meters.
On top of providing drinking water, the harvested water is used for agricultural production. This is enabling the communities to harvest two to three times per year using irrigation farming. The Government intervention entails provision of mechanized farming, modern farming techniques and management methods, improved seeds, fertilizer, and technical packages.
Fish production has been introduced in some of the dams, providing the communities with much needed protein-rich diet in their proximity.
The environmental impact of the water and soil conservation as well as afforestaion activities is easy to witness. In many places tree coverage is growing and the water level is rising, the flora and fauna flourishing.
The irrigation schemes are equipped with electric power for pumping the water and powering the agro-processing plants and cold storage units that are built to preserve and add value to the agricultural products.
The Eritrean spirit of self-reliance is also manifested in the local production of pipes and accessories needed for water distribution and spate irrigation.
In all the programs and activities, the primary success factor is the active participation in and ownership by the local communities. Communities throughout Eritrea participate in dam construction, catchment treatment and land care on a regular basis. Students at high school level also participate through the summer campaigns in the construction of terraces and checkdams, and tree planting.
The population that has put its sweat and resources to conserve each drop of water is now producing the food it consumes irrespective of the vagaries of the weather. Thus has freed itself from the shackles of food aid.