If you drive to the north from Afabet the path traces along the Mogae River, which meanders down a broad valley separating the plateaus from the plains, during the dry seasons, the river lowers its volume to the lowest level and serves as a highway for transportation. When we were heading towards Kamchewa, a small town to the north east of Afabet, our car was jiggling across the boulders deposited by rushing torrents and sometimes churning its wheels in the hidden sand pits. Recurrently we were compelled to pushing it away from the sand morass.
At the northern end of the valley, where three rivers confluence to form the Mogae river, lies an old cemented Italian fortress, near Felket. When we entered the town of Kamchewa, we were about to see fascinating gardens irrigated from the Mogae river. In this hot dry area, it is amazing and recreating to see green land covered with different kind of fruits and vegetables. The inhabitants say that the town of Kamchewa was administered by the Naibs during the Turkish period. Given that it was an administrative center, it has started to grow from this time on. The people’s mode of living mainly depends on agriculture, pastoralism and trade. In the early times substantial amount of sorghum and millet was produced in the extensive plains to its west and east. As a result it has become a market place to its vicinity.
During the Italian colonial era, even these plains couldn’t escape the land appropriation plan for Italian settlers away from the indigenous people. Denied their land for agriculture, the people were made to settle in a new settlement called Trur. Its development was suddenly halted during the Second World War, when the British war planes bombarded Kamchewa allegedly for cooperating with their enemy i.e. Italy, killing around 30 civilians and left the town devastated. These kind of atrocious acts were continued during the Ethiopian hegemony.
However, it was regrouped in the 1960s when the Italian Baratolo company started to operate in the area for cotton production. This has given an impetus for its growth. Again it has become a center of market and employment. But the Haileselassie regime raided the village in 1967 for alleging cooperation with the Eritrean liberation fighters. The town was again destroyed and the people were forced to flee. The Derg regime on his part, made the village the base for his ground and mechanized forces until the liberation of Afabet. In 1988 the position of the Nadow Command in Kamchewa was put in to heavy pressure by the EPLF forces. It became untenable for the enemy to stay in Kamchewa. Then they decided to pull back to Afabet. The EPLF and the enemy forces chased each other to get in to Afabet. It was here that the final outcome of the war was decided when the convoy of the enemy force was blocked in the natural bottleneck of Adi Shirum.
After independence the area regained its natural beauty and has become a center of market and agriculture again. The people who were compelled to settle in scattered areas are now regrouped in the town in order to get the basic social services such as education, health, water supply and the likes. The freedom from colonizers has let the people to live in peace and rearrange their lives.
The Afabet sub-zone administration encourages the scattered settlements around Kamchewa to mobilize. Its economic and administrative significance has increased and now it’s one of the areas which are in fast rate of growth in the sub-region. “Different basic social institutions has been set up and some are underway. There are various public and private institutions, bars and restaurants, entertainment clubs… etc. where the people can be served not far away from their vicinity area” said Mr. Omer Saleh, Governor of the town.
Regarding to women’s rights and equality, women’s in Kamchewa are engaging in every activities that can help them to become self-reliant. They are serving in administrative posts, enrollment in schools is increasing, and are engaging in cooperative agricultural activities. We met an aged mother who owns two hectares of land that produce pepper, date palms and lemons, Mrs. Fatna Hamd Osman. She says “the income we generate from the field is helping us to exchange for other items and is the main source of revenue for us”. Currently she has a garden joined in a farm cooperative.
Health is an indispensable service for a society to survive. The hospital in town gives service to its thousands of inhabitants including Naro Teb’at, Felket and Gulbub administrative areas. Mothers and child mortality rate has reduced to its lowest level thanks to the dedication of the physicians in raising awareness and providing medical care. The hospital is powered with solar energy supply and has its own Ambulance.
Kamchewa was one of the few areas to get educational opportunities early in the 1940s during the British colonial era. It has started by recruiting a Sudanese teacher to teach the Arabic language. Soon it was able to grow. However, the Derg regime destroyed the school and set it ablaze.
After the independence, educational efforts gained a new momentum. A new building was constructed to include elementary to secondary level. There is also a kindergarten. Student’s enrollment is increasing steadily while people are settling permanently and awareness on the importance of education is improving. “We will have students that will be dispatched to Sawa for their 12th grade this year for the first time”, explained the Director of the school, Mr. Haseb Osman Haji. Yet, “females reaching secondary level are few and an important focus on this issue is required”, he added.
The gardens along the Mogae River are the main cause to keep Kamchewa on development track. This area was previously a vacant area covered with Aday trees. In 1996, the forest was cleared for agricultural purpose and distributed to the inhabitants. In the early development of the gardens, farmers have tried to produce vegetables such as tomatoes. But soon they realized it is not cost efficient, given that it is far away from the main markets. Then shifted to producing different items such as date palms, pepper, lemons, oranges and other fruits which can tolerate delays in delivery to the market.
The farmers said that the production of date palms could be increased if proper study on soil and water property is taken. Moreover, the development of an extensive irrigated land has brought job opportunity to the inhabitants. Currently around 250 hectares of land is under intensive irrigation system of production with annually hundreds of quintals of pepper, vegetables, date palms, fruits and other items produced and contributing in stabilizing market prices.
Efforts are underway to increase the productivity in cooperation with the Ministry of Agriculture which helps farmers with trainings and advises, providing farming tools, analyzing crop diseases and providing herb and pesticides, and other agriculture related activities. This area revealed us how much attention is given to the far and sub-rural areas. “In the future we will form farm cooperatives in order to help us have a bargaining ability and quicker access to market places”, stressed the farmers we have interviewed. This can surely help them to get to the market easily and swiftly and avoiding any possible market speculations and exploitation of traders.
If women engage in any income-generating activities, it helps them to emancipate from traditional practices and beliefs by becoming self-sufficient. This is one of the positive effects of the extensive irrigated land in Kamchewa.
Another spillover effect of the irrigated land system is that farmer’s domestic animals are fed by byproducts of the cultivation. Some farmers have told us that they are considering the reproduction of dairy cattle. However, one of the worrying tendencies is the erosion caused by powerful flooding. The Ministry of Agriculture branch in the sub-zone is dealing with these phenomenon by constructing diversion systems and protection walls. We ourselves also have seen some of the walls made of iron nets filled with stones.
Finally, the farmers request a viable solution to the transportation problems to ease access to markets in the region. Besides, identified seeds are essential component to increasing productivity instead of trials and errors so as to ensure good quality and quantity of production.