Agriculture is the main economic activity in Eritrea: it is a livelihood to the majority of the people who engage in crop production and livestock herding. It employs more than 70% of the work force. Most farmers depend on rainfall that is variable and unevenly distributed from year to year, and the primary goal of Eritrea is to guarantee food security by introducing modern technology, irrigation, terracing, soil and water conservation, with less dependence on rainwater.
Thus, the government has articulated its food policy, which stresses on food security through the advancement of agricultural practices with modern technology to produce surplus. The policy, indeed, encompasses all sectorial policies and represents the government’s motto of self-reliance.
The Eritrean macro-policy framework has been drawn as a groundwork for the overall economic and social development of the country and its people. Agriculture, food security and economic growth mutually interact and reinforce each other in the process of development. The government of Eritrea has committed itself to achieving food security in the coming few years. Food security can be addressed through the maximum possible domestic food production. To address food insecurity, the government of Eritrea has been involved in the implementation of several agricultural, health, education, fisheries and other infrastructural projects and programs. The government policy is to increase productive resources to produce enough food and achieve food self-sufficiency and, thus, food security. This avoids dependency on food imports and domestic market distortions by subsidized food aid.
Developing agriculture in Eritrea has a key role to play in enabling to achieve developmental goals including ensuring food security, reducing aggregate poverty, improving people’s livelihood and overall wellbeing.
To implement this policies on the ground, the effort is underway dividing Eritrea into three development regions: central highlands, eastern lowlands, and the western lowlands. In each of these development regions, various projects are underway. Due to its geographical size and agro-ecological advantages, the Gash-Barka region (bread-basket of Eritrea) in western Eritrea, is sought to develop into the largest agricultural hub that can feed the nation. In this region, to avert drought and expand farming the Eritrean government has constructed strategic dams along major river basins and potential catchments such as Gerset, Fanco Rawi, Fanco Tsmue, Kerkebet and other small water reservoirs since Eritrea’s independence to provide adequate water supply for the vast arable land of the region and increase the size of land under irrigation.
To promote sustainable development based on climate-smart Agro-based industries, the Eritrean Crops and Livestock Corporation has taken over several agro-industry projects and Kerkebet agro-project is one of them. The Kerkebet dam with a water capacity of 400 million metric cubic is a huge dam, which strikes by its vastness. The Kerkebet dam is situated at the confluence of the rivers Barka and Ailet, which flow toward the Sudan. With this amount of water in the arid environment and thousands of acres of cultivatable land, the Kerkebet agro-industry is developing into one of the largest agricultural sites in the Gash-Barka region. Mr. Ghebreqal Arenyas, manager of the General Technical Services of Sawa and its environs says besides to the state owned farm, “this project started its operation two years ago with around 700 farmers who came from different corners of the country. The farmers, especially those who came from the highlands, were familiar with agricultural techniques and were able to harvest up to 25 quintals of maize from a half hectare plot of land”. At the beginning the project faced several setbacks, but thanks to the relentless endeavors of the Crop and Livestock Corporation and partners, the project is becoming successful.
One of the problems that the project had to deal with was the fact that the local farmers were unfamiliar with agriculture. But after two years of guidance under the Corporation and the experience they gained from farmers who came from other parts of the country, they are now looking forward to ample harvest. The project has increased the capacity of beneficiaries to use the services available to support their initiatives and priorities for social and economic development.
According to Mr. Gheberqal, currently the land allocation scheme favors those who can settle permanently in the area and look after their farm unlike the previous year’s process of allocation of land. This was made partly because the number of farmers who ask for land is increasing due to the previous year’s yield that encouraged farmers to engage in the project. Currently the project supports around 1000 farmers who come from different places and more than one thousand hectares of land is under intensive cultivation. The Crop and Livestock Corporation ensures the availability of agricultural inputs, prepares water channel networks, levels the land and provides farm equipment in order to assist the farmers to develop their productive capacities. Kerkebet agricultural project has its own energy supply, water distribution system with two water pumps of 500 KW capable of pumping 1000 meter cube per hour.
The corporation provides different technical services, including advisory (extension), regulatory and research services, farm and water management techniques and other related fields in cooperation with other stakeholders such as the Ministry of Agriculture and zonal and sub zonal administrations. As a result, the project area has shown positive impact on the livelihoods of the beneficiaries as they are now able to produce the crops they need locally and have stopped purchasing it at higher price. In addition, surplus yield is sold at the local market and contributes to market stability. Having tested on several thousand acres of land the farmers are now producing different crops such as maize, millet, sorghum and groundnut. Annually the farm has more than two production cycles and currently some crops are ready for harvesting. It is fascinating to see a barren land now transformed in to an oasis. The construction of this dam and the development of an irrigation system has created employment opportunities.
Technological intervention in food production alone is not sufficient to ensure food security. Full participation of the entire society especially that of women, is required. There are many women who engage in agriculture in the Kerkebet agricultural project. Taking into account many female-headed households, in the Kerkebet agricultural area, women are awarded equal right and access to land and their involvement in agriculture is encouraged.
On the 500 hectare farm managed by the Corporation maize, sorghum, groundnut, mangoes cotton, sugar canes have been planted. The corporation has planted hundreds of fruit and other trees to serve as protection for the farm land from strong winds. It has planted more than 24 thousand Demes trees and is now planning to increase the coverage to one hundred thousand. Hundreds of hectares of land are under different types of irrigation; canal, drip, splash and other suitable water systems are being used. Kerkebet agricultural site has the potential to expand and the corporation is working to increase the farmland to more than 10 thousand hectares.