Eritrea’s national development strategy is one that aims at an inclusive and sustainable growth whereby all nationals move forward at the same pace and benefit equally from the implemented national projects.
MIHAP (the Minimum Integrated Household Agricultural Package) is a development project aimed at boosting small farmers’ endeavors. The package was first introduced in 2013 by the Eritrean Ministry of Agriculture. Since its implementation the package has been evolving, introducing new components and registering speedy progress for involved farmers as well as an increase in the number of farmers ready to introduce the package in their livelihoods.
East Africa is a region inflicted with cyclical drought. In this part of the continent rain-fed agriculture is a gamble as it is not only irregular but also unpredictable. For Eritrea, with over two thirds of its population relying on traditional means of farming the story is not that different; uneven and erratic distribution of rain fall, absence of perennial rivers or streams have all aggravated the overall annual income of farmers.
Agriculture, nonetheless, plays a central role in the economic development of Eritrea. Increase of farm production can guarantee food and nutrition, income and employment as well as surplus for local markets and for export.
The philosophy behind MIHAP is that in a situation where rains are unpredictable, in terms of amount and distribution, the best bet for the small holder farmer is to harvest rain water in the form of micro dams and use the water sustainably for farming and supplementary income generating activities.
By providing small farmers and households with necessary support and knowledge, the project familiarizes farmers with small scale and sustainable production cycle with minimal investments based on a pass-on and rotation.
This means adopting small, integrated and intensive farming activities that do not need huge amount of finance. For each family, the size of the designated plot of land is not bigger than a quarter of a hectare. Integration in this case means producing plants and raising animals in the family’s farming endeavors. Intensive in the MIHAP language expresses the cycle of production within the year. In Eritrea’s case, the production cycle for crops or other farm products varies according to the landscape; twice in the lowlands and three times a year in the highlands and midlands. According to where it is implemented, MIHAP takes into consideration many factors including the climatic conditions of the designated areas.
So far, MIHAP has been successfully carried out in five subzones of the Anseba Region including Habero, Hamelmalo, Elabered, Gelee and Adi- Teckelezan.
Beyond farming, the package includes dairy farming, honey production as well as poultry. The plots of land given to the farmers, which are a quarter of hectares, are used for the production of green feed, crops, fruits and vegetable. Farmers receive a hybrid cow, goats, beehives and chickens.
Within the package outline, families are encouraged to save a piece of land for growing cereals for the family, preferably planting highbred maize that can yield around 1.2 tons in two cycles on only 1000 square meters of land.
With MIHAP’s implementation in the Anseba and Southern Regions of the country, each household is given the opportunity to acquire one selected local breed or six goats. Ownership of a cow is based on a pass-on program whereby the farmer gives back the first female calf of about one year which is, then, passed on to another farmer and so it goes on.
The package also includes the provision of twenty five chickens per family only three of which are hens, two beehives, a plot of land for growing vegetables and twenty trees, of which ten are fruits, five leguminous trees and the last five trees are used as fire wood. All of this is in addition to the plot of land reserved for crops, vegetables and fruits which contribute to the bulk of nutrition.
As for the dairy production MIHAP introduces the farmers to a smart and sustainable way of handling dairy. The most crucial issue is for farmers to concentrate on one or a couple of improved dairy hybrid cows providing a minimum of ten to fifteen liters of milk per day instead of having four to five cows with low productivity. The family consumes 20% of the milk and the rest is sent to the market.
Adding value to small scale dairy production is a powerful tool for reducing poverty. Raising the nutritional level and improving the livelihood of households and rural communities is a priority in MIHAP. The small farms at village level can be a way to add value to regional milk production. It can also create flexibility and provide a buffer in supply and demand with actual fluctuating milk prices. Therefore, many farmers prefer a more reliable income stream. Dairy producers in the MIHAP project are now considering on-farm milk processing in order to add value to their milk. Through this process, consumers find a variety of milk products while farmers find higher revenue.
The other component of the package is the back-yard poultry which is very pliable in the Eritrean context as traditionally countless families are familiar with the backyard poultry farming for household consumption and sometimes for the market. Eggs provide nutritious food for the family and the rest can be sold on the market. Eggs produced by local hen-breeds command premium price in the local market because of their good quality.
Honey is a very nutritious and organic food. It can be used by the family and the huge surplus can be easily sold as the demand for organic honey is high.
What MIHAP does, most importantly, is provide a solution for farming families included in the package. The families will have milk, eggs, meat, vegetables, fruits and honey in their backyard for personal consumption, a formidable nutritional plan for families utilizing the package.
Households selected for this package are those who have a small plot of land around sources of water. Moreover, households interested in this package are invited to settle close to water points. The package offers farmers both economic and social benefits. Farmers take benefit of this package to obtain sufficient food supply for their families and provide adequate supplies for at least four other neighboring families. That being the minimum expectation, farmers are often times more than capable of putting their products to local markets. They every so often make their way to the markets of main cities, even Asmara. Farmers included in the MIHAP package play a big role in increasing the supply of agricultural products to consumers, helping stabilize markets.
The package is constantly evolving to include the improved stove that uses the bare minimum fire wood, solar lighting, latrines, compost energy and more. If this package continues to evolve uninterrupted it will enable farmers become self-sufficient, provide food and financial stability at household and community level, and provide employment for family members and members of the rural communities as a whole.
This means MIHAP will guarantee the decrease in the number of persons living below poverty line in targeted areas. While at the same time it will encourage an increase of income of targeted beneficiary households. MIHAP also attempts to reduce the prevalence of underweight and malnourished children in targeted areas as well as to boost the number of families that meet the minimum household dietary requirement.
The initiative assists the national vision of registering a uniform growth for the population, whereby education, health, social and economic growth are promoted. The Ministry of Agriculture and its stakeholders deliver the necessary funding while deploying awareness-raising campaigns to stimulate farmers and their endeavors. MIHAP, like other developmental projects of Eritrea, highlights adequate and resilient social growth for its people, the Eritrean way for ways forward!