Food production continues to be a challenge to the developing countries and is a cause of conflicts, migration and other problems in the 21st century.
The critical need of increasing food production in developing countries like Eritrea can be met through modern technology.
Like other developing countries, agriculture is the backbone of the Eritrean economy. The majority of its people, more than 75 percent, engage in farming, growing crops and vegetables and raising animals. Since most of the people earn their living from agriculture, improving the economics of agriculture is the way to poverty reduction and national development.
The government of Eritrea gives food security top priority in its macro-economic policy. Insufficient food production in the Sub-Saharan Africa induced by environmental and policy failures is making those countries dependent on foreign aid, which in turn cripples their productivity and economy. Unable to assert themselves in the international arena despite their immense resources, they are being immersed in a vicious circle of debt, unable to feed their own people. The people and government of Eritrea understood this from the onset of independence and sought to free themselves from this problem by upholding the principles of self-reliance and wise use of natural resources.
Sustained growth in agriculture is critical for food security for two reasons. First, growth in agricultural productivity translates into increased food supplies and lower food prices for consumers. And second, growth in agricultural productivity means higher incomes, and thus improved ability to purchase food and other basic necessities for many food-insecure people, who earn their livelihood through agricultural production. It helps to meet the basic human rights, i.e. the right to have food.
In Eritrea, annual crop production heavily depends on rainfall that is variable and unevenly distributed. For this reason 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. To do this a skilled and knowledgeable workforce is needed, the government of Eritrea has invested heavily towards this end. The colleges and training institutions established throughout the country have been training thousands of students and are playing a key role in capacity building efforts of the nation.
Eritrea is located in the sub- Saharan zone and is one of the countries increasingly affected by desertification. If the available agricultural resources are exploited properly, the country has a potential not only to achieve food security but also export surplus food and increase its foreign currency earnings. In the years before the escalation of the war for independence, Eritrea was a net exporter of agricultural products. According to the Ministry of Agriculture and FAO sector review of 1994, Eritrea used to be an agro-industrial and fishing center, which accounted for 40 per cent of the industrial output of Ethiopia. Large-scale agricultural farms of horticulture and oil crops were found in the lowlands of Eritrea. The products that were exported included dairy products, tomato paste, grapes and different kinds of fruits and vegetables. These products were exported to the then thriving Middle Eastern markets such as Saudi Arabia. The factories used local raw materials. Baratolo Garment Factory and meat processing plants and tanneries in Asmara and Keren used locally grown agricultural products such as cotton, meat and hides.
Today one of the top priorities of the Eritrean government is to increase water resources and promote irrigation-based agriculture through an integrated water resource management. A good number of water reservoirs infrastructure have been built, triggering large irrigation based farming projects. As part of this scheme throughout the country people have been working on soil and water conservation campaigns.
Though the agricultural initiatives are implemented by the Ministry of Agriculture, other sister Ministries have their own contributions to make towards achieving the national goals. Colleges and training centers play a key role in enhancing the agricultural production capacity, and Hamelmalo College of Agriculture is one of them.
The college has close ties with farmers in the locality with whom it shares its academic research results. Mr. Jaber Iris, a farmer, said: “Students of the college conduct research and study our farms. They help us by spotting any problems and giving us advice. We have employed their advice effectively and this is helping us to maximize our production with fewer inputs. We are happy and grateful that this institution is located in this area”.
Compared to the national demand of a skilled workforce, the thousands of students that have graduated from the college are not enough to fill the gaps. Therefore, the graduates said that the college has a mandate to contribute more and increase the number of students and trainees it receives annually.
Mr. Taezaz Abraha who attended his son’s graduation ceremony at Hamelmalo said, “I am happy and proud that my son is graduating from this college thanks to the free education that the government provided for them. On this occasion I call on them to compensate their people and live up to the national expectations by contributing their skills and knowledge towards achieving the national goals of food security and environmental conservation.”
Mrs. Bahgu Kafel who came to celebrate her son’s graduation said she was happy with her son’s accomplishments that he was graduating with great distinction. She added she was confident that the graduates would pay back the investments made on them.
The Hamelmalo College of Agriculture is building its capacity to be able to educate students that would meet national demands. The college has graduated 476 students in Agricultural Engineering, Agro-Economy, Land, Water and Environmental Science, Crop Science, Horticulture and Animal Science.
Since its establishment in 2005 the college has graduated thousands of students in the last 14 years. Graduates of the college often work for the Ministry of Agriculture, Crops and Livestock Corporation, the Forest and Wild Life Authority, the Ministry of Land, Water and Environment and other institutions. Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Arefaine Berhe, and Dean of the college of Agriculture said on the graduation day that a study conducted on the contribution and effect of the students from the college confirmed that their input was crucial. They asserted that they will work to increase the capacity of the College both in its ability to accommodate more students and the fields of study it provides.
The proportion of females to males is higher at the college compared to other educational institutions. Sixty percent of the college’s students last year were females. The agricultural sector is often considered a male domain. The college should be applauded for its bid to attract more females.