The sub-zone of Dbarwa – part of the densely populated Central Highlands of Eritrea’s agro-ecological zone – is known for its agricultural products and is considered the breadbasket of Eritrea in terms of crops and vegetables, and is the focus of the government’s current and future investments in food security.
The sub-zone of Dbarwa is one of the 12 sub-zonal administrations of the Southern region. It borders Maekel region in the north, Mendefera sub-zone in the south, Areza in the west and Gash-Barka in the south west. The sub-zone’s population is around 80 thousand, who live in 76 villages that are run by 28 local administrations. Agriculture is the primary occupation of the people and mainstay of their socio-economic structure while a small percentage of the population is engaged in trade and other activities.
Eritrea is currently facing climate change-induced threats to the ecosystem, and these are compounded by the impacts of deforestation and land degradation. This has resulted in the depletion of groundwater within short periods, reducing the opportunities for natural recharge of groundwater aquifers. To mitigate this, various dams have been constructed to enrich the water resources of the country and transform the agricultural practice from a rain-fed agriculture to irrigation-based agriculture so as to increase productivity.
The rapidly growing urban centers and agricultural and industrial needs made it necessary for the construction of large dams, especially in regions with high population density and vast agricultural potential. Some of the big dams that have been constructed throughout the country are found in the sub-zone of Dbarwa, which includes the Gergera and Adi-Halo dams. Big irrigation projects are being implemented in the sub-zone in farms beneath the dams.
Currently there are around 25 thousand hectares of arable land in the sub-zone which is under intensive cultivation. Some of this is now under the Adi-Halo irrigation scheme, funded by the government, and comprises around 1600 hectares of land. The area is planted with crops intended for human and animal consumption. In addition to this, there are around 1000 wells used for irrigation in the sub-zone. This is being substituted by the pipeline irrigation project originating from the dams. Water tanks have been set up in different locations to irrigate large farms via gravity.
“ T h i s has created employment opportunities for the local populat ion. Thanks to the initiatives s u p p o r t i n g a g r i c u l t u r e in the area, p r o f i t a b l e farms will be able to produce and sell products, allowing family and community businesses to prosper,” said Mr Frewengiel Teklehaimanot, administrator of the sub-zone.
“This has ensured food security in the area and excess production is sold at the main market in Asmara, where products from the area are known for their high quality and are in high demand,” he added.
The sub-zone is also known for its dairy products. There are more than 100 thousand domestic animals in the sub-zone, some of which are under intensive and modern type of production. In addition to the environmental and ecological advantages of the area, the dams have enabled farmers to boost their livestock due to the easy access to fodder from the irrigation scheme.
The dairy farming project located in Halhale is also found in the sub-zone. Modern milking and processing machines have been imported and around one thousand people are now working in the project. This has increased the dairy production of the sub-zone and helping stabilize the market.
Animal feed is grown in an area of around 500 hectares which is grown using splash irrigation. The project is operated by qualified professionals who trained in dairy farming and, as a result, the overall production capacity is being enhanced.
One of the contributions of the dams is that the underground aquifers have increased and areas that once were rocky and not used for farming have now been transformed into fruit ranches. In addition to this, local communities are encouraged to grow fruits distributed by the Ministry of Agriculture.
More than 12 thousand coffee tress have been planted in the Geza Lamza locality. People are busy planting crops, transferring seedlings from the nurseries to the farms, weeding and spraying. Encouraged by the ongoing efforts to expand the water distribution system, the people are now leveling additional farms to be planted.
The development of water reservoir schemes has also enhanced the potable water supply of the sub-zone. Many villages that had water scarcity have now found new water sources. Currently, 21 villages get their water supply from hand pumps, seven villages through well-established water pipe lines, four villages using solar energy and 11 villages using generators. All in all 43 villages have secure supply of clean water. A project is also underway to implement projects of water supply for the rest of the villages, including Adi-Felesti, Adi-Gelgl and Ksad-Daero. The water supply will further be secured with the development of Gergera farm project, which is intended to be used as drinking water and for agriculture.
In terms of electric supply, the sub-zone is one of the areas where there is a fair distribution of electricity and where a good progress has been registered in few years. In the past, there were only 11n villages which had electric power supply and now the number has increased to 24. Electric poles have been installed in 11 villages and the process is underway to light them up in the coming year. The ultimate aim is to expand the power supply to 44 villages. This will further enable the farmers to use the new power supply in their farms, instead of the costly fuel based water pumping system from wells.
Due to its location, the sub-zone of Dbarwa is also one of the areas where small factories are located. There are 32 factories that operate in the sub-zone. Many use locally produced agricultural raw materials such as Azeb Dairy farm. The firms, which are among the main sources of tax revenue for the sub-zonal administration, have also created job opportunities for the local population.
Mr. Frewengiel hopes that with the reviving domestic market and national economy, some of the firms which have stopped operating will be rehabilitated and resume their production in the coming year.
Laying road infrastructure is very important in improving the quality of human life and accelerating the process of agricultural development. Agricultural infrastructure has the potential to transform the existing traditional agriculture or subsistence farming into modern commercial farming. Adequate infrastructure raises farm productivity and lowers farming cost, and its fast expansion accelerates agricultural as well as economic growth. In line with this, the roads in the sub-zone have been renovated, especially the roads that link the farm lands with the main route. A new road has also been constructed that connects the sub-zone with Dekemhare, which has shortened the jouney that once took longer as travelers had to go through Asmara. The road was constructed with the active participation of the people, especially in building supporting walls on the sides of the roads. A project is underway to connect the Tera-Emni – Dekemhare road.