Greening in Qrora Subzone

By Ruth Abraham

Qrora subzone, a subzone in the Northern Red Sea region, is mostly known for agriculture and pastoralism. According to farmers in the area, it used to be center of commercial agriculture and had abundant harvest. Prior to the 1970s, cotton grown in the area was used at Baratelo Garment factory, today’s Dolce Vita, in Asmara.

Qrora depends on coastal summer rains and rivers that flow in the area for plantations. Millet and cotton are two of the most commonly grown plants in the area. Farming in Qrora is carried out in extensive farms near river banks such as Rhib, Meliet, Mesebar, Mebia, Habl-Qetin, Gaghet and Qrar Qeyh.

However, beginning in the mid- 70s up to Eritrea’s liberation, the subzone turned into a battlefield just like many other parts of Eritrea. It was used as one of the military bases of the enemy, forcing some farmers to migrate and others to scatter to safer places in different regions of Eritrea. The extensive, highly productive agricultural fields turned into battlefields.

After Eritrea’s independence, however, owners of the land reclaimed their property and started farming all over again. The government assists the farmers when in need. In areas like Meluet that are prone to floods, it has provided bulldozers and tractors to prevent erosion and facilitate production. The government’s efforts have paid off encouraging farmers to keep on working harder.

This year, unlike in the past, farming in Qrora has been affected by insufficient rainfall. The grassland has turned so dry the only green visible in the area are the palm trees by the river banks.

According to the director of the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) in the subzone, Mr. Adem Saleh, in spite of the shortage of rainfall, the Ministry is working to conduct the usual agricultural activities in the region. One of its efforts is related to its commitment to the nationally declared greening campaign. To boost the campaign, a nursery has been set at Mahmimet with a view to restoring indigenous trees that are on the verge of extinction. Palm trees are one of the biggest threats to the existence of indigenous trees because they are very extensive and tend to dominate the land.

Since Qrora subzone is located at the border, the prevention of migratory animal diseases is one of the biggest tasks of the authorities in the subzone. The MoA has been working to ensure the prevention and treatment of migratory animal diseases through vaccinations and medications. However, due to the frequent mobility of animals owned by nomads, the infection is not easy to control. The MoA also works to prevent the transmission of diseases from animals to humans.

In its effort to introduce modern farming, the MoA provides farmers in certain areas with tractors to farm the land. According to authorities of agriculture in the subzone, 32,000 hectares of land has been dispensed in villages such as Gheleb-Sagla, Meliet and Habil- Qetin, and the farmers are said to have profited greatly from their farm productions.

Another face of agriculture in Qrora is pastoralism. Although goats and sheep dominate, cattle and pack animals such as camels and donkeys are also found in Qrora subzone. According to the farmers in the area, the cattle have currently migrated to Gash Barka and Sudan to feed.

Records of the MoA show there are about 180,000 goats and sheep and 70,000 camels in the subzone.

 

Another aspect of agriculture that wasn’t common in the area is gardening. During the armed struggle, the EPLF engaged in gardening around river Felket, and the people in the subzone adopted the practice after Eritrea’s independence. Today, there is around 40 hectares of land used as garden around Mahmimet and Felket River, 25 hectares of which is watered using motor pumps. The most productive time of the gardens in Qrora extends from October to August, allowing vegetables produced in the subzone to reach almost all over Eritrea.

When it comes to trees, those that are native to the subzone are almost extinct because of successive droughts and the invading palm trees. This is a big concern. The indigenous trees that were common in the subzone are now bound to the river banks while the rest of the land is dominated by palm trees. Although the palm trees are a threat to other trees, they serve as the main animal feed in the subzone and are construction material.

According to Mr. Hamid Osman, an expert of trees and plantations at the MoA in Qrora, greening campaigns are carried out in Qrora subzone as in other parts of Eritrea. He added they have been stressing on its importance for the last two years and said that planting trees is “very essential to the reclamation of trees and for covering the bare lands with green vegetation.”

Mr. Hamid said the Mahmimet nursery is set to produce two types of seedlings — the near-extinct indigenous trees and imported sprouts. While the former are aimed at restoring the original diversity of vegetation, the latter are imported to serve as food for humans and animals, he explained.

The tree seedlings given out to different institutions are said to be making very good progress.

Some of the many seedlings in the nursery are neem, guava and lemon trees. Around 1000 and 5000 seedlings have been tested and distributed in Qrora and Mahmimet respectively. The seedlings are being given to government institutions and the local communities, and if this is maintained, it shall be very decisive to the success of the greening campaign that is already in motion.

Agriculture and afforestation are the bases of food security and national development. For this reason, the planting of tree seedlings and gardening are being consistently promoted. As farming in Qrora is heavily dependent on annual rainfall, it makes it quite uncertain. But this can be redressed if the farmers in the subzone work harder on greening campaigns.

As declared by the government, greening campaigns are now the task of every citizen in the entire country. Concerned bodies organize and initiate projects of afforestation in different institutions and are establishing reservations in different parts of Eritrea. Similarly, Qrora has proven it is highly committed to the program, and the nurseries in the subzone are testimonies of the efforts of the subzone in this regard. “We expect the nursery to become the base and springboard of the agricultural and greening campaigns in the subzone, and we shall be successful,” Mr. Hamid said in his closing statement.