Ethiopia – Changing Times for a Timeless Land – Huffington Post

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It is half a century since Irish travel writer Dervla Murphy took a step into the unknown to embark on a 1,000-mile walk through the Horn of Africa, a journey immortalized in her best-selling memoir “In Ethiopia with a Mule.”

Inspired by childhood stories of the Queen of Sheba and the Lion of Judah, the writer’s unaccompanied trek with her pack-mule took her through a timeless land that had changed little with the passing of the centuries.

A fortnight ago, as I walked through Getma village in Ethiopia’s Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Region (SNNPR), I was reminded of Dervla Murphy and the journey she had taken 50 years earlier.

How much had change for the people of Getma in half a century, I asked myself?

In Getma, most people still harness that beast of burden, the donkey, to carry both people and goods, while the village women in their white cotton shawls and headscarves wouldn’t have looked out of place in the Old Testament, let alone the 1960s.

But beyond these outward appearances, a great deal is changing for the people of rural Ethiopia, even through poverty continues to keep many of the trappings of modernity at bay.

Schmegie Kulbla is a case in point. A widow who cares for a large family, Schmegie recently built a new tin-roofed home to replace the traditional thatched hut that she shares with five of her daughters.

She built her home with money earned from the sale of wheat and barley seed that she’d produced and sold through her local farmers’ cooperative.

The 59 year old mother is one of 1,350 ‘community-based seed multipliers’ who have been trained in the production of cereal seed by Self Help Africa.

They supply Edget Seed Union, whose locally produced wheat, barley and teff (traditional grain) seed is now widely available to small-scale farmers across the SNNP Region of Ethiopia. Last year, 100% of the first generation wheat seed used by farmers to plant in parts of Southern Nations’ province came from Edget suppliers.

Schmegie Kulbalya told me that the sale of 30 quintals (three tonnes) of seed she grew on a half-acre plot on her small farm earned her $100, last year. She estimates that the seed she supplied to Edget provided enough for 30 farmers in the region to plant their crops.