A University of Saskatchewan project is expanding to help an estimated 70,000 farm families in drought-stricken Ethiopia.
The U of S partnership with Hawassa University has grown exponentially since it began nearly two decades ago, and is serving as a model of sustainable development work by agencies around the world.
Since 2008, the project has received roughly $10 million in funding, mostly from the Canadian government. The scaling up to 70,000 farms will be accomplished with an additional $3.8 million over three years.
Promoting the use of local protein-rich pulse crops such as beans, chic peas and lentils, both for consumption and sale, has been a major focus. U of S experts in agriculture, nutrition, marketing and other areas have joined the effort, with a delegation recently returning from the East African nation.
“We wanted to know how we could help these farmers feed their families and make some money,” said Carol Henry, principal investigator and assistant dean in the U of S college of pharmacy and nutrition.
Special attention has been paid to maternal and child health. In a study with Ethiopian mothers, they were provided support to introduce a local bean variety to their baby’s diet. The increased protein consumption led to the children gaining an average of one kilogram more than the control group children during the six month study.
“The mothers are telling us their children have good energy,” Henry said.
Another longtime team member, U of S senior strategist Rob Norris, said the project has grown beyond everyone’s expectations. He noted the planned expansion to help 70,000 farm families is double the entire number of Saskatchewan producers.
He said the project is successful in part because the Saskatchewan team is listening to the Ethiopian researchers and farmers rather than dictating or imposing their world view.
“This has redefined success for us,” Norris said.
Bob Tyler, associate dean in the college of agriculture and bioresources joined Henry, Norris and others in Ethiopia in May. He and others have established a “micro-nutrient lab” at Hawassa University. They’re teaching families how to ferment and preserve pulse crops when refrigeration is not available. They’re also working on packaging and marketing ideas to sell pulse foods in urban Ethiopian markets.
“We are just scratching the surface,” Tyler said.
The partnership will be highlighted during an October 11-12 conference at the U of S bringing together several other Canadian universities and their African partners.
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