One of the many Ethiopian Red Cross volunteers supervising the distribution of food at Buge in Damot Galle district runs to get a chair for Mihiret Samuel to sit on while she talks to us. She is heavily pregnant and can’t stand for long.
Mihiret lives in Gachenu village, southern Ethiopia with her husband, a farmer. “We have a small plot of land for growing crops and that’s all we have,” she says. “What we produce depends on the season, but mostly we grow maize and beans.”
In fact, in a good year they can harvest five or six crops, planting different things in different seasons, depending on the rain. But with a small plot of land supporting her and her husband, plus four children and one more due next month, they need those six harvests a year just to get by.
If the rains fail, as they did in January and February, coming after the loss of last year’s main harvest due to floods, they are soon in desperate need. “We put all our trust in God and if he doesn’t send rains then we don’t know what to do,” Mihiret says. “We have no other source of income.”
The land shortage in the area is so severe that Mihiret and her husband took his father to court to try and get more of the land that had already been shared out among the other brothers. But the court told them that they should move to a town or another area to find work to support their family.
Mihiret and her family received food aid in September and now she waits in line to receive a second distribution. When asked if her situation has changed since the first round of distributions, she says: “It is far, far more than that. I used the food from September very economically and so I haven’t even finished the stock from last time yet.” Now, she has a small buffer for herself and her family.
“As for the future, we are depending on the rain,” Mihiret says. ”Throughout the year we grow so many types of crop; maize, millet, teff – which is the traditional Ethiopian grain – and so on. Although, it depends on the rains, only if we get the right weather can we support ourselves like this.”
The problem is they can only produce just enough for the family, so there is no surplus for them to store – the food goes from farm to mouth. Without rain or with too much rain, they begin to struggle.
There are very few choices in the district for earning a living, and so Mihiret hopes that in the future, there will be some support for vocational training. “I would like to learn how to knit the traditional trousers of the area. We can’t always depend on food aid,” she says.
Read Zinash's story
Read more about the Ethiopia Food Crisis Appeal