Fatima was like many others in her village. The widow and mother of seven spent her days working tirelessly as a subsistence farmer doing monoculture cropping in the Oromia region of Ethiopia. But the recent and severe drought had made it impossible for her to feed her family. As one of the most vulnerable households in the community, Fatima became eligible to participate in a government assistance program and, along with the help of Catholic Relief Services (CRS), set herself on a life-changing path.
Art Kirby — head of programs for CRS in Ethiopia — calls what Fatima has done since then extremely impressive. When he met her a couple of months ago he was amazed by what he saw.
“She now has a petty trading shop open for business, where people can buy household items like, soap, hygiene products, sweets, and various items not readily available in the village,” explains 40 year-old Kirby. “She also opened a small coffee shop area [the coffee ceremony and its role in Ethiopian culture is famous], and she rents out a donkey cart to local community members so they can bring products to and from market.”
Fatima also does bee keeping as well as “shoap” fattening, which involves buying sheep and goats, fattening them up for a few months, and selling them to vendors who deliver them to more urban areas for processing and sale.
“She has really embraced this idea of being an entrepreneur and learning financial literacy,” says Kirby. “She has taken the courageous step of going outside the comfort zone of what she was used to, recognizing that if she stayed in that one livelihood area, the future was bleak for her and her family.”
Fatima now sends her kids to school and has renovated her house. She put a new roof on and plastered her walls, which leads to better health outcomes for her children. “It was remarkable to see such a pristine compound, and within her one compound you could see 4-5 livelihood activities taking place at the same time,” says Kirby. “Despite all the hardships that have taken place over the past two years — multiple failed rainy seasons, the worst drought in 50 years — she has been able to maintain her household and really succeed.”
Fatima is a living reminder that necessity is often the mother of invention — and re-invention is what Ethiopians like Fatima must do in order to adapt and survive. Climate change is effecting farmers throughout the country; what they’ve known for generations is no longer working due to more frequent and intense droughts and challenging weather conditions.