The Fri-El Ethiopia farm is located in Omorate, a town in southern Ethiopia near the Kenyan border. Situated in the Debub Omo Zone of the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region, this village has an elevation of 395 meters above sea level. Its location in the Omo Valley gives it a semi-arid climate, with low and erratic rainfall and warm temperatures. The town and its surroundings are inhabited by the Dassenech people, and the greater region is known as the Dassenech wereda. According to the Ethiopian Statistics Service, as of 2021, the estimated population in the wereda is about 70,000.
The Dassenech are a pastoralist tribe, and their livelihood is centered around the breeding of cattle and other herd animals like goats and sheep. These animals are not only used for meat, milk, and skins but also signify wealth and status. Apart from raising livestock, the Dassenech occasionally practice flood-recession agriculture along the banks of the Omo River.
While Ethiopia contains the largest livestock population in Africa with an estimated 80 million livestock, pastoralists and agro-pastoralists – such as the Dassenech – in tropical and subtropical drylands are among the most vulnerable groups to climate change. Since their livelihood is so reliant on livestock, any problems affecting their domestic animals directly impact the community. For the past several years, the Dassenech wereda has been affected by devastating droughts frequently experienced in the locality. They have also been the victims of floods owing to rain in the Central and South-Central Highlands, causing the overflow of the Omo River. This has caused many families to face hunger and severe economic struggles. A food security outlook shows that the area is categorized under an emergency zone, one step above a famine.
Fri-El Ethiopia has been operating the farm in Omorate since 2007 and, in that time, has made several efforts towards helping the surrounding community. At the moment, the biggest problem that the wereda faces is a lack of pasture for livestock. Thus, we are working with the Dassenech wereda administration to help combat this problem. So far, 1,600 bales of hay have been delivered from Jinka and distributed among the pastoralists in the area. An additional 15,000 hay bales have been delivered recently from production made on 100 hectares of our own land. This is expected to help partially alleviate several families’ immediate concerns regarding their cattle.
In order to further build a more sustainable solution for the pasture scarcity issue, 100 hectares of land from our farm has now been allocated to growing grass for the cattle. Several thousand bales of hay are expected to be harvested from these fields. Once the dry season hits in the coming months and the community faces a scarcity of pasture, this will help supplement their need for livestock feed. This is among our greater agenda of improving the community’s livelihood.