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Mrs Haregu Gobezay lives in the Merebleke district, in the Central Zone of the Tigray region. Thanks to her ambitious attitude, alternative thinking and immense efforts, she transformed previously degraded land into a biodiversity hotspot and contributed massively to the economic development of her community.

Haregu, like other Tigrinyan women farmers, relied on subsistence farming and her husband’s income to provide for the family. But then she had a brilliant idea, and everything changed!

How the journey began

Since she stopped her formal education in grade four, Haregu had few academic possibilities and was completely dependent on her husband for all of the family’s financial needs. She was compelled to look for alternate sources of income in order to assist her husband in supporting the family.

One day, I realised that living hand-to-mouth was not a sustainable way of life, so I decided to build a list of all the potential livelihood possibilities I could pursue,” shares Haregu.

As she looked at the vast landscape in front of her, a brilliant idea crossed her mind. If she focused entirely on the deteriorated land in front of her, she could be in a position to enormously benefit from it. And she did just that!

She hired some of the community members who helped in clearing the stony field and through this process, the farm was established in 2005.

Haregu on her farm © Dawit

Establishment of the farm

At the time, she was practicing irrigation on 1.5 hectares , but today, it is on 12 hectares. Over the first five years, she was able to cultivate crops like tomatoes, onions, and peppers to earn money. Yet she finally found that the soil was still not rich enough to support future agricultural productivity, even with the addition of inorganic fertiliser. She understood that she needed to make some significant changes that wouldn’t be easy or mainstream

She decided to replace the top soil with fertile soil from another location. She decided to ban the use of any inorganic material, including any synthetic inputs, on the farm in order to prevent any possibility of further damaging the soil. She instead created her own method to develop biological pesticide or insecticide using the leaves from the true neem trees and the urine of her oxen. The mixture is fermented for 15 days and the liquid is applied as an Integrated Pest Management (IPM). Desmodium leaves are additionally employed for same purposes.

The Apple-mango variety after being harvested from Haregu’s farm © Berihu Hagos

In addition, she began growing fruits instead of vegetables, such as avocados, oranges, papayas, mandarins, and numerous varieties of mangos, such as Apple, Kent, Tommy, Kit, Dado, and many others. Currently, she has more than 6000 fruit trees on her farm. She has also planted a number of fodder grasses around them, including True Neem trees, elephant grass, and Desmodium, which are all natural insecticides and pesticides.

She has transformed her farm into a certified organic farm that follows the four principles of organic, and this applies to her dairy and poultry farm as well. With over 100 chickens and 10 cows and four calves, the animals feed on the fodder grasses like Desmodium, elephant grass, Rhodes grass and alfalfa. These dairy cows’ milk and the chickens’ eggs are utilised both for domestic consumption and as an additional source of revenue for the family.

The cows also produce manure, which is put into a small-scale biogas digester to produce electricity for lighting and food preparation.

The vermi-compost © Frewoini Mehari

Haregu uses vermicomposting to make inaccessible organic materials readily available to plants. She makes the vermicompost on her farm using weeds, and she speeds up the composting process by using red earthworms (Eisenia fetida).

Contribution to the community

When Haregu envisioned her farm, she wasn’t only considering the potential outcomes; she also wanted to make the most of all the options available to her.

In order to strengthen the farm’s water management system, she invested 1.2 million Ethiopian Birr in creating an irrigation canal, which provided her 12-hectare farm with ample water without leaks. Also, this canal is utilised to irrigate her land in addition to providing water to other farmers in her neighbourhood.

Haregu’s irrgation canal and the fruit forest can be seen in the background © Muez Tsige

In order to improve movement and the delivery of produce from the farm to neighbouring towns, she also built a bridge. More than 80 households that were previously burdened by the large gully separating their town from neighbouring towns, such as Woreda town, have benefited from the construction of this bridge, which cost a total of 820,000 Ethiopian Birr. In addition to an irrigation canal, Haregu has selflessly offered the community with this bridge, which has opened doors and access that were previously blocked to the numerous farmers in the area.

Additionally, her involvement has helped achieve a number of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including:

  • SDG 4 which deals with promoting education
  • SDG 15 which advocates for ecosystem protection, restoration, and use by halting biodiversity loss and reversing land degradation
  • SDG 2 which aims to achieve food security and promote sustainable agriculture
  • and SDG 8 which advocates for economic growth, which she has done through trading her farm products.

The bridge which is a a strong point of facilitating mobility in the community

In the midst of all this effort, she hired a large number of residents of the neighbourhood, giving them possibilities for employment and a reliable source of income. She focuses on hiring those who have dropped out of school (especially girls) and are severely impacted by poverty. Unlike other farm owners, Haregu assists her staff in developing a plan to break the cycle of poverty by;

  • offering training and seedlings to those who want to start their own farms
  • helping the employees save some of the money for the future
  • hiring students on a shift basis so that they do not miss out on classes but can still earn enough to cover the costs of their studies
  • providing quality seedings to the community including the governmental and non-governmental Organisations

As a result, she has made a significant contribution to economic development and a reduction in the number of school dropouts in the area, thanks to her tremendous efforts!


Special thanks go to Dawit Gebregziabher Mekonen, a researcher at the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at Mekelle University and other members of his faculty for writing the report through which it was possible to hear and write Haregu’s success story.