News All Drought: Solutions for Ethiopia

ILSSI Takes on Extreme Drought in Ethiopia


Populations have been displaced across Ethiopia, many resorting to migration across national borders in search of food and grazing lands that have begun to die off as a result of one of the world’s worst droughts in decades. El Niño weather patterns in 2015 have brought additional water scarcity as the Ethiopian government and others across the globe scramble to find solutions to alleviate the situation, according to international media.

The United States Government in December 2015 announced a contribution of $88 million to help feed the country’s hungry. Ethiopia has requested more than $1 billion in international aid to help feed its populous, according to major media outlets.

It is under these conditions that the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Small-Scale Irrigation (ILSSI) works to find solutions that would give farmers the ability to produce food sustainably while conserving evermore precious water resources.   

“The people of these countries are in increasingly dire conditions as precipitation becomes scarcer and scarcer,” said ILSSI Director Neville Clarke of Texas A&M AgriLife’s Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture. “We chose Ethiopia as one of our countries of operation roughly three years ago because we have known about the extreme water scarcity in this region for quite some time.”

The goal of ILSSI, which also conducts research in Ghana and Tanzania, is to seek irrigation solutions that are viable in terms of environmental sustainability, economics and production quality.

The project uses numerical equations, or modeling systems, to predict the viability prospective technologies and practices. Another initiative focuses on training in-country scientists to use the models for broader implementation across the country and continent.

“We can plug data into the models on farm, watershed and regional scales to see if the tools we want to try have a good chance of being viable,” Clarke said.

Technologies and practices that have been modeled and subsequently placed into physical field tests have included manual well-water extraction tools, mechanical pumps and weather monitoring systems.

Once tools are found to be viable for use as water-saving implements in field trails, they can be implemented on a broader scale across the region. 

“The urgency for us to find success in this effort has increased to an all-time high, Clarke said. “These people are in dire need and we’re looking for solutions now.”