How do you build the resilience of households that have no access to formal markets, limited access to productive farmland, whose livelihood is at the mercy of recurrent droughts, and who rely on the government’s safety net just to survive from season to season?

Start a perma-garden

The USAID/Feed the Future Livelihoods for Resilience Activity has introduced a technique called perma-gardening to households in the highlands of Ethiopia to help them maximize the productivity of a small amount of land. The participants in the project are part of the government’s Productive Safety Nets Project 4 (PSNP4) safety net program, which provides vital assistance to food insecure households in Ethiopia. PSNP4 addresses chronic food insecurity through the provision of transfers, public works that rehabilitate natural resources and address community needs, linkages to social services and livelihoods support.

Livelihoods for Resilience Project Brief

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In the rural highlands of Ethiopia, land degradation and recurrent droughts combined with population growth have led poorer households to farm increasingly marginal land, making it difficult for them to feed their families year-round and increasing their dependence on safety nets. In this context, CARE and partners have introduced a technique called perma-gardening, which enables farmers to produce vegetables throughout the year using sustainable practices that improve soil fertility and conserve water.

Using locally available materials such as ash, charcoal and grass to make compost, CARE and partners teach rural farmers perma-garden design, water management strategies and preparation of compost. A core principle is capturing rainwater that would otherwise be lost as run-off and “storing” it in the sub-soil. The technique involves deep digging plots and also digging four holes about 70 cm wide at the corner of each garden to collect roof water.

Shimber Ayalew, a 28-year-old mother of two, and her husband, Degu Kassamre, live in the Amhara Region of Ethiopia. They participated in perma-gardening training provided by the project, installed a perma-garden at their home, and have seen a transformational change in both their income and their consumption of nutritious food.

The results of using the technique have been life changing. Shimber harvests chard and kale every day, and the family, including their two-year-old son, have fresh vegetables at every meal. Shimber also harvests enough to sell surplus vegetables at the market.

“A few months ago our meals were dominated by shiro (a sauce made from beans or peas). Now we are so happy to have vegetables in our meals every day. We expect to harvest more as we are still waiting for the carrot and beet root harvest. Witnessing our success, some of our neighbors requested that we show them how to prepare their gardens, and we are happy to do that as much as we can.”

Degu, Shimber’s husband

According to Dinku Daniel, the Project’s perma-gardening training facilitator, any household with a small plot of land can create a perma-garden. Applying the technique conserves water for vegetable production and uses precious natural resources more efficiently. In one woreda, 480 households received training on perma-gardening, 130 of which started harvesting vegetables within months of applying the technique to their plots. Due to the success and adoption of the technique among community members, community facilitators and extension promoters are cascading the training to thousands of households in 27 project woredas.

For Shimber and her husband the most exciting thing about perma-gardening is the possibility of harvesting more from small plots of land throughout the year to sustain their food security.