Sue Edwards, director of the Institute for Sustainable Development (ISD), picked us up from the ILRI campus in a big 4 X 4 truck, seemingly the preferred form of transportation for the bumpy streets of Addis. Our first stop was the ISD office, to meet with Hailu Araya, an ISD staff member, who thankfully was in charge of coordinating our trip to Aksum, a hotspot of farmer-led agricultural innovations in Ethiopia. Hailu quickly made a few phone calls, arranged our hotel/hostel (more about it later), gave us a brief run down of the practices on the farms we would be visiting (watershed management, integrated pest management, intercropping, mixed-crop livestock systems), and then we hopped back in the truck with Sue for a tour of the city and dinner at a traditional Ethiopian restaurant. One of the things you notice first cruising through Addis is the smell—it’s a mixture of wood burning and berbere, the fiery spice Ethiopians can’t get enough of that flavors everything from meat to vegetables.
We spent the evening eating and chatting about Ethiopian history and politics. The only downside is that Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher, the head of the Ethiopian Environmental Protection Authority, and Sue’s husband, couldn’t join us. Tewolde has been a long time environmental activist and leader in Ethiopia, winning the Right Livelihood Award in 2000 for his commitment to the precautionary principle and one of the winners of the United Nations Champions of the Earth award in 2006.