We met Kes Malede Abreha, described by our guides/interpreters as a “farmer-priest,” on his farm near Aksum in the Central Zone of Tigray region. A small, wiry, soft-spoken man with a neatly trimmed beard, Kes Malede is one of the leading “farmer-innovators” in his community. Roughly eight years ago, he started digging for water on his very dry farm. His neighbors thought he was crazy, telling him he would never find water on the site. His wife even left him, moving their children into town.
But about 16 meters down, Kes Malede hit water. After his wife returned, he began sketching ways that would make it easier to “push” that water to the surface. He developed a series of pumps, improving on each one. The one he’s using now is built from inexpensive wood, iron, and metal piping, all available locally. It can push or lift water not only to the surface, but also through a system of hoses to irrigate his fruit trees and farm crops, including teff, sorghum, tomatoes, and other vegetables.
As part of a group of farmers who can apply for and receive funding for their innovations from the global, NGO-initiated organization, Prolinnova, Kes Malede is teaching other farmers in the community by example, showing them how small investments in technology can make a big difference on the farm.
Before he developed his water-management system, Kes Malede and his family lived in a one-room house and could grow only enough staple food to feed the household. Today, the family lives in a bigger house, grows a diversity of crops, and raises chickens, cattle, goats, and bees. Kes Malede’s investment in more beehives has not only provided income from honey production, but also helped pollinate his fruit and vegetable crops. He’s now helping other farmers—the same ones who thought he was crazy—by teaching them about his water lifting system and by selling modern, box-style beehives that allow farmers to both manage the bees better and harvest more honey.