Helping Ethiopia’s poor farmers—especially female farmers—improve their livelihoods through better agricultural practices.

The Challenge

In Ethiopia, agricultural productivity is among the lowest in the world, and agriculture technology remains basic. Most farmers operate at the subsistence level due to a lack of knowledge, finance, and access to markets that would allow them to increase their yields and income. Because of the country’s poor state of agriculture, Ethiopians also struggle with hunger, particularly during times of drought.

Female farmers, who make up a significant portion of Ethiopia’s agricultural sector, face some of the biggest challenges because they lack formal education, capital, and government support. This affects their yields and harvests, putting their families at an even greater risk of poor diets and economic hardship.

In 1992, the Ethiopian government began policies to support agricultural development, but many of these programs fail to reach the female farmers who need them the most.

Sasakawa Africa Association

Founded by Nobel Laureate Dr. Norman Borlaug, Japanese philanthropist Ryoichi Sasakawa, and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Sasakawa works to improve agricultural productivity in Sub-Saharan Africa. In 2010, with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Sasakawa started Strengthening the Agricultural Extension Delivery in Ethiopia, which runs programs that help farmers, especially women, with resources, education and training, and funding.

Sasakawa’s programs are tailored to the specific needs of the women it serves, supporting these farmers in crop cultivation, animal rearing, and agricultural processing. To help the most vulnerable people, the program targets female-headed poor households, married poor women, and families suffering from food insecurity.

To date, Sasakawa’s Women-Assisted Demonstrations program has reached more than 8,000 women, helping these farmers gain confidence, independence, and security for themselves and their families.

Impact: Desta Kalayu’s Story

In Ethiopia, women-led farming cooperatives are leading the way to a brighter future for individual farmers, their communities, and the agricultural sector as a whole.

By supporting these cooperatives and individual female farmers, Sasakawa is helping improve yields and livelihoods across the country. This has been the case with Desta Kalayu. Before Sasakawa came through her village, Kalayu had no sheep or goats. She accepted an offer from Sasakawa and the government to join a Women-Assisted Demonstrations program with several other women from her village.

Through this program, Kalayu received funding to help her buy three ewes and a ram, and she participated in a program on sheep production. By applying her new skills, she was able to grow her flock to 15 sheep and eventually diversify her stock. “I sold some of the sheep and purchased one donkey and some goats,” she said. “I also slaughtered one ram every holiday, just like the rich people do.”

Kalayu’s success inspired other women in her village who are now interested in learning about raising sheep and goats through Sasakawa’s program. This points to Sasakawa’s powerful ripple effect through programs that aim to change agriculture in Africa one farmer at a time.

Sasakawa’s investments in Ethiopian farmers have stimulated individual farms and entire rural communities. Through Sasakawa, the Raey Meles Agro-Processing Cooperative has been able to scale up production through capital grants, processing machines, and training in areas such as marketing and management. “My family was very poor, and I was dependent on my husband,” said Birhan Redae, chairwoman of that cooperative. “But now I have gained different skills and an income that supports my family.”