- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 3, 2002

KATCHEMA, Ethiopia Every year, erosion washes away 1.5 billion tons of Ethiopia's topsoil, leaving barren ravines as a common sight in a country where millions of people are vulnerable to chronic food shortages.
So in 1993 when Ato Ifru Kojna asked his neighbor to give him the land at the head of a ravine running through their village, the younger man agreed. After all, no one could grow anything on that ravaged patch.
But with patient determination, Mr. Ato Ifru built rows of check dams along the ravine in Katchema and planted trees and shrubs provided by the World Food Program, the U.N. food relief agency. Within four years, he had created an oasis.
Seeing the results, his neighbors sectioned off another ravine, planted 140,000 trees and bushes and turned the wasteland into a woodland.
The changed landscape has been a boon for the villagers.
Two decades ago, they were forcibly resettled in Katchema, 60 miles southeast of the capital, Addis Ababa, under the military regime of then dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam. "The quality of our lives has improved dramatically," said Mr. Ato Ifru, now 80.
"We have created a water catchment area and do not have to walk long distances to collect daily water supplies. We also have abundant supplies of vegetables, fruit and poultry."
The 200 households now manage a 153-acre area that earns each household an additional $100 a year from the sale of animal fodder and timber. Average annual income in the region is less than $180 a year.
By pooling their extra income, residents built the village's first school last year. Next on their list are a mill and a small clinic.
The villagers' efforts are underwritten by a World Food Program campaign to help 1.8 million Ethiopians a year, said Volli Carucci, the agency official in charge of the land-rehabilitation program.
It is financed by the United States, Canada, Sweden, Norway and Ireland.


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