Adegdigu Kassa

Growing hope through permagardens

An Ethiopian mother learns how to grow and sell nutritious crops

Adegdigu Kassa is a working mom from Ethiopiaand, like many working moms, she has struggled to give her family the basics. It broke her heart when she had to pull her children out of class to help with her work as a daily laborer, collecting firewood and water, tilling and harvesting land, and the other myriad tasks households would give as a pittance for a day’s tough work. She simply could not afford to pay for the clothes and books her kids needed to attend school.

“I was considered the poorest person in my community of 30 families,” Adegdigu explains. “But I promised them that as soon as I got some money, they’d go back.”

At the time, she had a young baby, who she would tie to her back as she did her work. Her seven and 11-year-olds helped her with her work as much as they could.

There was rarely enough to eat. Nearly every meal would consist of the sticky Ethiopian bread known as injera, plus a dollop of shiro wat—a paste made from ground beans. Meat, dairy and vegetables were a luxury she simply couldn’t provide.

“My children’s health wasn’t ideal,” Adegdigu says. “I myself struggled to do the hard tasks required of me as a laborer. I was constantly exhausted and had no energy.”

Year one: Enough to eat

Everything changed when Adegdigu was selected to be a client of ENGINE, a program funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Led by Save the Children, the program is working in four Ethiopian districts to improve the nutritional status of impoverished women and children under two. Land O’Lakes International Development is leading a key component of ENGINE focused on teaching vulnerable residents how to earn money from growing nutritious foodsultimately making them more food secure and resilient. Using simple tools, livestock and seeds, Adegdigu and others like her have learned how to grow, prepare and develop a taste for nutritious meals and how to sell the excess for cash at local markets.

With training, Adegdigu established a permagarden—a small-scale, high-yield family garden—and began growing organic crops including Swiss chard, cabbage, kale, potatoes and carrots. She also learned to compost, manage water, and make fertilizer by mixing eggshells with charcoal, ash and dry compost.

Two months after getting her first seeds, Adegdigu harvested her first crop—some Swiss chard and kale. Soon, the family had enough to eat. She sold the excess at the market, and immediately re-enrolled her children in school.

Year two: A livelihood

In the second year of the program, ENGINE provided Adegdigu with three female goats and a ram. She learned how to care for them at one of the Ethiopian government’s Farmer Training Centers. The center collaborated with ENGINE to demonstrate improved farming techniques. As a participant, Adegdigu, learned how to milk her goats.

With limited affordable options for getting more protein into the family diet, Adegigu decided to give goat’s milk a try. “Drinking goat milk isn’t common here,” Adegdigu says, “but I took the lead on being the first person in my group to begin drinking it and feeding it to my children.” 

As more vegetables matured in her permagarden, Adegdigu not only continued to diversify the family diet, but also started turning farming into a viable business. When her carrots matured, she sold the excess for $62 (1,300 Ethiopian birr) – about a fifth of what most Ethiopians earn in a year.  She used the proceeds to buy some grain and a donkey that would help with transporting her crops to market.

Adegdigu continued to expand her garden with potatoes and other crops, and began buying her own seed. At the next harvest, thanks to her new knowledge from ENGINE about crop seasonality and selling when prices were high, she was able to earn a whopping $478 from selling her carrots. With that money in hand, and a loan provided to her by her a community-banking group established throughout ENGINE project areas—she was able to finally move out of the family’s rented shack and construct her own home.

Meanwhile, her new goats began reproducing. Although she kept her original goat stock, she sold five kids to provide the 50 percent cost-share that ENGINE required so that she could upgrade to having a cow.

“I wanted to continue diversifying my livelihood, and I wanted to get the extra milk for my family,” says Adegdigu.

A new life

Today, Adegdigu is no longer a domestic laborer. She’s a farmer. Her farming efforts are providing enough food to feed her family regular nutritious meals and improving her overall quality of life. 

“ENGINE was like a light – it showed me the way to have a better life for myself,” Adegdigu says. “The program forced me to change my mindset, because I always felt that farming was for other people, not for me,” Adegdigu explains. “But with a beautiful farm like this, I now feel like I should have people working for me, not the other way around!”

Adegdigu had another baby after becoming an ENGINE client, and she says the extra nutrition has also done wonders, noting that the new baby is much healthier than her other children ever were. “She looks 3-4 years old even though she’s only an infant. This makes me proud.”

Not content to rest on her successes, Adegdigu’s next plan is to invest in getting oxen, so that she can also plant grain. No longer tied to working outside the home as a daily laborer, she says she has room to breathe. 

“I now have time to pass on my knowledge to my neighbors, and they’re starting to buy seed and start their own gardens, too,” she says.

Adegdigu says she often has trouble believing just how much her life has changed since the ENGINE program started, and how much hope she has for the future.

“I used to be truly destitute, but now I’m moving to the middle,” she says. “I’m not poor anymore, and having the access, training and capacity I received gives me confidence that I will become even stronger in the years to come.”