Community Projects

Permaculture Helps Ethiopia’s Rural Areas Prosper

How a rural Ethiopean community went from living on aid to renewed prosperity

Millions of people living in the Horn of Africa region are facing food shortage. However, there are individuals and small groups of people who are finding solutions to this problem. One village located in the Tigray region in Ethiopia is a great example. Since the end of the 20th century, the production of food has increased by 10 times and farmer incomes have increased by 20 times due to some clever strategies and farming principles many around the world are learning from.

The Project That Brought Prosperity

Three decades ago, the residents of the Abraha We Atsbeha village in Ethiopia were moving away rapidly. Located at 2000 metres above sea level, the village was surrounded with dry soil, which often resulted in famine. However, things are now very different. If you visit this village, you’ll see that it is very much an alive, vibrant community.

Embankments and ditches have been built to protect the soil and provide conditions for vegetation to thrive. Previously, the rain caused mudslides and washed the soil away until this ground-work was done.

Ato Gebremichael, who has been head of the local government for 30 years, launched the permaculture strategies. He asked people from the village to volunteer 40 days per year.

The inspiration of his vision for the region can be seen in his abundant veggie garden. In his garden, Ato Gebremichael has planted a wide array of veggies and fruits native to Ethiopia. He no longer buys food, and he sells his excess produce. The honey he produces earns him about 10,000 euros every year. Other villagers soon followed his example.

One of the biggest issues in the village is water, which is precious. The water retention project includes building stone bunds and pond chains that conserve water.

Each family excavated a pond (4m x 4m) to capture water. In addition, community members built stone and trench bunds to slow the water flow, as well as chains of ponds to trap the water.

The villagers constructed nine check dams in the river. The first three dams catch silt and the rest hold water. This makes irrigation possible for about 80% of the community during the dry season.

Four years ago, a well was built which allows residents to increase their harvest. This means they can now water the plants every two to three weeks and they also use compost. During drought periods, the plants are watered once a month. The water from the well is also used for livestock.

Everyone in the village is aware that they’re conserving water for the dry season – in the ponds, the soil, the water table and the dams.

International Recognition

Ato Gebremichael’s work has been recognised by the UN. He has shared his experience in various countries, including Switzerland, Turkey, and Brazil where the popularity of sustainable living is increasing. Ato Gebremichael is pleased to see his efforts pay off, however he says awards aren’t important to him. For him, the most valuable gain from this project is seeing the villagers working together to achieve a common goal. He’s also pleased to see other people across the globe being inspired to follow his example and to learn of other global trends such as passive solar design.

Today, the 57-year-old, who never went to school, lectures at the University of Mekelle. Along with teaching his students, he also shares his expertise and experience with the university researchers.

One of the researchers, Professor Tadesse, says that Ato Gebremichael’s presence is important because he motivates the pastoral people, who are not an easy community to persuade.

The team has just begun their work in the Abala village. Their goal is to reduce the river current during the rainy season and prevent the water from washing away everything in its path.

Ato Gebremichael is there to reassure the locals, but also to ‘translate’ if necessary. Sometimes, engineering terms can be confusing to the farmers. He knows what engineers are saying and planning to do, so he is able to explain it in simple terms.

Making the soil more fertile and changing people’s habits is a long-term process. It took the Abraha we Atsbeha village two decades to stop relying on food aid but, with eight million people in the country being affected, the problem is far from solved.

To watch a video of the project, go to


  1. Great outcomes, but the headline makes it sound like it was a ‘permaculture project’ when it would appear this was a collaborative project involving international bodies and German government agencies etc. While some of the techniques etc may be used within permaculture, was this designed as a permaculture project? If so, by whom?
    It’s great that these projects are happening but a bit more detail and transparency as to who and and was was involved would be great.

  2. Dear Friends,
    this is wonderful news, well done everyone involved.
    If you can find time and resources, this publication is an amazing guide for rural communities, especially in drought prone areas.
    David A. Bainbridge “Gardening with less water” low-tech, low-cost techniques. use up to 90%less water in your garden
    ISBN 978-1-61212-582-4
    Love and peace from Zanzibar,

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