As of June 2014, 2.7 million Ethiopians experienced “Crisis and Emergency” levels of food insecurity according to the World Food Programme. Only a quarter of arable land in Ethiopia is being used for agriculture and the limited technology available to subsistence farmers means many crops rely on rainfall for water. This is an increasingly risky move as droughts the world over get longer and harsher. Yet, a low-tech, self-watering greenhouse designed by the nonprofit Roots Up could help Ethiopian farmers increase their yields.
The Dew Collector greenhouse is designed to collect both rainwater and condensation. As temperatures rise during the day, water evaporates from the plants inside the greenhouse. The farmer can open a flap at the top of the building to allow cool evening air in, which causes the water to condense into dew that is then redirected into a collection tank for re-use. The water collected from the greenhouse’s condensation is so pure that it can be used for drinking and bathing, not just irrigation.
According to Mathilde Richelet, the co-founder of Roots Up, “People have access to very little drinking water all year long… They have a long way to the river, which is practically dry during the dry season, and this water has a very high level of turbidity. So the dew-collector greenhouse has several purposes. First, it will allow farmers to collect the appropriate amount of safe drinking water needed for the body a day. Then, farmers can irrigate their plants.”
Elegant solutions like the Dew Collector greenhouses are going to be vital in the next few years. Ethiopia is facing an ongoing drought and an influx of refugees from neighboring countries gripped by violent conflict. The world at large faces similar problems. The World Food Programme reports that 805 million people are undernourished worldwide, and 2013 saw the world’s population of refugees top 50 million for the first time since World War II. A growing population of displaced people combined with a growing water shortage due to climate change spells trouble for countries in conflict-ridden parts of the world.
Roots Up aims to launch the first of its greenhouses in Northern Ethiopia this year, with support from the University of Gondar. Its long-term goal is to train farmers in northern Ethiopia to use affordable technology to become financially and technologically independent. This training will help wean the community off expensive food aid programs and set them up with a sustainable alternative. Eventually, Roots Up hopes to help farmers in north Gondar establish profitable agricultural enterprises of their own, such as growing fruit trees.
Amazing innovations like the training programs and greenhouse that Roots Up have created are fantastic and will eventually improve the lives of many people. However, these alone will not solve the underlying problems causing these challenges. The international community must continue its efforts to stop climate change and peacefully resolve conflicts if countries like Ethiopia are to continue to grow and thrive. Hopefully the next decade will see progress on all fronts.
– Marina Middleton