A courageous woman adapting to a newly introduced ‘super crop’: Quinoa

Four years ago Danchurchaid Introduced Quinoa to Ethiopia, with the aim of addressing two big challenges: malnutrition and drought. The crop known in the world as the ‘super food’ contains all the essential food items that are important for growth, which are not found in other grains. Furthermore, it only requires a small amount of rainfall to grow, which strengthens its prospects in Ethiopia.

I am a strong farmer. Quinoa was new to our area. So, I have worked so hard to make sure I succeed” says Ayale Ejigu, a 50-year-old farmer living in a small village in Dehana, Amhara region. From a handful of Quinoa seeds (0.2kg) of which she received from the RESET II project a year ago, Ayale has harvested about 80 kg of quinoa on her first harvest. This is a great success for her and for the community. “Even if my son prepared the land for me I was with him throughout the harvesting process to make sure I earned as much kilo as possible” explains Ayale while carrying what she has produced with the help of another person.

Ayale, known in the area for being a strong female farmer, has harvested the highest kg of Quinoa throughout the project. “There was a shortage of rain this year. I sowed barley, sorghum, haricot bean and Quinoa and it was from the quinoa harvest that I got a better yield” explains Ayale. Unlike other cereal crops, Quinoa needs a small amount of rain to survive after being planted.

Ayale’s life has never been easy. She lost five of her children several years ago, “I gave birth to six children but only one is alive. All of them died during their childhood” explains Ayale with a sign of deep sorrow in her eyes. Currently Ayale lives with her son and two of her grandchildren. She has experienced a lot of hardship and sorrow in her life, but keeps fighting and enduring to take care of her family.

Ayale inside her quinoa farm

Quinoa: addressing malnutrition and harsh climate

Dehana woreda, in Wag Hemra zone, Amhara region is located 800 km from the capital city. To reach Dehana one needs to travel through the northern mountainous part of the country for two and half days. The area is known for its degraded, steep and stony mountains. Farmers in the area have been struggling for decades to grow crops in the area. Furthermore, shortage of rain each year makes the existing problem worse. Above all, studies show that Wag Hemra zone is highly affected by malnourishment. Therefore, DCA introduced Quinoa in Ethiopia with the intention of fighting malnourishment through the introduction of this drought-resistant crop.

Quinoa, a food crop that has become famous around the world, resists a wide range of abiotic environmental conditions. It has a unique role to play in the future of agriculture, especially in the light of the changing global climate, as it is naturally adaptable to various climate conditions such as; drought, salt affected soils, and frequent frost. In addition, the nutritional profile of quinoa is impressive. It is the only cereal crop that contains complete protein by providing all the essential amino acids good for one’s health. It also has a high content of minerals and vitamins compared to other cereals in Ethiopia.

With this intention, DCA incorporated quinoa production and expansion into the RESET II project. The project totally targets 600 farmers. During the first year of the project, 200 farmers were selected and were provided with a total of 40 kg of quinoa (0.2kg each) here among Ayale. Furthermore, a training on how to grow and harvest quinoa was given to all the 200 farmers. In the second phase, the project will buy back the seeds harvested by the 200 farmers. These seeds will then be distributed as revolving seeds to the rest of the 400 targeted farmers. “I am waiting for DCA staff to buy my product. I weighed my harvest twice and they told me it is about 80 kg” says Ayale with a proud smile and big hope in her face.

Ayale cleaning her quinoa seed 

What is the next step?

According to a monitoring done, it has been revealed that each of the 200 beneficiaries have harvested on average 15-40kg of quinoa. DCA will buy back what the farmers produce by paying what corresponds to the current price rate of teff and adding 20% to the price. The third stage of the project, involves giving the targeted farmers a cooking class, so they can incorporate quinoa into their diet. 

We asked Ayale if she has ever tasted Quinoa, with a surprise in her face she says “For now,I have never tried it, I am waiting for DCA to buy the Quinoa I harvested. But in the future if they show me how to cook it, I can feed it to my grandchildren.

After selling her quinoa seeds, Ayale has a plan to buy corrugated iron sheets, to build a new house for her family.