Aberu's Savings Plan
Building resilience to recurring drought in Ethiopia
Story by Nic Corbett | Photos by Thomas Cristofoletti
In the south Tigray region of Ethiopia, it’s harvest season. Aberu Mamo, a 33-year-old farmer, is hard at work cutting wheat in the fields. Her husband herds oxen in a circle, trampling the cuttings to separate the grain from the straw, a process known as threshing.
These days, Aberu is no longer worried about the prospect of drought. That’s because with USAID’s help she has learned strategies to prepare her family to fight back. “The money saved can be used to pass the worst time,” Aberu says.
A few years ago, USAID, through Feed the Future, connected Aberu and her husband, Samuel Shumuye, 38, with a coach to teach them financial literacy and business skills. They learned how to use loans to invest in new ways of making money.
Aberu began selling cooking oil to her neighbors as a result, and her husband went into the cattle trade, fattening cows to sell every three months.
Before, Aberu and her husband were registered for the Government of Ethiopia’s social safety net program, which distributes a mix of food and cash to low-income households. Within a year of participating in the USAID project, they were able to make enough money on their own to graduate from the safety net.
“It is a huge disadvantage if your life depends on donations,” Aberu says. “Having a source of income is much better.”
With their profits, the family bought materials to build a house surrounded by a cactus fence. “The house we had before was so small, I used to eat and sleep in the same place,” Aberu says.
Aberu also replaced the clay oven she used to make injera with an electric oven that produces no smoke, improving her health. “I have now learned that if I work hard, I can solve any problem,” she says.
Aberu’s VESA also serves as a platform for talking about women’s empowerment. “I advise women and girls to be independent and work hard like we do,” she says.
With USAID’s support, villages like Aberu’s are becoming more resilient to recurring drought, helping break the cycle of emergency food aid.
“If severe drought happens here, I could withdraw from my savings and manage to take care of my children and other family members,” Aberu says. “But if we didn’t have savings, we would be obliged to sell our cattle or sheep, and we would go back to the same old life of poverty and eventually death.”