“You must take the people on board.”

The Menschen für Menschen Foundation strives to sustainably improve the living conditions in its project regions. Is it achieving this goal? Dr Jochen Currle, rural development expert, pursued this question in 2015 in Merhabete. Until 2009 this central Ethiopian region was one of the project areas of Menschen für Menschen. Six years later Currle has drawn a positive conclusion from the ex-post evaluation: there have been fundamental changes in Merhabete.

Dr. Currle, about 133,000 people live in Merhabete on 1,210 square kilometres, an area significantly larger than Berlin. How do you go about assessing changes in such a large area?

Of course, I can’t evaluate every household. So first of all I study reports and statistics from the years before the start of the project. Then I consider which goals Menschen für Menschen has pursued in its project work and which projects have been implemented. In third place are current statistics illustrating the status quo. In this way I prepare a cause-and-effect model. This desk work forms the basis, although that’s not all. If I want to get a clear picture of why certain things have changed, I have to make site visits.

In March 2015 you were in Merhabete. What does this on-site research look like?

My colleague Tsegazeab Kidanemariam and I travelled together with Tewelde Gebrekidan, an employee of Menschen für Menschen, through the project region for about two weeks and systematically collected information. During this time we visited small farmers, talked to women’s groups and interviewed employees of local authorities. These different perspectives are important for forming a complete picture. In these talks I was particularly struck by the openness of the people. We spoke to farmers about farming methods or new fruit and vegetable varieties. Young women explained to us why they consider family planning to be important and why they today prefer a medically assisted birth over a home based delivery. Many referred directly to the project work of Menschen für Menschen. We gained the impression that the people are really well informed about the Foundation’s projects and the advantages they bring.

In spite of the Zoma stairs the path leading from Merhabetes main town Alem Katema downhill is still arduous.

What advantages are those?

One of the distinguishing features of the work of Menschen für Menschen is that it provides an impetus for change in various areas. The central pillars are sustainable land management, health, WaSH, education and human development. I must admit that I was a bit sceptical at first whether it would be possible to be simultaneously active on so many fronts. However, the results show that it is possible. The successes in the individual areas are mutually dependent and reinforce each other.

Can you name any examples?

In Ethiopia most children are required to help in the household and farming. Frequently they have little time to go to school. In Merhabete the cereal yield was increased by 150% between 2004 and 2014, and many water points were constructed. This meant not only food security and clean drinking water within reach of people’s homes. It was also the prerequisite for relieving the children from household chores, so that they suddenly had more time to concentrate on education.

At this point the schools built by Menschen für Menschen come into play. They are modern and intact, which in turn makes them attractive for competent teaching staff. The number of pupils and quality of teaching is rising; the number of school dropouts is falling. More young people, in particular young women, are graduating from school, learning a trade or even continuing their studies. The number of early marriages is decreasing as a result. Women are giving birth to fewer children and later, resulting in a radical change in the role of women. In our numerous discussions it was evident that the early marriage has become less socially acceptable. An entire value system has changed. Many indicators suggest that Menschen für Menschen has triggered a complex development process in Merhabete.

Mango has become a bestseller in Merhabete.

Better farming methods, hand-dug wells, better schools – and a region starts to develop. Is it really so easy?

No, the planning is also crucial. A detailed requirement analysis is needed at the outset of a project. Where exactly are the problems? Is a health centre needed? Which vegetable or fruit varieties can be planted? Not until it is clear what the inhabitants need and want, and where a region’s potential lies, can a project be put together for a sustainable impact. In Merhabete it was the mango, among other things, that changed the life of many farmers. Before Menschen für Menschen brought the fruit to the region, it was completely unknown. Now it is a top seller at the local and regional markets. Once an impetus has been given, the changes happen automatically.

In your report you say that many developments really got underway after the end of the project work 2009. How does one achieve this sustainability?

Of course, you can’t just walk into a region, hand-dig a well, construct terraced fields, reforest a tract of land and leave again. If this success is to be secured for the long-term, someone must take responsibility for the maintenance of these communal facilities. You have to take the local population on board, so to speak – the future beneficiaries as well the local authorities. Take the reforestation zones as an example, areas where cattle should not be allowed to graze, so that grass, bushes and trees can grow again. As long as these areas are barren and without vegetation, they are of no consequence. But as soon as the vegetation returns, we have a parcel of land with valuable resources that did not previously exist. How should we deal with them? Who should be allowed to use them? Only when there are recognised committees that establish and enforce fair rules, can conflict be avoided. In Merhabete that has evidently happened in various places. In 2004 there were about 12,000 hectares of reforestation; by 2014 this figure had grown to more than 24,000 hectares.

What kind of committees need to be created?

In the first instance these are the groups of villagers who participated in a project, e.g. farmers who helped to plant trees in a reforestation zone, or villagers who look after a hand-dug well. They not only have to know how to order spare parts and repair a pump. They have to prepare proper management plans in order to secure sound management of the well in the long term. And they must find solutions when newly founded families or newcomers to the village wish to use the well although they had not previously contributed to the work. In essence, it’s a matter of solving distribution conflicts in a democratic and fair manner. That’s not easy.

And do you think that has been successful in Merhabete?

Yes, in many cases. A further example is the extensive terracing of the slopes in the region. In earlier reports there is no mention of this; we only read about rapid erosion of the soil. Today, in contrast, the landscape in Merhabete is shaped by terracing. The people have obviously recognised that these structures are necessary. They have drawn up plans for improving the existing terraces and building new ones. A point has been reached at which the support of Menschen für Menschen is no longer needed. That is quite impressive.

Dr. Jochen Currle travelled together with Menschen für Menschen staff for two weeks to systematically collect informations.

Personal details

Dr Jochen Currle (57) is an agronomist at FAKT consultants in Stuttgart. Its services include advice to public bodies, in particular international development aid organisations in agricultural development issues. For Menschen für Menschen FAKT prepared the ex-post evaluation in Merhabete and other project regions.

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