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Guest Post By Danielle Nierenberg and Bernard Pollack,

We started this trip in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, a place most Americans associate with war and hunger due to the famines of the mid 1980s and 1990s. Even today, more than 6 million people in Ethiopia are at risk for starvation so we had mentally prepared ourselves to see very desperate people.

Instead, we found farmers and NGO workers full of hope for the future of agriculture in their country. That’s been our greatest surprise about the continent in general — how vibrant, entrepreneurial, friendly, positive, and alive people are here.

kids water well Askum Ethiopia

Ethiopia: Kids Playing With Water Well in Askum

[Photo credit: Nourishing The Planet (with permission)]

We met Kes Malede Abreha, described by our guides/interpreters as a “farmer-priest,” on his farm near Aksum in the Central Zone of Tigray region. One of the leading “farmer-innovators” in his community, eight years ago he started digging for water on his very dry farm and, though his neighbors thought he was crazy, about 16 meters down, Kes Malede hit water. He then went on to sketch ways that would make it easier to “push” that water to the surface. He developed a series of pumps, improving on each one.

As part of a group of farmers who can apply for and receive funding for their innovations from the global, NGO-initiated organization, Prolinnova, Kes Malede is teaching other farmers in the community by example, showing them how small investments in technology can make a big difference on the farm.

In Ethiopia we also had the opportunity to see on the ground something we’ve been reading about for a few years now: China’s investment in foreign infrastructure. In Aksum alone, the Chinese have built more than 150 kilometers of roads and provided cell phones for farmers — allowing them, for the first time ever, to check prices before they go to market and to call ahead for supplies and materials.

But this investment isn’t entirely altruistic. China, a nation of more than 1. 3 billion people and counting is concerned about its ability to feed its own population today and into the future, and buying up Ethiopian-grown cabbage, carrots, onions, and other crops to ship back home.

We ended the trip in Addis Ababa, which is one of our favorite cities in Africa. Alongside the bumper to bumper traffic, people herd flocks of sheep and vendors walk between cars hawking everything from Mentos to vacuum cleaners.

Danielle Nierenberg and Bernard Pollack founded when they began a journey to visit countries across Africa in October 2009. Their goal is share stories of hope and success as they meet with farmers, community organizers, labor activists/leaders, non-governmental organization (NGOs), the funding and donor communities, and local, regional, and international press at every stop along the way.

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