Last Updated: Friday, 27 May 2016, 08:49 GMT

Eritrea: fields ploughed mostly for women headed households

Publisher International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)
Publication Date 3 October 2011
Cite as International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Eritrea: fields ploughed mostly for women headed households, 3 October 2011, available at: [accessed 30 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

In 2010, nearly 3,000 resettled or returned families in the Gash Barka region of Eritrea used tractors hired by the ICRC to plough 3,000 hectares of fields prior to the planting season. Unusually, most of the heads of these families were women.

The 1998-2000 war between Ethiopia and Eritrea brought about a shortage of labour for ploughing since most farmers were called upon to fight or required to do their National Service, a situation which persists today. This has resulted in many women becoming heads of household. According to the local culture, however, it is taboo for women to plough their fields.

To overcome this labour shortage, most farmers arrange share-cropping deals, which reduce their take home harvest by as much as 50-75%. As such arrangements are not always available, some farmers plant late, which very often results in crop failures, while others leave their land fallow.

In 2010, and for the second consecutive year, the ICRC, in conjunction with the Eritrean Ministry of Agriculture, launched a programme to help affected families by renting tractors to plough fields in a number of villages in the sub-zones of Goluj, Barentu, Laelay Gash and Shambiko in the Gash Barka region. From 2005 to 2010, the same ploughing programme benefited farmers in the Debub region.

A maximum return

One of the beneficiaries of this project, Mrs Tirhase Abreha, who lives in the Shambiko sub-zone, said: "Unlike previous years when I would get just 25 per cent or 50 per cent, this year I got 100 per cent of the harvest from one hectare of my land that was ploughed by the ICRC. Previously I did not have the means to rent a tractor, so I had no other option other than to give my land over to share-cropping or to face the risk of leaving my land fallow."

Another beneficiary, Mrs Zewdi Tekeste, from Anagulu village, said: "I was getting assistance from my close relatives to plough my land, but it was never on time. This meant that I was losing up to 30 per cent of what was supposed to be harvested." In 2010, by ploughing one hectare of Mrs Zewdi's land, the ICRC helped her to achieve 100 per cent of her harvest.

Mrs Letebrahan Tekeste, the head of a resettled household in Girme village, explained: "My husband is carrying out his military service and is able to send a small remittance for the family, which is fully used to cover part of our basic needs."

All our livestock were lost during and after the war, and it was impossible for me to cover my ploughing expenses. As a result, I had to negotiate a share-cropping deal with a better-off household who ploughed the fields and provided me with 50 per cent of the harvest. Now the story is different. My family and I can get 100 per cent of our harvest thanks to the ICRC programme. I can sell some of the crop and save some money to plough my land next year by renting a tractor."

A bountiful year

During the ploughing programme, farmers were interviewed and the ploughed fields were checked for level, depth of ploughing and their general condition. The ICRC assistance, combined with abundant rains, contributed to a good harvest in 2010, with average production of sorghum per hectare more than doubling in comparison with the previous two years.

The project will be maintained in the Gash Barka region in 2011, when, according to the ICRC economic security team, close to 4,000 hectares of land will be ploughed for vulnerable families – most of which are headed by women.

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