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Youth volunteers hold back the desert in Ethiopia

The vegetables grown by youth volunteers taking part in a UNV-led project show that desertification is not inevitable in Ethiopia. (UNV)The vegetables grown by youth volunteers taking part in a UNV-led project show that desertification is not inevitable in Ethiopia. (UNV)Youth in Amhara construct 5 km of barriers to help prevent desertification. (UNV)Youth in Amhara construct 5 km of barriers to help prevent desertification. (UNV)
03 August 2008

Amhara and Oromia States, Ethiopia: According to the secretariat of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), Ethiopia has one of the worst erosion problems in the world, losing 2 billion metric tonnes of soil per year. Studies indicate that 70 percent of the total land mass of the country is affected by the spread of desertification, which in turn aggravates land degradation and poverty.

Funded by UNV and UNCCD, the 'Involvement of Ethiopian Youth in Combating Desertification' programme is running in partnership with the Federal Environmental Protection Authority of Ethiopia. Three UNV volunteers – two Ethiopians and one Ugandan – are attached to the project to supervise and inspect work at the grassroots level in Amhara and Oromia National Regional States.

The UNV volunteers oversee 200 youth volunteers, of whom 43 percent are female, working at four pilot sites covering a total of 438 hectares. The programme builds knowledge about several fields: soil and water conservation, forest management, water harvesting, setting up nurseries, beekeeping and horticulture.

The best way of learning is by doing and, guided by the UNV volunteers' expertise, the local youth are getting hands-on experience. This year in both regional states, the youth volunteers constructed 33 trenches and 114 micro-basins to conserve soil and water, and planted 11,500 tree seedlings. Moreover, four apiculture centres and four nursery sites have been established and are in operation.

Furthermore, the youths have dug 5 km of soil and water conservation structures to help rehabilitate degraded land and planted Jatropha, a drought-resistant plant species that both provides fuel and acts as a fence to keep people and animals from interfering with one of the project pilot sites.

The volunteers' visible progress raises awareness of environmental issues among the surrounding communities. In Amhara, hundreds of local people have visited the pilot sites to learn about techniques for mitigating the effects of drought. In the future, the youths will produce posters and other materials to reinforce the importance of combating desertification in Ethiopia.

Not only does the project mobilize youth and their communities, creating awareness about the need to protect the environment, it also improves their livelihoods. Over a tonne of vegetables such as onions, tomatoes and cabbages were harvested from the nurseries in Amhara, some of which the youth groups consumed themselves while the remainder was sold at the local market.

UNV is administered by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)