It’s all about striking a balance

Amdom Gebremedhin gains new insights

Amdom Gebremedhin worked in Ethiopia as an agricultural engineer. He’s now in Suderburg for further training, enrolled in the “Climate Change and Water Management” programme. In an interview he talks about the significance of the Suderburg workshop “Enough water for all” for himself, his work and for us in Germany.

Germany also uses irrigation: Workshop participants visited a irrigation system in Suderburg. (C) Philip Schulze

In Ethiopia many people have too little to eat. What’s the cause of this?

85 per cent of Ethiopia’s people are farmers. They try to subsist on what they grow, but they simply cannot produce enough. They’re lacking education, technology and good management.

How can management impact farming?

In Ethiopia I worked in a research centre, exploring better approaches for water and soil management. For example – one hectare of land in Ethiopia produces 23 metric tonnes of wheat. With the help of fertilizers and weed control, the same amount can be achieved in an area half this size. Let’s take USA for example: Many of the croplands need to be heavily irrigated, much like in Ethiopia, but production is still five times higher there than in my country.

Is there enough water in Ethiopia?

We get 800 to 900 millimetres of rain annually – much like here in Germany. But the distribution of water is uneven. In western Ethiopia it rains too much; in the east it rains too little. We need to distribute the water more evenly – both spatially and over time – with the help of dams and an increased number of conduits. Dependable irrigation systems would give farmers stable harvests and higher yields.

Is water shortage a problem only for developing countries?

Not necessarily. Germany also uses irrigation, like right here in Suderburg, where the sandy soil is unable to hold moisture. And in the temperate zones, rain doesn’t always come when it’s needed. This spring in Germany was the driest in 50 years. And climate change will only exacerbate this problem in the future. That’s why I have chosen to explore the effects of climate change on irrigation in both Ethiopia and in Germany for my Masters thesis. My goal is to develop ways in which we can optimally adapt to these changes.

What other ideas will you take back to Ethiopia with you?

The students in the Suderburg Masters programme all come from different backgrounds. That has helped me develop new ways of looking at my work. I am an agricultural engineer. My primary interest was always on increasing productivity. But there are also environmental engineers in my programme. Their approach has showed me that higher productivity and environmental sustainability go hand in hand. Here’s an example: In Ethiopia we need more cropland. But if we clear too much forest for this purpose, then we have soil erosion to deal with. Agriculture affects climate change and vice versa. It’s become clear to me that at the end of the day, it’s all about striking a balance – and keeping it.