Solving Hunger in Ethiopia by Turning to Native Crops
Tigrai Online December 14, 2014
Dibaabish Jaboo kneads the pale, vegetative flesh of the enset plant, like her mother did, like her granddaughters do. When she’s finished, she bundles the plant’s thick, decomposing stalk into its 12-foot-long leaves along with spices and agents to help it ferment for a few weeks. Once it’s ready, she can store the bundle underground, or pound it into flour for bread or porridge.
Here, in southern Ethiopia, enset thrives on farms that could be mistaken for forests—growing among coffee trees, sugar cane, gargantuan squash, corn, yam and other crops—where its long-lasting roots shield the soil from erosion by keeping dirt in place during droughts and floods. Ethiopians have cultivated the perennial plant—a cousin of the banana tree—for thousands of years, converting its stalk, roots and leaves into food, medicine, decoration and more. It has persisted through droughts over centuries, storing water in its bulbous stalk, as camels do in their humps. When a Portuguese priest came to Ethiopia in 1640, he described enset as a “tree against hunger” because of its resilience and long shelf-life as a fermented food during famines. Even when other crops fail, enset often remains.