How PRIME is transforming aid in Ethiopia

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How PRIME is transforming aid in Ethiopia

Sean Sheridan for Mercy Corps

The Horn of Africa seems to shoulder the weight of environmental disasters in Africa. Ethiopia, in particular, has historically borne a heavy share of natural crises.

In 1984, northern Ethiopia faced its biggest famine in centuries, which killed nearly 1 million people. Mercy Corps first began working in Ethiopia during this huge humanitarian crisis, but did not maintain a permanent presence until 2004, when the organization received USAID funding to begin large scale projects. Today, Mercy Corps continues its work in Ethiopia with offices in Addis Ababa, Hawassa, Jijiga, Dire Dawa and several other cities.

One of the largest projects Mercy Corps has been working on in Ethiopia is PRIME: the Pastoralist Areas Resilience Improvement through Market Expansion program. The PRIME project is funded with a five-year, $64 million USAID grant to build resilience programing that focuses on market inclusion and expansion for 250,000 pastoralists in the Eastern region of Ethiopia. 

The PRIME program focuses on trying to assist communities and individuals to recover from recurring crisis and climate-related shocks through market inclusion and expansion. PRIME’s goal is to increase household incomes and increase resilience to climate change through five primary focus areas:

  1. Improving livestock production and competitiveness
  2. Enhancing households’ resilience and ability to adapt to climate change
  3. Increasing livelihood diversification and long-term market opportunities
  4. Innovation, learning and knowledge management
  5. Improving the nutritional status of children and mothers

The Jijiga Export Slaughterhouse in eastern Ethiopia is an example of the successful projects Mercy Corps has been able to accomplish through the PRIME program.

Support for this project was provided by USAID’s Innovation and Investment Fund. The slaughterhouse is the first-ever international-standard abattoir and livestock fattening facility in the Somali region of Ethiopia. It processes meat to international standards and will be Halal-certified, allowing it to be exported to Muslim-dominated countries in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. The project was created to provide a reliable livestock market for the region, in which the majority of the communities are composed of pastoralists. The slaughterhouse offers pastoralists the opportunity to increase their income, as well as creating new jobs. In both cases, the project increases resilience.

The Jijiga slaughterhouse project was started by Faisal Guhad, a scientist and professor of veterinary medicine who pitched the idea to the Mercy Corps team in Jijiga. With Mercy Corps’ help in assessing the benefits the project could bring to the community, along with a Chinese company that invested in the construction of the slaughterhouse, Guhad realized his dreams to open the first slaughterhouse in the region.

With additional technical support from Mercy Corps, the Jijiga project became the first locally owned slaughterhouse business in a region that has been hit hard by drought. The region is home to most of Ethiopia’s pastoralists and their animals—camels, sheep, cows and goats—that they will now be able to sell at the nearby market. Having a local from the region as owner created immediate trust between the news business and the pastoralists.

Mark Green, the new Director of USAID, toured the slaughterhouse in late August 2017. He praised the Jijiga project as the kind of investment that helped communities out of poverty.  Herders can earn as much as $80 per goat when they sell to the slaughterhouse.

"I’m under no illusions,” said Green. “The development journey in many places in the world is a long one, but I want us to always be thinking what we can do that nudges something towards a day when people get to take care of themselves."

In a nearby area, Mercy Corps has also empowered women living in remote villages to sell their cow and camel milk to the Berwako Milk Processing Factory. Berwako is the only factory in the region that gives pastoralists a new means to make money from the milk of their livestock. In the past, women had to walk more than eight hours to sell their milk along a dry unpaved highway. Often, they did not receive immediate payment for their milk.

The slaughterhouse, the processing factory and other projects made possible by the PRIME program have shown the ways in which Mercy Corps has matured its aid in the developing world.

Mercy Corps initially arrived in Ethiopia with emergency aid. But today—thanks to PRIME—that work is looking long-term, strengthening communities from within.


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