Travel Report –Kerkebet Agro-Industrial Project
During the most verdant season in Eritrea, September, last year, tinted most parts of our country a lively emerald green. It was during that season that a team headed to Kerkebet, one of the biggest Agro-industrial projects in Eritrea. Kerkebet, once arid lands have now been turned into vast water lands thanks to the construction of a big dam.
Out travel was ornamented by the greenness of the season. Starting from the vast white grains farm lands of the highlands, we dashed down to Gash Barka, through the immense farm lands of pear millet and sorghum, where we were greeted by large herds of camels, goats, cattle…
We reached Kerekebt Dam to be awe-dazed by the spectacle outlook surrounding the dam and the movement of the fresh water creatures who’ve turned the 330 million metric cube water dam into their home. Kerkebt, having engrossed wide vacillating industrial activities, it is indeed the center of a multifaceted and viable agro industrial stepping stone for the future of Eritrea. The overflowing water wets 80 kilometers of farmlands extended to the border with Sudan.
So far, ten thousand hectares of land has been geared up for modern farming. Mango trees, farms of cotton, sugar cane as well as seasonal crops cover 30 hectares of the land near the dam. Last years’ harvest has proved for these parts to be more than suitable for many of the fruit and pulse plants planted there for the first time. Managers of the project say that the fields of the area, alongside the knowledge and expertise reaped in previous experiences, the projects’ next phase will be easily enabled; the existing farmlands will be expanded to cover over 40000 hectares.
Most of the experts engaged in the project are young and highly trained Eritrean youth. Thanks to their enthusiasm the project resulted to be vibrant and fruitful. Around the time we visited, however, we were told that most of them had left for a break after six long working months. Nevertheless, we met a large workforce composed by young mothers, women and civilian residents of thirteen villages, not far from the dam, in the Amalait Administration of the Kerkebet Sub Zone. According to their statements, they were trained about modern farming and industrial agronomy by the youth and eventually have become a big part of workforce engaged in several activities included in the Kerkebet Agro-Industrial Project. Their contribution is highly recognized, in fact, Manager of the Kerkebet Agro-Industrial Project, Mr. Tadese Fissahaye, explains that mothers from these communities were rather secluded. “Let alone working with people, these women, couldn’t even look at someone else’s face without gazing down”. He went on to explain that, initially, having inhabitants of the area participate in the project did not aim at benefitting from their contribution, rather, have them participate and learn to advance in the ladder of social transformation. Time after, the inhabitants of the thirteen villages in the sub-zone, have now become work oriented members of the society. In the mornings, mothers who might have a lot to tend to in their homes manage to make it on time at the bus stops headed to the project site. Their transformation is part and parcel of the Eritrean National Development Plan, having for long echoed women emancipation, it aims at educating the society, advance together and leave no one behind.
Mrs. Fatuma Ibrahim has been working for a year and eight months so far. She is from the Sub Zone of Asmat. She says: “At first we were not working at all, we thought of our salary as a monthly support from the Government. The Government has been very patient with us. They trained us with different skills, while still giving us monthly allowance. Eventually, we realized we could be working mothers and that we can support our families. As a result, now, we think of our salary as a well-deserved payment that we take home with pride. With it, we feed and spoil our children and we encourage them to be independent when they grow up.”
NUEYS branch leader of Kerkebet Sub Zone, Mr. Hummud Mohammed Ali, says that the Government works closely with the branch and communal administrations, to inform the inhabitants of how they are the primary users of the project. And that, therefore, they should be well informed about the project and be part of it. According to Mr. Hummud, women in the area are traditionally expected to stay at home and tend to their families. The edifice of the project, however is playing a big role in their emancipation. Women are now invigorated and happy of stepping outside of their huts, learn vocations and contribute to their families’ income.
Mr. Hummud went on to say that the project also includes assisting farmers in its environs to shift from subsistence farming to modern farming.
To this end, Kerkebet Dam has become a vital appendage to the already booming development activities of Gash Barka. But above all, it has become a center of education to the many professionals involved as well as the inhabitants of the area who now are very well encouraged to better their livelihoods. Soon enough, Amlait village, situated in the Kerekebet Sub Zone at a cross roads linked to the project, will transition to a semi-city given the continuous changes and dynamics the village is going through.
Translated by Billion Temesghen