In Ethiopia, volunteers are helping to restore drylands in the country’s Tigray region on a massive scale. The region is home to over 4.3 million people, and villagers volunteer for 20 days each year to help the restorative process happen.
In January, hundreds of thousands of villagers – the vast majority of whom are subsistence farmers – left their fields to join together in a mass conservation effort.
Over 20 consecutive days they headed out with spades and picks to build hillside terraces, construct soil embankments, and install basic irrigation systems and create micro-scale dams. They repeat the process in September, only this time they plant seedlings on the province’s denuded hillsides.
Tigray is located in the far north, close to the border with Eritrea. The region has always been a dry, mountainous, tough place to live, but today, due to increasingly erratic rains and decades of gradual deforestation, eking out a living there is harder than ever. However, Tigray is also now greener than it has been in the last 145 years. At a time when hundreds of millions of people around the world are directly threatened by land degradation, it is possible that the region could become a blueprint for change. In Merere, a remote community in central Tigray, there is now a verdant valley floor. There is rich grazing land that gives way to neat fields of barley and the grain teff, a much-loved staple of the Ethiopian diet.