Ethiopia: the road to self-reliance

In the Horn of Africa, Oxfam is pioneering a new approach to building self-reliance that is becoming a model for others in Africa and around the world. By focusing on a community's strengths and supporting a process called "Asset-Based Community-Driven" development, or ABCD, tremendous advances are being made.

Instead of focusing on a community's weaknesses, Oxfam, in close collaboration with the Coady International Institute and three local Ethiopian non-governmental organizations (NGOs), is helping communities identify and build on their assets and capacities - what they know, what they do, the resources they can tap.

Mapping assets

The process starts with a detailed mapping of the community and its environment engaging the whole community in drawing up an inventory of its assets. They list everything from their labor to the stones that line the seasonal streambed, their livestock, their water source, even the grandmother who teaches young girls to sew.

They also look to see how assets are lost to the community ”“ where their limited money goes, whether they are losing skilled workers, whether they could increase the return on their labor if they processed the things they produce.

By recognizing these assets and then mobilizing at the community level to build on them, a process of change is set in motion.

The community benefits

In the community of Woleta in the central highlands of Ethiopia, work on ABCD began in 2002. The community was very poor, with most families living on less than $1 a day. Hunger and meager diets undermined people's health. Few girls attended school.

The community identified their cereal bank, established several years earlier with support from Oxfam and a local NGO called Hundee, as one of their main assets. Thanks to the bank, millet producers are finally being paid enough to cover their costs of production and make a modest profit.

The cereal bank means that producers can pool their crop, get a better return, sell higher and keep some supply for their own consumption.

They now have a reliable supply of grains year-round, they can sell into the market when it's advantageous, and they no longer need to buy seed. They can rely on their own stock. The bank's executive is mostly made up of women, because the producers feel they are more knowledgeable about the quality of the cereals and more trustworthy when it comes to handling the collective's cash.

Story originally from Oxfam Canada