Growing Their Own

Originally published on August 4, 2014.

For many years, making enough money to feed her family was a big challenge for Mesret Alemayehu, a mother of four from Woliso woreda, or district, in central Ethiopia. Mesret’s main source of income came from selling firewood, which she traveled long distances to gather. But, she only earned roughly US $0.80 (15 Birr) per day. Her husband, Ato Zerihun, worked for a local farmer two days a week. In exchange, the farmer would let him use his oxen to plough his plot. Their family struggled to earn enough, and their diet lacked proper nutrition for their growing children.

Ato Zerihun and Mesret now have another source of income, and enjoy a variety of nutritious vegetables from their own garden
In June 2012, Mesret’s family qualified to participate in the Empowering New Generations to Improve Nutrition and Economic Opportunities (ENGINE) project, which is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Led by Save the Children, ENGINE is designed to help Ethiopia’s government and health institutions improve the nutritional status of 6.5 million women and children. Land O’Lakes is leading ENGINE’s food security and economic strengthening efforts to improve agricultural production and prevent undernutrition.

ENGINE provided Mesret with nutrient-dense vegetable seeds, including carrot, Swiss chard, beet root, lettuce and onions to grow in her backyard and harvest for her family. When Ato Zerihun learned about the potential benefits of growing a garden, such as a diverse variety of vegetables for better nutrition, he rushed to prepare the backyard and planted the seeds right away. Together they worked hard on their garden and successfully produced an ample variety of vegetables, which helped to diversify the family’s diet and improve their nutrition. From the initial seeds provided by ENGINE, the family has been able to enjoy a steady supply of healthy vegetables.

I was very poor and had virtually nothing to eat for myself and my family. I thank ENGINE so much for the generous support I received that has changed my family’s lifestyle in a short period so noticeably.

Mesret Alemayehu (ENGINE Client)


Land O’Lakes showed Mesret and her husband how to market their surplus produce and earn extra income for their family. Their first sale produced US $45 (850 Birr) from their garden, which they used to buy cooking oil, iodized salt and other food items to supplement the family’s diet. With the extra cash, Mesret bought a calf to produce milk for her family. She also anticipates an upcoming bountiful harvest of 300 kg of onions, which she will use in cooking, and for earning more income. Seeing their lives changed for the better, Mesret said, “I have prayed to God to help me and my family [climb] out of poverty for so long. I was very poor and had virtually nothing to eat for myself and my family. I thank ENGINE so much for the generous support I received that has changed my family’s lifestyle in a short period so noticeably.”

Mesret’s experience has inspired her friends to try to improve their nutritional status. Birtukan, a neighbor and friend of Mesret, learned about the benefits of growing nutrient-dense vegetables. “Mesret told me about the importance of food diversification, how to plant the seeds and prepare the vegetables at home. I am so motivated to work on my home garden. I can’t wait until the rainy season comes so I can start,” said Birtukan.

With a secure source of nutritious foods and income, Mesret is now more confident that her family’s future will be better. “I have no words to express my admiration and gratitude for the support my family received from ENGINE, which has improved our living standards forever,” she said.

Using a “learning-by-doing” approach, Land O’Lakes will help 2,500 vulnerable families like Mesret and Ato Zerihun’s to establish backyard gardens and achieve market linkages.

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