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  • Samantha Brueggeman

Goederts in Ethiopia Week 6: The Natural Resources of Ethiopia

Native forests in Ethiopia have diminished considerably due to encroaching agriculture, livestock and the need for fuel.

The Eucalyptus tree is very fast growing and requires little care. It is hardy and grows in harsh environments while resisting disease. However, it uses a lot of water, removes soil nutrients and suppresses the growth of natural vegetation. Eucalyptus can grow 6-12 feet in a year and can reach 50’ in a few years. Trees are often harvested at around 20’ with a diameter less than six inches for construction and charcoal. It can be used as a temporary construction product like scaffolding (although I caution against it) or for the structure of a house. One of my Ph.D. students is researching the possibility of using bamboo as an alternative to Eucalyptus for scaffolding and shoring on construction projects. For me, this is mostly as a safety concern because structural failures are common and often fatal.

It seems little or nothing is being done by the government to curb these human and environmental destructive practices. These are long-lived and well-ingrained practices that have been around for a millennium. One progressive farmer near a countryside village we visited created a biodigester that he feeds with manure from his cattle. His family uses the methane produced by the digester to cook their food and light their home. He is an innovator but, it seems that in spite of his success, others have not been quick to follow.

Martha is discouraged by the nutritional status of the women who present to labor and delivery. She is aware of the severe anemia and the folic acid deficiencies evidenced by the numerous neuro-tube defects (NTDs) in the newborns. Often the babies are delivered at home (18% on average) and arrive already paralyzed because of the vaginal birth rupturing the spinal defect. It is very challenging for children to survive in Ethiopia with NTD’s and the resulting complications with mobility, bowel and bladder function and stigma. We spoke last year of work I did making wheelchairs along with a village carpenter ‘Koffi”, from local products. This work will continue now as the SIM missionaries who run the Physical Therapy Center, ‘Hidden Abilities’ have just returned from their Canadian home stay. In the end, these projects that build ‘abilities’ across disciplines and among families, are the ones we remember the most.

It seems like such a small action that our American government enacted with enriched flour with folic acid and other nutrients for bread products (as Martha says, ‘even Twinkies’) but it has reduced substantially the folic acid deficiency defects. As mentioned in the last letter, the pesticides also have a ‘anti-folate’ impact, and this is work to address contaminated water will continue if the grant gets funded that Martha and her colleagues in public health and environmental engineering submit this week. Hopefully enough brain power can see creative ways to turn around this folate deficiency. Ethiopians have the scientific know-how and research abilities; we are witness to that. Now comes the time to have a perfect storm of political will to influence the dietary intake, especially for women and children. The educational outreach must happen in the most vulnerable communities, the pastoralists and farmers. The communities are so impoverished that they sell their eggs and any valuable proteins such as goat meat.  As Martha pointed out, seeing the villager with his methane digester, “he is a positive deviant; he is just as poor but creates health and happiness, dreams, adapts, encourages others by example. Let’s hope that each of us, in some small way, becomes a positive deviant in our own community.

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