A joint venture between the Ethiopian government and World Food Programme, the MERET programme gets chronically food-insecure communities involved in environmental rehabilitation and sustainable income- generating activities that improve livelihoods.

Under MERET, chronically food-insecure communities participate in environmental rehabilitation and income generating activities designed to improve livelihoods through the sustainable use of natural resources. Its primary objective is to build resilience to the kind of shocks that struck Ethiopia in 2008.Some of those shocks were economic, such as high food and fuel prices, while others were environmental, like the prolonged drought that was related to climate change, according to experts. Among the programme’s many activities are measures to build and rehabilitate feeder roads, reforest barren hillsides, restore springs and rainwater ponds, and reconstruct and refurbish agricultural terraces.

Objectives and beneficiaries

In 2005 FAO undertook a cost-benefit analysis on behalf of WFP to assess the investment returns on MERET activities for beneficiaries. The study analysed soil composition, water capture, the production of woody biomass, and crop and horticultural productivity after conservation treatment implemented through MERET. It found that economic and financial rates of return averaged more than 12 percent for the main activities implemented through the programme – a remarkable achievement for drought-stricken areas. The analysis also captured MERET communities’ views on the benefits resulting from improved natural resource management. It found that all community members interviewed felt that their incomes had improved, and thus that their regular food deficit had decreased. They also found noticeable improvements in the quantity and quality of water available as a result of the conservation efforts. In particular, community members appreciated how pond development had improved the water supply for livestock. The study examined the project’s effect on time savings in the collection of fuelwood, fodder and water, tasks traditionally assigned to women. Households in the community noted that significant time savings, averaging 2.2 hours a day for fuelwood collection and 2.0 hours for water collection. Probably one of the most striking features of MERET has been the role of the
partnership between WFP and the natural resource extension system in encouraging innovation. MERET has developed a range of appropriate technologies that adapt international standards of conservation engineering to Ethiopia’s watershed requirements and community economic needs. For example, the development of sediment storage dams, combined with check dams and reshaping techniques, helps control floods, stabilize gullies and restore the disrupted hydrological balances in catchments. Farmers were quick to notice the suitability of these methods, leading to increased popularity and faster rates of replication. As a result, gullies were transformed into productive land, where the concentration of fertile soil and sufficient moisture allow the production of high-value crops that generate income. The development of these adaptive technologies results from a combination of government investments in technical support and incentives for natural resource experts and extension agents to innovate.

Expected results and benefits for climate change adaptation and mitigation

Over the last few years, MERET has been evaluated by external consultants, Government of Ethiopia officials and WFP. These evaluations provide useful insights into the results achieved and ongoing challenges faced by MERET. All reports conclude that MERET has made substantial progress towards its goal of improving livelihood and food security opportunities for the most vulnerable, particularly women-headed households, through sustainable use of the natural resource base. It should be emphasized that during most of the period of Project 2488 and MERET, communities implementing food-for-work activities have also received relief resources when affected by drought. However, both Project 2488 and MERET have adhered to the development standards for soil and water conservation required to rehabilitate a watershed, and transfers have only been given after verification that the work activity has maintained quality standards.