The Estephanos Monastery is on an island in Lake Haik, part of Tehuledere district in South Wollo where LIVES has one of its project sites. The first church was built in 862 AD; in 1262 AD a monastery was established.
Since then, it delivers spiritual, social and development activities for the inhabitants of the surrounding area. The monks and hermits started agricultural activities to feed themselves and then continued to set up a farm enterprise that produces various irrigated fruits (papaya, sugarcane, mango, guava, banana, orange and coffee) and vegetables (cabbage, carrot, and pepper, tomato, onion, potato and spices) both for themselves and the local markets.
The monks also produce livestock – fattened cattle, dairy, poultry and apiculture. They produce forage crops under the fruit trees and feed fruit and vegetable wastes to their dairy and beef animals. They also apply litter from their poultry farm and manure from their dairy and beef animals to fertilize their croplands. They do not apply any inorganic fertilizer for crop production. The monastery’s beekeeping is integrated with fruit, vegetable and forage crop production, both by using the flowers as bee forage and having the bees pollinate trees for better fruit and seed setting.
Ecological restoration of the lake, environmental protection, soil conservation and soil fertility management are major sideline activities carried out in the monastery. Cattle manure is used for biogas production and the biogas is used to cook food. The monks therefore do not cut trees and they do not collect crop residue for fuel. They have constructed soil conservation structures on their farmland to reduce soil erosion as well as siltation of the lake. They compost whatever is left over and apply it to their farmland. They practice intercropping and multistory cropping systems to increase the productivity of their farmland.
These practices are useful to recycle nutrients, protect the lake from pollution and siltation, and for sustainable farming.
The other innovation in Haik monastery is how they plan land use according to its capability. Despite the undulating topography, there is no wasteland in the monastery. Monks constructed the church, congregation rooms, animal barns, poultry houses, residences, museum, training center, and water reservoir on the upper parts of the landscape and planted relatively less water demanding fruit crops such as mango, citrus, guava, and coffee in the middle of the landscape. More water-demanding crops such as banana, papaya, sugarcane, vegetables, and forage crops are towards the bottom of the landscape.
The monastery also has a well-designed irrigation infrastructure. There are two motor pumps, a water reservoir with a capacity of 63,000 m3 and pipes to irrigate the farm. Monks use motor pumps to pump the water from the lake to the top of the landscape, where the reservoir is located, they irrigate their crops from the reservoir using a gravitational system. As a result, each piece of land of the monastery is utilized according to its capability throughout the year.
Apart from their spiritual life, the monks spend all their time on crop, livestock and environmental protection activities. Their (free) labour contribution is estimated as 750-1000 ET birr/day. Annual gross income from the sale of agricultural produce is about 600,000 ETB. Gross expenses are estimated about 200,000 ETB. So they get a net profit of about 400,000 ETB a year. Profit from sales of agricultural produce goes to the construction of additional barns, testing of new technologies, improving their farming practices and expanding their land use.
The local market is the main outlet for their produce as they prefer to keep the serene environment of the monastery for spiritual activities. The main challenge they face in the market is getting a fair price for their high quality produce. Wholesalers and traders usually give low prices, especially for perishable products such as milk and vegetables. As a way to solve this challenge, mobile phones are used to get price information in nearby places. The monastery also constructed a shop in the compound that sells its produce to tourists and pilgrims.
Aba Tesfamariam and other monks visit different farms and market places and attend training workshops to gain experience on production practices and market demands. He uses these visits to gain inspiration and find innovative ways to improve the monastery’s production and align its produce to the market. To further capacitate themselves and others, the monastery joined forces with the tourism office to establish an agricultural training center outside of the monastery – so that women too could take part in training programs and activities.
This story provides a practical experience of integrated livestock and irrigation agriculture. The monks believe that diversification is the key for successful sustainable development. They are proud and confident in what they are doing and eager to share their passion for farming with extension workers, farmers, researchers and practitioners. The Monastery is a local role model for market oriented livestock and irrigation agriculture production.
The LIVES project works closely with these monks involving them in its familiarization and platform meetings. As part of its value chain intervention activities, the project has also introduced forage crops such as pigeon pea, alfalfa and Napier grass and vegetables (three varieties of tomato and two varieties of potato) for demonstration purposes.
Contributed by Mesfin Tefera ( LIVES Zonal Coordinator, South Wollo Zone) and Yigzaw Desalegne (LIVES regional coordinator, Amhara region)