A different story to tell

For those of us that grew up in the 1980s, the word “famine” is almost synonymous with Ethiopia. In 1984 to 1985, images of crowded feeding centers and emaciated babies from Ethiopia’s Tigray province were burned into the public memory.

Many of these images were the work of Mohammed Amin, the legendary Kenyan photojournalist who was one of the first outsiders to travel to Tigray in 1984. Amin’s photos outraged the world. What followed was Live Aid, Band Aid, and an international response that ultimately saved millions of lives.

Salim Amin in Tigray
Salim Amin meets a family in Tigray. Photo © Chip Duncan


A few weeks ago, I went back to Tigray with Mohammed Amin’s son, Salim. Thanks to more than two decades of investments in agriculture, the Tigray we see today is one that Salim’s father would barely recognize. Nearly 20 percent of the land in the region is now irrigated (compared to 6 percent nationally), meaning many farmers are no longer at the mercy of erratic rains. And 1.4 million families are participating in the Productive Safety Net Program, which gives food or cash transfers to vulnerable families in exchange for work on community projects. What’s more, new technology and support for farmers growing tef (a nutritious type of grain), harvesting honey and raising livestock are helping people increase their incomes to one day graduate from the safety net.

During the visit we talked to dozens of people who are benefiting from these programs. People like Berimu Gebre-Micheal, who can grow vegetables now that his fields are irrigated, providing additional income and more nutritious food for his two children. And there’s Kelelom, a tef farmer who lost her father in 1984. She increased her yields thanks to better seeds, methods for planting and better access to markets.

Today, Berimu and Kelelom’s stories are just as critical as Mohammed Amin’s photos were in 1984. Because 27 years after world said never again, another famine is ravaging Somalia. Experts warn that this one could kill 750,000 people in the coming months. ONE’s campaign, Hungry No More, is calling on world leaders to put an end to famine for good by investing in the long-term solution: African agriculture.

Tigray is a model for what happens when governments invest in long-term solutions to drought and food insecurity. You can check out Salim’s video in the player above and sign our petition here.