An abattoir located among herding communities in Ethiopia’s eastern Somali region, known more for droughts and famine than business opportunities, is an unusual stop for a U.S. aid administrator.
But USAID chief Mark Green stopped at the Jijiga Export Slaughter House (JESH) during a visit to Jijiga on Wednesday to see the effects of a crippling drought that has pushed some areas to the south to the brink of famine.
The abattoir buys goats, sheep, cows and camels for slaughter from herders to export to the Middle East, giving families cash to buy food during the drought.
A $1.5 million loan from Feed the Future helped purchase refrigerators and trucks for the facility, which employs 100 people from local villages.
Feed the Future is a $1 billion-a-year agricultural program launched during U.S. President Barack Obama’s presidency in 2010.
To Green, the slaughterhouse represents what USAID can do to mobilize private-sector money for investments that increase farming productivity in developing countries.
Climate changes are threatening the way of life of Nomadic herders, forcing them to move away from traditional grazing grounds and find alternative livelihoods.
While at the abattoir, Green announced 12 countries that would benefit from Feed The Future investments, signalling that the program would survive despite proposed deep cuts to USAID’s budget by the Trump administration.
The 12 countries, down from 19 in anticipation of budget cuts next fiscal year, are Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guatemala, Honduras, Kenya, Mali, Nepal, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Uganda.
Green said investments like the Jijinga slaughterhouse not only created markets for American businesses but helped communities out of poverty. Herders can earn as much as $80 per goat when they sell to the slaughterhouse.
“I’m under no illusions; the development journey in many places in the world is a long one, but I want us to always be thinking what we can do that nudges something towards a day when people get to take care of themselves,” he said.
“This is a place where we see some of the benefits and the potential for Feed the Future,” Green added.
JESH Chief Executive Faisal Guhad said the abattoir had been open for a year but was forced to close for three months last year because of the drought.
The facility processes about 10,000 animals a month. Guhad said he hoped to quadruple that in the second year of operation.
Demand for Ethiopian goat meat was currently high because of the annual haj pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca, said Guhad.
“We opened at the wrong time. El Nino happened to us and we started again after it rained,” said Guhad. “We’re now in the second month of starting again.”
The slaughterhouse employs about 108 people from the community and plans to increase that to 200, said Guhad.
In the Jijinga area, planting for the March to May rains, known as the belg, has been delayed, and aid workers have said they have seen a growing number of women and children at food distribution centers. It has been predicted that the hunger crisis will worsen until the harvest begins in September.
Many parts of the Ethiopian highlands are still recovering from the 2016 drought, which was attributed to the El Niño weather phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean.