Harvesting Water in North Gondar



roots-up-logoCan trends towards water scarcity, soil erosion and food insecurity be reversed? If you ask Mathilde Richelet and Bassel Jouni, the people behind the non-profit Roots Up, not only can the trends be reversed, but this task can be achieved with simple, available and sustainable solutions. Their multifunctional dew collector greenhouse provides an ideal environment for growing crops and harvests clean water for irrigation and drinking in North Gondar, Ethiopia.

Ethiopia has an increasingly dry, arid climate and it is one of the world’s most food-insecure countries. In 2014, drought conditions led 3.2 million people to require relief food assistance.[1] 80% of the population are employed by rain-fed agriculture, which leaves them highly vulnerable to changes in the environment, market and demographics. [2]

While conditions have improved from the time of the 1984 famine, in which 400,000 people died, 2.7 million people remain in crisis and emergency food security conditions. This means that at least 20% of households have significant to extreme food consumptions gaps and high to very high levels of acute malnutrition and premature mortality. [3]


Low-Tech Solutions


roots-up-water-producing-greenhouse1The dew collector greenhouse is a low-tech and attainable solution to these problems. As the temperature rises during the day, hot air and humidity are trapped in the greenhouse, improving the atmosphere for plant growth and maximizing the dew harvest. When temperatures drop overnight, the farmer pulls a rope to open the top of the greenhouse, allowing the cool air in and the air within the greenhouse to reach the dew point. Atmospheric water vapour condenses to small droplets on the surface of the bioplastic sheeting, which is then channeled into a collection cistern. The design also allows for it to act as a rainwater collector during storms. The water from both of these sources – 200L a day in the dry season and 700L in the wet season – can then be used for irrigation, as well as a safe drinking water source.[4]

Roots Up provides the necessary tools, materials and training, because “even as a low-tech solution, some materials such as the water cistern have a high cost for one family farming.” [5] With a simple design and low-cost materials, a greenhouse can be built for $500. The organization will also provide workshops on permaculture, eco-building and natural energy, as the greenhouses are just one part of their mission to help create a self-reliant farming communities. [6]

Currently, the focus of their work is in North Gondar, where erratic rainy seasons and land degradation threaten the region’s farming sustainability. A 70% decline in peak season rainfalls over the last several years has increased climate-driven migration. 300,000 Northern Ethiopians leave their homes annually to search for more fertile ground.[7] Richelet and Jouni are motivated by their passion for Ethiopia and for preserving its unique history and exceptional biodiversity. It is their belief that “smallholder farmers are part of the solution and [that they] can improve their yields while increasing biodiversity.” Roots Up is one project out of thousands needed to prove that agroecology can feed the world.


Growing Interest



The first dew collector greenhouse will be built in May and June in conjunction with the University of Gondar. Richelet acknowledges that communicating with farmers and enlightening them on the goal of the project is very challenging. Communication is essential to ensure that no solutions are imposed on the farmers, and as such, a partnership with the university, which is already implementing agricultural projects in the region, will be of great assistance.

The project has attracted interest from several companies, NGOs and individuals who contacted Roots Up to begin projects in India, Thailand, South Korea, California and more. While Ethiopia is their current focus, there is potential for future expansion. However, each region has its specificities, requiring adaptations to correspond with the climatic conditions. In desert regions, for example, a shader would be required to cover the greenhouse for part of the day to prevent the plants from overheating.

The organization is currently raising money through Indiegogo, because as a newly established NGO, they are ineligible for funding from a foundation. They are also considering founding sources in Ethiopian communities and institutions, and in France, where Richelet is from.

Find out more about Roots Up on their website or by following them on Facebook or Twitter.



[1] https://www.wfp.org/countries/ethiopia/overview

[2] http://www.foodsecurityportal.org/ethiopia/resources

[3] https://www.wfp.org/countries/ethiopia/food-security/overview

[4] http://www.roots-up.org/

[5] Email correspondence with Mathilde Richelet, 03/27/2015

[6] https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/roots-up-for-self-sufficient-farming-communities–2

[7] https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/roots-up-for-self-sufficient-farming-communities–2


Rachel Pott

Rachel Pott

Rachel Pott is a writer, teacher and human rights advocate from Peterborough, Canada.

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