In the late 1980s, President Carter mediated between warring Ethiopian and Eritrean factions during a conflict that resulted in the independent nation of Eritrea.
In September 1989, the Eritrean People's Liberation Front and the government of the People's Republic of Ethiopia took the first steps toward full-scale peace negotiations after 28 years of fighting when they met for 12 days at The Carter Center. Leaders from both sides had asked former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, during trips to the region in 1988 and 1989, to mediate.
The Carter Center negotiations marked the first time the parties agreed to talk without preconditions and in the presence of a third-party mediator. Two months later, the groups met again in Nairobi, Kenya. After making progress, the parties continued to fight, and in May 1991, Tigrayan forces reached Ethiopia's capital city of Addis Ababa, forcing the president of Ethiopia to flee the country. In May 1993, Eritrea became an independent nation.
For several years following its independence, the country suffered food shortages, and The Carter Center was invited to assist with food security programming in 1996.
When the Carter Center's Agriculture Program, in partnership with the Eritrea Ministry of Agriculture and the Sasakawa Africa Association, began food security programming in 1996, agriculture accounted for 50 percent of Eritrea's gross domestic product. With a semiarid climate, most of the crop production took place in the highlands, where farmers used traditional methods to produce sorghum, pearl millet, finger millet, barley, and teff. Consistent food shortages forced the nation to import several hundred thousand tons of grain each year.
The goal of the program was to help Eritrea grow more of its own food, thus preventing famine and starvation. Farmers were provided with credit for fertilizers and seeds to grow production test plots. Following successful harvests, they taught their neighbors about the new technologies, creating a ripple effect to stimulate food self-sufficiency in the nation.
In 1986, following a survey of rural areas to determine which crops were best suited for development, wheat, barley, maize, and sorghum were planted in 192 management training plots in the Seraye, Hamassien, and Akeleguzay provinces in central and southern Eritrea. New farming and fertilizer technology was tested in 46 villages. By 1997, the movement expanded to education. Field days were hosted mainly in Seraye province, where more than 1,300 farmers learned about the new farming techniques.
The program grew to serve approximately 100,000 farmers, and yields obtained on the demonstration plots were two to three times higher than those cultivated through traditional practices. Since improving crop yields was only half the battle, the program helped identify cost-effective, local markets for these surpluses. Projects also focused on post-harvest technologies, including methods for processing and storing. Neighboring countries were encouraged to foster lasting cooperative efforts.
These successes and others in agricultural development programming led the partnership to end its in-country agricultural activities in Eritrea in 1999.
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Size: 117,600 square kilometers
Population below poverty line: 50 percent
Life expectancy: 64 years
Ethnic groups: Tigrinya, Tigre, Saho, Kunama, Rashaida, Bilen, other (Afar, Beni Amir, Nera)
Religions: Muslim, Coptic Christian, Roman Catholic, Protestant
Languages: Tigrinya (official), Arabic (official), English (official), Tigre, Kunama, Afar, other Cushitic languages
Source: U.S. Central Intelligence Agency World Factbook 2016