What if someone had the “impossible” idea to grow crops in a climate where none had thrived before, in order to help end famine in a poor country?
Paul Morrell, a co-founder of Al-Morrell Development, has lead a fulfilling life by preparing and finding success in a career . After reading The End of Poverty by Jeffrey Sachs, Paul was left contemplating what he could contribute in the last third of his life. He wanted to explore opportunities to give back to other people. He wondered what he could do that would benefit mankind. He wanted opportunities that would provide him with the chance to give something valuable and lasting. He wanted not only to give of his monetary resources but also of his personal time, talents, and abilities.
An opportunity presented itself in June of 2007. Paul was approached by an acquaintance, Stephanie Reeder, who was seeking financial help for an orphanage in Kersa Illala, Ethiopia. Founded by Lon and DeAnna Kennard, the orphanage is appropriately called the Village of Hope. The Kennards had been working there for twelve years, providing services for a community of up to 5,000 people.
The Village of Hope provides a refuge for orphans and high risk children. A well provides the villagers with clean drinking water. Other agriculture and livestock projects are underway to benefit the lives of the Ethiopian people. Medical care and education needs are also provided to the people.
After being investigated by the staff of Morrell Family Charities, Paul decided to help fund this orphanage. An opportunity to travel to Gulu, Uganda with World Vision, a humanitarian organization dedicated to helping communities and children worldwide overcome poverty and injustice, arose in early 2008. Paul used this opportunity to also make a stop in Ethiopia to visit the operations there
Paul Morrell first arrived in Kersa Illala, Ethiopia in March of 2008. He brought with him Evan Maxfield, an agronomist, and Brent Keller, a live stock science expert, to look over the situation and see what opportunities there were to help the people of Ethiopia.
Traditionally the dry season in this area begins in October, with rains rapidly decreasing, and lasts until May. There may be a few rain showers in April, but it really depends on the year. March was the height of the dry season. Everything was yellow and brown, no crops were growing. Just a few weeds were scattered here and there throughout the barren landscape.
Evan noticed a very thorny weed growing in the area. Its slight green color and its small white flower stood out amongst the varying hues of brown in the landscape, and it reminded him of safflower that grows in the United States. They were tall and full of moisture. He thought that if this little plant full of thistles could grow in dry season conditions that dry farm crops would probably grow, as well. That was the beginning of MAI’s projects in Ethiopia. Evan has said that, “To me it was pure inspiration, because there was no way I would know otherwise.”
Dry farming in the western United States begins at the end of the wet season, in April or May, when moisture is shallow and at the surface of the soil. One or two good rains will germinate the seeds, which will then root deep and require no irrigation to grow to maturity. Seeds have been developed over the last century that are adapt at growing in dry climates and capturing moisture from deep in the soil. This is the paradigm that Evan thought could also work in Ethiopia. If dry farming could be established in the country, then the land could be worked at a time when it was usually sterile. The amount of food or grain grown in one area could double its yield each year.
Evan promptly began an investigation in the area to determine whether or not dry farming was feasible there. To test his theory, Evan dug a test hole in the Village of Hope compound. After digging down 28 inches, he discovered soil with some moisture in it. Safflower and wheat roots will typically go down farther than that. At the end of the dry season, moisture was found in every test hole within two and a half feet of the surface.
Government-run weather stations, just outside of Kersa Illala, were also consulted in the investigation. The stations gather moisture and rain data every day of the year. Data from these stations reported that there was even more rain in an Ethiopian dry season than in a summer in the United States. There were no reasons found that concluded that dry farming technology would not work in the fields of Ethiopia.
This was the green light that Paul needed to begin an agricultural project in Ethiopia. He was met with skepticism at every turn. The people of Ethiopia use primitive farming methods, but they are very competent and capable in what they do. The locals told Paul and Evan that farming in the dry season would be impossible. There was over 12 hours of sunlight every day, no rain for weeks or months, and they argued that their tropical climate seasons would affect growing differently, because the United States had no such season to compare it to.
Morrell Agro Industries, PLC was created to help provide famine relief in Ethiopia. A wealthy person in a third world country is one that can afford three meals a day. Many people in Ethiopia are not that fortunate. Half of the year the land is left barren and does not produce new crops that can be used for sustenance. “Sowing Hope and Prosperity” was appropriately given as the original slogan for the projects in Ethiopia.
Picture a dry brown landscape populated by an impoverished people, lacking proper nutrition. This is where MAI employees travel to lend their expertise and to hopefully change and improve the local people’s future.
While Ethiopian soil creates a fertile growing environment, much of the potential of the land is untapped. The ground is overgrazed, the land has been deforested to a large extent, and in most of the country the land is only planted and harvested during half of the year. The potential for agricultural growth is substantial.
Paul Morrell’s goal is to end famine in Ethiopia in five years. He says that, “If you don’t aim high, you never even get close.” It is a monumental undertaking with obstacles to overcome. Since Morrell Agro Industries was founded, many agricultural projects have been initiated in the country. The success of those projects is working towards fully reaching Paul’s goal.