Regenerating Landscapes in Ethiopia

Tony Rollinson
Wednesday, 17th February 2016

An example of permaculture on a massive scale. One man in Ethiopia motivated his community to transform their barren land into flowing rivers, trees and abundance of food. A must watch.

From the makers of The Man Who Stopped The Desert (PM73) this film is essential viewing for the ‘climate change generation’. It highlights not just the necessity to adapt our landscapes but also how people must come together and physically be involved in that change. It is permaculture on a massive scale.

For many of us our image of Ethiopia may be the emotive mid-1980s BBC broadcasts that highlighted the severity of the country’s drought at that time. But what was once a ‘basket case landscape’ now has water pouring out of it, crops and trees in abundance. The unlikely hero is Godify (his birth name, meaning ‘worthless’), but now known as Aba Hawi or ‘man of fire’. While still a young man Aba saw how his people struggled to grow anything in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia. He understood that natural resources were the foundation of everything and set about trying to convince his neighbours.

He took direct action, guarding trees day and night. This created some enemies amongst his own community, as some had more short sighted perceptions of the resources around them. Add to this a military coup that led to the brutalist dictatorship known as The Derg (or the Red Terror of the film’s subtitle) and not only was the land under unbearable stress, but tens of thousands of communities were too.

Aba was imprisoned, at one point for 24 days in solitary confinement in a cell so small that he could not even lay down. But, unperturbed, when released he set about becoming a prominent community member and convincing people that they could transform the landscape of their homeland, offering them both food security and community.

In this brilliant dramatised documentary (acted out by local people) Aba proves to be a true innovator and mass motivator of people. With no mechanised tools the people themselves worked day and night, donating between 20-40 days to physically work at constructing water harvesting systems, contour banks and planting on an almost industrial scale. To date they have transformed over one million hectares of land.

What was once barren hillsides is now trees and crops in abundance and flowing rivers. The towns and villages are full of life. The people also changed the law so that women could work too and thus share in land ownership. Aba now works with past opponents, people who physically imprisoned him are now friends. The film closes with him sharing a drink with them. There is forgiveness, admiration and thanks due to the realisation of a common purpose.

It may seem that the increasing floods in the UK are a million miles away from the problems of Ethiopia, but Ethiopia Rising is an unmissable film that shows that changes are down to us, down to our understanding of this planet and of each other as people. Dodd is one of a new breed of film makers, part activist, part story capturer, totally committed to things not just remaining as they are.

The UK premier is at Cinema City, Norwich on 17th March 2016.

Tony Rollinson is the sales director at PM.

Further resources

Learn more about the film and watch the trailer at

The Man Who Stopped the Desert

Watch: Greening the desert using permaculture


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