Sheib sub-zone: parcel of the economically important areas in the NRS

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Sheib subzone is one of the ten sub-zonal administrations of the Northern Red Sea (NRS) region bordered by Gheleb sub-zone in the west, Massawa sub-zone in the east, Ghindae sub-zone in the south and Afabet sub-zone in the north. It is about 84 kms west of Massawa.

This sub-zone has 1862 square kms of fertile farm land on an altitude that ranges from 215 to 1800 meters above sea level which gives it unique topography and climatic advantages. The population of Sheib sub-zone is around 42 thousand, who are predominantly Tigre and Rashaida living in 15 villages. The sub-zone consists of eight administrative areas: North Mensheb, South Mensheb, Gedged, Tiluk, Weqiro, Wed Ilo, Kilo and Shelshela. The majority of the people (about 85%) live on agriculture and herding and a few are engaged in trade.

Mr. Abubaker Ibrahim, administrator of Sheib sub-zone, said that the sub-zone is one of the most productive agricultural areas in the Northern Red Sea region. This year, out of around nine thousand hectares of cultivable land about six thousand hectares have been cultivated. The sub-zone is endowed with a large size of arable land, but the annual rainfall in the region is very low, around 200-400 mm. To overcome this deficit and boost production, agricultural research institutes, sub-zonal administration offices, the Ministry of Agriculture and local farmers are working together on soil and water conservation projects.

The farmers of this sub-zone are organized in farm associations. Through years of experience and training, they have acquired techniques of setting water diversion and irrigation systems to utilize the water that flows from the highlands. Most of the source of water of this sub-zone is the highlands. The people of this sub-zone are often busy leveling and erecting water canals from March to June. Although the rivers that flow towards this area bring with them abundant fertile soil, sometimes they come with immense volumes and speed. The farmers feel that effective water diversion systems would significantly boost the production capacity of the fertile lands in the area. In the summer, the water canal systems are destroyed by heavy flooding that devastate land farms. Mr. Abubaker said that a plan is underway to construct a dam to be able to control the flow of water towards the farm land and to better utilize the water resources.

The farmers’ association was officially formed in 2004 and has 4542 members. The association aims to improve the livelihood of its members and encourage the sharing of information and experience among its members in times of need. So far, it has proven to be effective and accomplished its envisioned targets.

According to Mr. Abubaker yields have recently increased as a result of public awareness campaigns and training programs for local farmers. Prior to these initiatives, yields per hectare were not profitable. However, after farmers were taught about proper farmland management and soil and water conservation, yields, on average, rose to more than 10 quintals per hectare. The dominant crops harvested are sorghum (about 70%), maize, millet and other types of vegetables. The sorghum produce from this sub-zone is popular throughout the markets in the country. Every year the farmers harvest tens of thousands of crops and make a difference in their good harvests. The Sheib sub-zone’s branch of the Ministry of Agriculture provides farmers with what are regarded as the best sorghum seeds. The sub-zone also provides consultancy services to farmers on how to conserve soil and water. Thus far, the farmers have not fully exploited these opportunities and the Ministry of Agriculture is working to increase the awareness of the people to utilize the opportunities. The administration also arranges routine soil and water conservation campaigns.

This year, Fall Army Worm (FAW) infestation appeared in some parts of the sub-zone and has affected the produce, but now it is under full control thanks to the concerted efforts of the farmers and the Ministry of Agriculture. Another major challenge for the farmers was the locust outbreak. The Ministry of Agriculture in the sub-zone is doing a great job in controlling the expansion of locusts. Awareness of farmers helped in controlling the infestations. They have uprooted the FAW infected plants and saved the majority of their field crops. As a result, the infestation got minimized below the threshold level.

Sheib sub-zone has a large amount of arable land and it is rich in water resources. However, irrigation-based agriculture in the sub-zone remains limited. Mr. Abubaker said that a study on the issue has recently been conducted and the sub-zone plans to encourage irrigation-based agriculture in the near future.

The local Saving and Micro-credit branch in the sub-zone gives loans to individuals and groups which has resulted in increased productivity.

The gradual influx of people into the town of Mensheb, the administrative center of the sub-zone, has caused an increase in social services. Additionally, trade and agricultural activities in the town have begun to flourish. Access to water and the development of infrastructure in Sheib sub-zone and the 15 administration zones is steadily improving. The inhabitants of the town of Mensheb are supplied with water taps distributed throughout the town. The remaining administrative localities receive water from wells and hand pumps.

The sub-zone, in collaboration with the regional administration, has regrouped villages along main roads. This will help in the distribution of services by bringing together several scattered villages. It is also cost-effective. The people of this sub-zone do not have much difficulty in transport because a major asphalt road crosses the subzone from Gahtelay to Afabet. Of course, the road is now in need of renovation because many bridges constructed are partially destroyed by the rivers along the major river basins.

Thought it is not very far from the main power plant in Hirgigo, the subzone is not yet a beneficiary of electric power supply. In terms of social service provision eight of the local administrative areas have access to educational services. As for the other two administrative areas, the administration aims to settle the people and provide them with access to education. In total, there are 19 schools in the sub-zone. However, to reduce the high student-teacher ratio and help establish a conducive learning environment, more schools must be built. Adult education is also provided in order to reduce illiteracy.

There are health centers and stations in the sub-zone, and a plan is underway to expand health institutions to the remaining local administrations that do not have access to health services. In the areas where there are no health institutions, local barefoot doctors provide services. Mr. Jaber Mohammednur, head of social service institutions in Sheib sub-zone says, “The health centers provide services to permanent and outgoing patients. When highly serious cases arise, they are referred to the hospital in Ghindae.” In the winter season the health centers in the sub-zone give service to thousands of people because many of the inhabitants return home from different places. The health centers give health services including vaccinations, pre- and post-natal care and child care.

Importantly, the region has made considerable progress in reducing mother and child mortality rates, female genital mutilation, underage marriage, and the prevalence of HIV and malaria. However, despite the progress, Mr. Jamie revealed that health facilities need to be expanded in order to meet the needs of the sub-zone’s growing population.

Several all-season roads have been paved that connect the sub-zone with the local administration. The sub-zone is also connected with the main Gahtelay-Sheib road. Importantly, these developments have helped facilitate trade and eased transportation challenges. The roads should also help encourage investment.

The large river basins in the sub-zone have the potential to support intensive agricultural activities. In particular, they have opened opportunities to develop large fields of land for agriculture. Local farmers remain committed to improving their output. With the support of agricultural experts and the Ministry of Agriculture, they expect to have an abundant harvest this year.

Overall, the inhabitants of Sheib participate in various development campaigns and their contributions have been immense. As a result, all of the towns in the sub-zone are experiencing significant growth in agricultural and trade.