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The Hopeful River Project: Safe water for farmers

To provide farmers with clean water for irrigation, with the aim of improving the health standard of their produce and penetrate new markets

Photo of Milha
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Here are two problems we seek to address. First, the agriculture fields by the Akaki River are irrigated with polluted water resulting in produce containing heavy metals harmful to health. Second, farmers flood markets with same produce at the same time, leaving large quantities of unsold vegetables that go to waste. Our solution addresses both of these issues in tandem, helping farmers to capitalize on healthier produce while connecting with high value consumers. Farmers will be able to capitalize on their healthier produce and connect with high value consumers such as hotels and restaurants by demonstrating through labelling and communications that this produce is of higher quality. This improved communication with customers will have two positive effects: the first is that the produce will be healthier, and the second is that farmers will have more proactive dialogue with key customers such as hotels and restaurants. This second factor is an important (and often overlooked) element for these farmers in that it provides direct market signals in terms of which crops to grow based on demand, and this is a critical piece of reducing food waste. In other words, by taking practical, significant steps to work with local farmers to provide clean irrigation water, the project will both improve the overall health outcomes for people who consume the produce, and strengthen the market resilience through better existing customer relationships and the entry into new local markets.


Small Scale Farmers: Farmers are able to increase their revenue by reducing vegetable waste through access to customers with higher purchasing power, increase their public health profile and have their produce recognized publicly. Consumers: Those living in or visiting Addis Ababa will now enjoy the choice of purchasing vegetables that will not threaten their health. Ecosystem: The economic value of clean water will raise awareness on the value of healthier ecosystem.


Addis Ababa, Ethiopia


  • Yes


  • I’ve worked in a sector related to my idea for over a year


  • Yes, for more than one year.


The Hopeful River project is a small team of individual collaborators, who are determined to rehabilitate the Akaki River by reducing human impact and the effects of contaminated water on the local population. The team is based in Addis Ababa and New York with expertise in science and social fields

Summary of Idea

Level  of vegetables contamination 

Approximately 496 hectares of land is being farmed using the the polluted water of the Akaki River. Studies have shown that vegetables grown using this water are contaminated by heavy metals - look at table one for details of contamination level and the maximum permissible amount of contamination. These heavy metals have detrimental effect to human health both to consumers and producers and their presence in food needs to be limited.

 Table 1

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Source: B.S. chandravanshi AAU (2012)

Water filtration system

Two filtration systems to treat the irrigation waters have been chosen due to the appropriateness of the technologies. These are the anaerobic filtration system and water hyacinths both can treat effluents, grey, black and brown water.  All the materials required for building these filtration systems can be sourced locally and managed by the farming communities and the vegetable growers association under which all the farmers by Little Akaki are organized. The filtration systems are semi central and small- scale providing the convenience and opportunity for easy installation along the river  at designated intervals. Since the two filtration systems have different capacities they will be used concurrently to complement  their strengths and weakness. While the anaerobic system removes all the biological and organic matter the hyacinths will remove the heavy metals.

Anaerobic system: is a fixed bed biological reactor with one or more filtration chambers in series. As wastewater flows through the filter, particles are trapped and organic matter is degraded by the active biomass that is attached to the surface of the filter material. It is a good system for limited space availability, which is the case in Addis Ababa. The materials used to filter the water include gravel, crushed rocks or bricks, cinder, pumice, or specially formed plastic pieces and bacteria build up.  

Anaerobic filtration system

Water hyacinths: have the ability to heavy metals are taken up by the roots of the plant and transported to the shoots and other plant tissues, where they are concentrated. Moreover harvesting and burning water hyacinths can extract valuable heavy metals from its ash. Water hyacinths thrive in wastewater environments, and are particularly efficient at removing heavy metals. As long as water hyacinths are being used in a controlled environment such as a constructed pond, and removed periodically to hinder over growth, it is an efficient and cost effective treatment system. Also since the idea is to implement as small-scale filtration system the hyacinths need to be removed more frequently.

water hyacinths in a constructed pond

Market access and labelling

The second phase in accessing new markets is through labelling of products, to give public health conscious consumers the opportunity to buy higher quality products. This will give the small-holder farmers a niche that arguably would expand their market share which currently focuses on local consumers to providing coroperate entities, hotels and restaurants.

Why The Hopeful River Project

1) Because we are first and foremost local experts working with local farmers who understand the current circumstances, challenges and opportunities; 
2) Because we are working with existing, low-tech, proven technologies that can make a difference quickly; 
3) Because we are determined to break the cycle of the negative impacts of rapid development on a city we love.

Attachments (1)

Tinishu Akaki Analysis Results Summary.pdf

Testing and analysis of contaminants found in the little Akaki River done by the 'Hopeful River Project'. The document also explains the impact of these contaminants on human health.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Valentin Schuetz

Very interesting! I livenext by the vegetable fields and shop from tbe markets.  I have no way of telling which veg is contaminated and which is safe.  So as abuyer and consumer its really bad. I hear the same concerns from many people Starting with the farmers is the right thing i guess.  Not much hooe that the city council has ways of adresding this anytime soon. I hope you can get tbe project working so a Vegetarian Diet is no longer a health hazard in Addis!  V

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