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For Tadesse, his father's inability and reluctance to provide him with more land and oxen makes it impossible to engage in farming. Not only does he lack land for cultivation, he is also barred from access to credit because he has no collateral. With soils increasingly requiring fertilizers, the price of which rose 40% in 2010 alone, access to credit is essential for farming. As Tadesse's access to the farming profession is thus severely constrained, for him the meaning of the hillslope has radically changed. Tadesse trades together with Kassahun, who explains how "the donkey is now even more important than the oxen as we use it all year round for trading."[1] During his latest five-day trade expedition, he bought 24 bamboo baskets from the nearby highland market for 128 birr. The next day, he started his journey to the lowlands, a two-day walk from Michael. Here, he exchanged the baskets for 80 kg wheat and 15 kg maize. He sold the wheat in the woreda capital for 296 birr and took home the money and the maize. [1] The 53 families in Michael goth own 58 oxen and 48 donkeys.
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His wife, Ms. Anemo, sells some of the maize in small quantities in the nearby market. Moreover, she cultivates a small irrigated potato plot and engages in the production sale of araki (liquor). Whereas Tadesse’s money is used to engage in new trading activities and the purchase of more grain when needed, the money Anemo earns is used to buy sugar, salt, and oil, and to meet other living expenses.

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Failing to live up to the farmer ideal, young families in Yeshat have thus created a competing ‘trader model’. Most young families in the kebelle complement farming of a small garden or sharecropping a grain plot with trade in baskets and lowland grains. Two years ago Kassahun, Tadesse and 33 other young trader established their own mehaber, a kind of cooperative society, with its own saving scheme. They saved 4,500 birr and provide loans to individual members at 10% interest per month. The members accompany and support one another during trade trips to distant markets. Kassahun proudly tells me that this mehaber is now stronger than any other mehaber in the kebelle.

 

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Changing relations of production in Yeshat are thus closely tied to the thriving lowland economy. In the lowlands the government had started leasing out previously uncultivated communal grazing lands and providing cheap credits to state selected investors, cooperatives and development organisations as part of its new policy of commercial agriculture for development which was adopted after the disputed 2005 elections. On market days, most of the donkeys leave Yeshat empty to bring in maize which is now the cheapest grain available in highland markets. From September to December, these grains bridge the food gap until grains are harvested again in December–January.

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Yet, as trading requires long distance walking and wages paid in commercial farming in the lowlands are below subsistence, Kassahun and Tadesse still aspire a career in farming. They are keen to sharecrop with their parents, especially because this supports their claims to land. This leads to rising conflicts with their parents who are reluctant to sharecrop land with children who stay away from the land and church. When Yohannis decided not to sharecrop with his son in 2012, Tadesse hit his father with a stick during ploughing. Yohannis shouted “I prefer to die today. You are coming to beat and kill me for land. Don’t forget I am your father who suffered a lot to support you, starting from your childhood.