Eritrea’s war of independence from Ethiopia, which started the 1950s, as well as the border dispute from 1998 to 2000, caused more than one million Eritrean people to leave their homelands, and many of them fled to Sudan. Based on the Tripartite Agreement among the governments of Eritrea, Sudan, and UNHCR in May 2001, the returning process for refugees began. Thereafter, JEN provided assistance for resettlement of the returnees.

JEN worked in Gash-Barka in western Eritrea, where many people arrived as returnees. JEN targeted female heads of household among the returnees, who were particularly in vulnerable positions, and aimed to achieve their social and economic self-reliance. Four years after starting the program, a survey was conducted to check the conditions of the returnees. Returnees tend to suffer from particular problems, but results of the survey confirmed that such problems had largely been solved and living conditions had almost reached the same level of local residents. JEN took this as a sign that the goal to assist independence of female returnees was achieved. The project was completed with trust to initiative of the Eritrean people.

Resettlement assistance focused on female heads of household


For many years, Eritrean refugees were living in Sudan, dependant on the assistance from the international community. Even if they returned to Eritrea, they could not find housing or means of living, and many could not even imagine their lives after the stopping of food assistance. In particular, there were many female returnees who became the heads of the households after losing their husbands in the armed conflicts. These women, as heads of household, had to keep supporting their family. Under such conditions, assisting these women in linking their skills with a source of income, is a key to sustainable resettlement.

JEN conducted an initial survey targeting female heads of household among the returnees and local residents, and sorted out their profiles and personal skills that can be utilized to generate income. JEN arranged workshops so that the women could grasp their current situations and necessity to be self-sustainable, and also share living information among themselves. These workshops became important occasions to exchange opinions and information, and helped the returnees to integrate with the local society.

Harnessing people's skills to enable sustainable income generation

After the survey, JEN supported the women so they can utilize their own skills to enable sustainable incomes. Measures include establishment of a tractor union and a poultry farming union, as well as job training for discharged female soldiers.


1. Sewing courses


In the independence war and border disputes of Eritrea, many women also fought as armed soldiers. After peace was achieved, demobilization and social rehabilitation of these soldiers became part of the country's challenges. In order to cope with this issue, JEN conducted training courses for sewing and tailing, targeted to women who were formerly soldiers. The participants were encouraged to utilize their skills to gain self-sustainability. Most of the participants started as beginners, but they enthusiastically learned everything from sewing theories to making pattern papers and using sewing machines. 20 former soldiers were able to acquire sewing skills through a 2-month course.

2. Establishment of a tractor union for a successful harvest


Gash-Barka, JEN's project site, has rich soil and is prosperous in agriculture. This is why more than 90% of the returnees from Sudan chose the area for resettlement. In addition, the Muslim culture makes it difficult for women to engage in service jobs, so means of income generation was limited to farming. This is another reason that many female heads of household chose this area for resettlement. However, in spite of environmentally favorable conditions, it was not easy for the women to make money and feed their families.


JEN started assistance by organizing a cooperative union, consisting of 360 female heads of households, and supplied tractors to them. Since there were not enough tractors and other farming equipment, female heads of household had not been able to utilize the land, even if farmland was provided to them from the government. This project enabled them to cultivate the land using free tractors in the farming season. Food and further income were earned by producing and selling farm crops. In addition, the union could rent the tractors for a fee to non-union local residents, thus subsidized maintenance costs and ensured a sustainable project.
The farming season started in June, 2005 in Eritrea, and cultivation proceeded smoothly. JEN also started similar projects in two other locations. By expanding the project scope, many more female heads of household became able to live on income from agriculture.

3. Encouraging social participation of women through poultry farming


Apart from the tractor project, there was high demand for poultry farming. JEN started a poultry farming project by organizing a union with female heads of household as participants, and supplied necessary equipment and chicks. Through this project, the women sold eggs and participated actively in the union to boost their incomes. Another aspect of this project was the promotion of social participation of the female heads of households, who tended to stay at home due to their weak positions in the society. In addition, since people living in and nearby the project site became able to buy cheap, nutritious eggs, the project contributed to improvement of the inhabitants' nutrition conditions.


In this project, JEN did not only provide things needed for poultry farming, but also provided training for raising chickens and maintaining the poultry coops. In 2006, another union was established for the purpose of constructing feed production facilities. JEN also supported strengthening business management skills of the participants, including sales and profit management. In this way, JEN motivated the women to sustainably expand the business using their own skills.

Tractor Union (2004/5-2006/12)

Although the government had provided agricultural land for the returnees, there was a shortage of agricultural materials such as tractors. Consequently, female heads of household cannot fully utilize the land.

JEN had established a Union of 360 female heads of household and started the Assistance Project for Self-Reliance by providing tractors. Through this project, female heads of household could use tractors without any costs and cultivate the land. By producing and selling agricultural products, they were able to secure food and generate income. In addition, the Union could rent the tractors for a fee to non-Union local residents, thus subsidized maintenance costs and ensured a sustainable project.

From June 2005, Eritrea has entered a fecund farming season, and cultivation went well. JEN planed to extend a similar project in two other regions. The expansion of the project have lead to more female heads of household generate a stable income through agriculture.

Poultry Project

In the Gash-Barka region, in addition to tractors, there has been a great need for poultry farming. JEN had organized a Union for female heads of household like in the Tractor Project, and started the Poultry Project, providing the necessary machinery and materials such as chicks. Through this project, female heads of household sold eggs, actively participating in Union activities in order to generate income. Female heads of household, who were socially disadvantaged, generally stayed indoors. In that sense, this project also promoted women's participation in society.

Furthermore, JEN had not only provided the materials necessary for poultry farming, but also gave technical training in raising chickens, and maintaining and managing the chicken factories. In addition, we also assisted women in strengthening their business management skills, including sales and management of budgets. By doing so, we supported them to be able to develop and improve this project on their own.

Needs Assessment and Participatory Workshop Centering Female Households

Prior to the planning of the Tractor and Poultry Project, JEN conducted interviews to 900 female heads of household in Gash-Barka in order to clarify the living conditions and needs of the target population. In addition, JEN also carried out a workshop using participatory rural appraisal methods for 300 female heads of household. These initial research projects resulted in the subsequent income generation activities.

Career Training Project for Dismissed Female Armies

As a JICA's project, JEN conducted a vocational sewing training program for former female soldiers. Most of the participants were beginners in sewing; nevertheless, they keenly participated in the theory sessions, pattern makings, and the actual practice of using sewing machines . As a result, after the two-month course, 20 women were able to gain sewing skills.

Basic Information

Country Name Eritrea
Capital Asmara
Population 4,500,000
Area 11.76 km2
Ethnic Groups ethnic Tigrinya, Afar etc.
Languages Tigrinya, Arabic, other Cushitic languages
Religions Muslim, Coptic Christian etc.

sources: Ministry of Foreign Affairs Official Web Site