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Grain Banks In Ethiopia?

The Monitor (Addis Ababa)
January 11, 2000
By Berhe W. Aregay

Addis Ababa - An obscure Amharic newspaper (a newsletter for retirees, really) by the name Wastna, in its issue of Dec.1999, carried an article on the need for establishing grain banks in Ethiopia.

The article among other things, had this to say on the subject: Poor farmers in rural areas in this country outnumber by far the number of people in cities and towns that are affected by food shortages on recurring basis.

These group of farmers include in their ranks: landless young men and women, elderly people and female-headed households.

In normal and even in the best of years, poor farmers are almost invariably food deficit. Lean years definitely prove particularly devastating to these people. The article discusses the state of the Ethiopian agriculture in general, including the type of ownership presently at work; but for now, we will leave that aside.

The article based its discussion on a previous symposium on "Food Security and Land tenure in Ethiopia" organized by the Association of Ethiopian Economists. The suggestion to establish grain banks in Ethiopia strikes me as being a novel idea that might work.

What makes the idea even more novel is that the article advocating it appeared in a relatively unknown paper. On second thought though, the choice of paper for such topic may not have been wrong after all; since most pensioners in this country can be considered only little better than the have-nots.

Grain banks of a sort already exist in the country. To mention the important ones: Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Commission( DPPC), Emergency Food Security Administration(EFSRA), World Food Program(WFP).

The first two are government organizations as our readers are well aware of. WFP helps acquiring grain supplies for both organizations by soliciting donors.

Commercially one other government organization is there too, mainly as price stabilizer.

But the idea of grain banks as conceptualized in the article by Dr. Tenker Bonger is really new and I believe warrants further brain storming.

What the writer has done is just put an idea on the table. He didn't at this stage bother to elaborate much on his proposal.

Put in a nutshell what the author has to say is this: The grain bank, like a blood bank will be made to serve as short term relief to those vulnerable groups mentioned above. A trust fund will be established.

NGOs, both local and from outside the country, government, local people including better off farmers, would contribute in establishing the trust fund

The trust fund would be run on a revolving fund basis. At this point one is inclined to ask, of course, if the idea of a revolving fund wouldn't imply buying and selling.

And if so does that mean we are back to square one: poor, cash strapped rural folks being left out-the very people that the proposed bank meant to help. The suggestion of establishing grain banks in Ethiopia as the first line of defense against starvation may have holes in it at this stage of conceptualizing it in our minds.

Nevertheless, I believe this matter deserves looking into.

We have seen over the years that crop failures occur unexpectedly for variety of causes.

Among poor farmers in fact they constitute a primal fear. And when they do take place the government in power scrambles for emergency food aid; mainly from outside the country.

The appeal for food aid may sometimes fall on deaf ears. At best there have been critical delays.

Panic follows. Thank God we have not heard of deaths in recent times.

All things considered grain banks from local sources seem to present an answer even if partially to the problem, in theory at least, of being caught off guard. Even dignity might be served. Let's make no mistake about it, until we are able to produce food in enough quantities, food aid from outside will be needed and will be desirable.

Any additional strategy that will decrease dependency though, is worth trying.

Publication date: January 6, 1999

Copyright (c) 2000 The Monitor - Addis Ababa. Distributed via Africa News Online ( For information about the content or for permission to redistribute, publish or use for broadcast, contact the publisher.

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