People in rural Ethiopia suffer from food insecurity, deep poverty

People in rural Ethiopia suffer from food insecurity, deep poverty

The Reporter, Wednesday, November 20, 2002

By Melaku Demisie

With the second largest human population in sub-Saharan Africa, its biggest livestock herd,agriculture looming so large in the economy, and with considerable remaining reserves of cultivable land, one would expect Ethiopia's agriculture to be much larger than it is.

However, study papers presented to the "Rural Development" workshop held last week at the Prime Minister's Office revealed that the value-added in agriculture in the early 1990s was less than one quarter that of Nigeria. That figure alone illustrates Ethiopia's poverty starkly. "Average incomes for those engaged in agriculture are only one-sixth as high as for those in non-farm employment."

At the workshop, the presented papers noted that more of Ethiopia's population (88 percent) lived in rural areas than in almost any other country in Africa. And almost 65 percent of the population live more than a half day's walk from an all-weather road.

"Rural people in Ethiopia suffer from deep poverty and food insecurity. More than half of the rural population live below a food poverty line with actual expenditures on food not enough to obtain a minimum food consumption set at 2,200 calories per adult equivalent per day."

According to the papers, Ethiopia's agriculture contributes 45 percent of GDP compared with 10 percent from the industrial sector. In constant values of 1987, the valve added in agriculture in 1996 was US 4.2 billion dollars out of a GDP at market prices of US 9.6 billion dollars.

"Farming is overwhelmingly for subsistence. The nine million small holder farmers with average size of one to two hectares produce more than 95 percent of agricultural output." Less than 40 percent of total output is marketed, less than 30 percent food grains. The problem of economic growth in Ethiopia is overwhelmingly the problem of commercializing subsistence agriculture.

According to the papers, between 55 and 56 percent of rural children under six years of age suffer from stunting. The stunting figures for rural children increased, from 60 percent in 1983 to 64 percent in 1992 to over 68 percent in 1995/96, although they may have declined somewhat since the mid-nineties. "These levels are uniquely high in sub-Saharan Africa, more than double than levels in 17 of the 37 countries recorded, and more than 30 percent greater than all other countries except one - Mozambique." In Ethiopia, adults, too, are seriously undernourished, with serious effects on work and reproductive outcomes.

Regarding the health problem, the papers added that rural people also suffered from poor health. About five to six million children experience vitamin A deficiency, which could lead to blindness, and there is an exceptionally high burden of diseases that reduce energy intake in children under five - among them measles, malaria, water-borne infections and intestinal parasites. "Almost 31 percent of children attending school have iodine deficiency disorders. The plague of AIDS is growing in both countryside and city."

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