UNESCO: Ethiopia’s farmers becoming beggars

Ethiopia’s Crippled Agriculture (Analysis)

29 December 2010, By Andualem Sisay|

Sitting near St. Gabriel church, which is located next to the national palace here in Addis Ababa, Birrara Teketel, 27, stairs at the worshipers on a cloudy afternoon of December 28, 2010. Birrara Teketel sitting next to another beggar around St.Gabriel Church, Kasanchis Dec. 28, 2010

‘Sile Kidus Gebriel’ (meaning for the sake of St. Gabriel)’, he howls, seeking money or food from the followers of Ethiopian Orthodox Christians who steadily flow to attend St. Gabriel’s annual worship ceremony.

But, he is not a fulltime beggar. A month ago he was at home with his wife and two children in Mugad, Weldya of Amhara region, which is some 300 kms from Addis Ababa. He is a farmer who owns a plot of land his family sliced to him when got married eleven years ago.

“We can’t earn enough from agriculture for living since our land size is too small and we can only harvest once in a year,” says Birrara, whose land size enables him to produce up to five quintals of sorghum or teff during good harvest season.

“The land is not suitable for irrigation either and I don’t want to be in debt by using fertilizer as the size is too small. I would rather prefer leaving my home seeking other ‘shekl’(business) in different part of the country after the harvest,” he says.

For Birrara and hundreds of farmers this is the season they leave their home and exile to other parts of the country to make additional income and feed their family.

For the past three weeks, he was working as a daily laborer in Minjar area of Amhara region, which is known for producing quality teff – the main dish of Ethiopia.

He was lucky and returned to Addis Ababa with a total of 2,300 birr by harvesting teff farm of rich farmers. He earned 200 birr per hectare for his service. “Thanks to God, now I will go back home and come back next year for similar Shekl,” says the father of 7 and 10 years old boys.

Only the younger boy goes to school while the older one stays at home supporting the family. He feeds the cow and ox of the family, collect firewood and help his mother fetching water.

He does all agriculture related activities, according to Birrara, whose decision on his older son’s life seems totally opposite to his name’s meaning, which means, ‘if he has sympathy’.

Ethiopia’s small-hold farm is often known for its rainfall dependency. Century old traditional farming system and lack of affordable modern agricultural inputs are also often mentioned as among the causes that lead to low production.

Issues associated with extensive grazing systems including deforestation and the growing degradation of rangelands and water sources due to unsustainable management practices also need attention to make productive small-holder agriculture in Ethiopia.

Agriculture VS Food Security
For the past decades millions of several Ethiopian farmers were unable to produce the amount of food the country needs to feed its citizens. In addition to the backward farming system of the country, the frequent drought the country experienced since 1970s has made the country foreign food aid dependent.

In fact, some of the drought-induced famines were even severely affecting millions of people so much so that famine is automatically associated with Ethiopia.

The country is still unable to make an end to the acute problem. Today, out of the total population of around 85 million around 13 million including those under the national safety net program are still dependent on food aid.

According to Rural Poverty Report 2011 released by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) early December 2010, a little less than 35 per cent of the total rural population of developing countries is classified as extremely poor, down from around 54 per cent in 1988.

Reports show that more than 60 per cent of the rural population lives on less than 1.25 US dollar a day in sub-Saharan Africa, where Ethiopia is categorized.

After several attempts over the past twenty years, the Ethiopian government in its recent Growth and Transformation Plan vowed to end this within five years. It aims to liberate the country from the longstanding food aid by making the agricultural sector contribute the development of industry.

Meanwhile, from the previous experiences of Ethiopian government, many doubt that Ethiopia will be free from foreign food aid within five years.

National Attempt
The Agricultural Development Led Industrialization (ADLI), which was first introduced by the government, has been considered as pro‐poor and the main instrument for alleviating poverty of the majority of small‐holder farmers in Ethiopia.

Meanwhile, the country’s agriculture was not able to achieve its anticipated goals of serving as the main engine of industrialization by providing the raw material, capital base, surplus labor and capital accumulation wasn’t able to address the core source of rural poverty.

Later, in 2002 the government issued the first Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP), known as the “Sustainable Development and Poverty Reduction Program” (SDPRP).

The SDPRP was based on the basic doctrine of ADLI with its major focus on agricultural and rural development. Its emphasis was mainly directed to stimulating rural growth centered on small land holder farmers, like Birrara.

The second round of the PRSP process, known as “the Plan for Accelerated and Sustainable Development to End Poverty” (PASDEP), covers the period 2005‐2010. Still the overall idea was to increase food production of small-hold farmers, expand commercial farms and reduce dependency level of the country on foreign food aid.

Unfortunately, below 50 percent of PASDEP II was attained in terms of increasing major crops production.

At the end of 2010, the government’s target was to produce 38.2 million tons of major crops, which is only one million tons lower than the new Growth and Transformation Plan.

Meanwhile the country was only able to produce a total of 18.08 million tons of major crops at the end of 2009/10 fiscal year.

Now, most of agriculture sector targets listed in the Growth and Transformation Plan aim to meet these unmet targets of the previous five years without major policy shift.

Is Large Farm Curing the Acute?
Without proper policy and regulations, the recent trend of allocating huge farming land to foreign investors do not seem to solve rural poverty and make the country food sufficient either.

In his paper entitled, ‘Governance of large scale agricultural investments in Africa: The case of Ethiopia’, which is presented at the World Bank meeting in April 2010, Emeru Tamrat stressed the need to recognize and enforce land rights while expanding large scale agriculture in the country.

Land conflicts, restriction on land rights and land use planning, public land management, expropriation and compensation issues also need government’s attention, according to Emeru.

He further suggested that the country needs to develop and implement rural land use master plans. There is also a need for a clear definition of the contents of communal and pastoral holding rights by law. The country should also put in place mechanisms to ensure benefit sharing from large-scale agricultural investment.

“Currently there is lack of regular and effective monitoring of compliance with safeguards related to agricultural investment by the responsible government agencies. The lack of mechanisms to monitor large‐scale agricultural investments once land is allocated has led to misuse of natural resources and adverse environmental and social impacts,” Emeru noted in the paper.

His paper also indicated that Afar, Somali, Benishangul‐Gumuz, Gambella and Harari regional states have not yet issued their own implementation legislation.

He questions how the land holding rights given to peasants and pastoralists under the constitution is being implemented within these regional states in the absence of detailed land administration laws in these regional states.

Until the current complex situations change, Birrara and thousands of small agricultural land holders in Ethiopia continue searching for part time jobs. And the burden of taking care of their family will fall on the shoulders of their kids who deprived of elementary education.

Note: This article is prepared in collaboration with Ethiopian Environment Journalists Association and UNESCO

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