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Water and Food Security in Ethiopia
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognized that having food was a human right in 1948. However, it did not include water until 2010. Thus, governments have three obligations: to respect, protect and fulfill these rights in a non-discriminatory, participatory and accountable way. Particularly, water is important for agricultural production and ecosystems such as forests and lakes. Water and food security are essential in alleviating poverty in Ethiopia.

About 800 million people reside in areas where water and food security is low. In order to address the underlying causes of food insecurity, it is necessary to resolve water insecurity and social injustices.

Water Quality and Access

According to the United Nations Development Program, a crisis in water and sanitation causes more devastation than a terrorist attack. Furthermore, these crises happen quietly. As a result, millions of people enjoy access to clean water without concern for others.

Lyla Mehta argues that water is food in itself. The micronutrients in water aids in human health and sanitation. Additionally, water of poor quality can cause diseases that lead to food insecurity and damage ecosystems. Therefore, having access to clean water is essential in improving living conditions for people.

Water inequity exists within societies in four ways:

  • Availability: The gap between water-abundant nations and water-scarce nations is large.
  • Access: Water Accessibility depends greatly on gender, socio-economic status and power relations. As a result, discrimination of race, class and gender is prevalent.
  • Quality: The effects of pollution diminish water quality, causing poor nutrition and damaged ecosystems.
  • Stability: Changing weather and variability make water accessibility highly unstable. Additionally, by 2080, another 1.8 billion people will suffer from water scarcity due to environmental challenges.

Water and Food Security in Ethiopia

Ethiopia relies heavily on agriculture, which constitutes 40% of its GDP and 75% of the workforce. The agriculture industry consists mainly of small-holder farmers in a mixed system of crop-livestock. Furthermore, farmers have limited knowledge of technology and rely heavily on rainfall. Consequently, the primary cause of food shortages is droughts.

Fortunately, many organizations and agencies are working to promote water and food security in Ethiopia.USAID works with several programs to strengthen the conditions of Ethiopia’s water and food security. First, the Feed The Future Strategy encourages participation in income-generating activities within the agricultural sector. This provides jobs and opportunities for families in rural areas and provides credits and technical assistance to small and medium-sized businesses. Additionally, USAID is the largest bilateral donor to the Productive Safety Net Program (PSNP) of the Government of Ethiopia. It contributes by directly rehabilitating the natural environment through labor-based public efforts, stimulating markets, creating greater service accessibility and preventing the draining of household assets.

Additionally, the World Food Program supports the MERET program in investing in a number of activities that relate to water and soil conservation and rehabilitation. Moreover, packages of homestead development and household income-generating programs have emerged to increase household income and women’s assistance. As a result, water availability has increased from ponds, wells, springs and soil moisture. Furthermore, there has been a significant increase in production and household income.

How to Address Water and Food Security

Expectations have determined that agricultural productivity will increase in the following decades. Thus, the need for water will increase as well. It is challenging to address water security when competition increases. However, allocating quality water in specific amounts and managing agriculture will help communities achieve sustainable social and economic development.

Furthermore, programs are building comprehensive plans to address challenges related to production and consumption. First, improving less fortunate communities’ access to food and water is imperative. Next, overcoming gender discrimination will help improve food production and nutrition. Then, promoting inclusive water governance to guarantee equitable and sustainable decision-making in water and food security is crucial.

Water is as important as food for human health. Moreover, water contributes to food accessibility, sanitation and provides a means to achieve sustainable income. Therefore, Ethiopia needs to address water and food security.

Helen Souki
Photo: Flickr

 Growth in Ethiopia’s Wheat Production
Ethiopia is an Eastern African country with a population of over 102.4 million people. Since 2000, Ethiopia has undergone a consistent period of growth with an overall rise in income and a significant reduction of poverty. Improvements continue in disease reduction and economic growth.

Ethiopian Agriculture and Poverty Levels

The country itself has one of the lowest income-inequality levels in the world. However, despite the positive development of the nation, Ethiopia is estimated that almost 23 percent of Ethiopians still live at or below the poverty line.

Agriculture is the largest sector within Ethiopia’s economy, making up over 35 percent of the GDP. The vast majority of the agricultural industry in Ethiopia consists of smallholder subsistence farmers.

These peoples’ income depends on the climate of the region and the health of the land. In the past decade, climate shocks such as droughts have become an increasing occurrence in Ethiopia, endangering the livelihood of these farmers and others who depend on their product.

Wheat in Ethiopia

Despite being among the top producers in Sub-Saharan Africa, Ethiopia’s wheat production fails to keep pace with other producing countries. For many years Ethiopian wheat yields have remained lower than those of other countries, falling to more than 30 percent below the world average in 2012.

Wheat imports account for 40 percent of wheat consumption in Ethiopia, and this amount is still insufficient even in conjunction with the quantity of wheat produced within the country on farms. In fact, demand for wheat has increased as Ethiopia experiences population growth and a rise in wheat-based food preferences.

Malnutrition and food insecurity is a serious problem in Ethiopia. Nearly 40 percent of children under the age of five suffer from stunting, and 24 percent of children are underweight.

In 2017, it was reported that over eight million Ethiopians face unreliable access to the necessary quantity of food and nutrients. Wheat is an essential part of the Ethiopian diet and is considered to be the third most important staple food crop.

The Wheat Initiative

In 2013, the Ethiopian Agricultural ministry and the Agricultural Transformation Agency implemented a new program known as the Wheat Initiative to help improve the productivity of wheat production for smallholder farmers in Ethiopia.

The program introduced new techniques and recommendations for growing wheat that are already utilized globally to approximately 400,000 farms. The goal of this project was to improve productivity for all farmers by spreading techniques and ideas to improve Ethiopia’s wheat production.

The Wheat Initiative provided a package approach to implementing the program. Farms would receive information on techniques, supplies and even marketing plans that could help with the production and sale of wheat.

These suggestions from the Wheat Initiative included the use of the row planting method, a reduction of seeding, and instructions on the use of fertilizer. Many of these farms also received a day of training and vouchers for supplies. An important aspect of the program was the enhancement of the availability of improved seeds and fertilizer, provided by the vouchers.

A study of the experimental Wheat Initiative program completed by the International Food Policy Research Institute in 2016 revealed that the farmers who received the entirety of the program instruction — with a one-day training session and vouchers — increased their wheat yields by 14 percent.

This increase occurred despite a margin of farms in the study that did not fully implement the suggestions in the initiative program.

Increase Productivity, Increase Prosperity

The wheat yield growth seen in smallholder farms indicates that the use of known agricultural techniques and improved seeds can significantly help farmers in Ethiopia increase their productivity. The methods supported by the Wheat Initiative can help the majority of Ethiopians in their day-to-day lives with increased income and better food production.

If these practices continue to spread and are implemented across the country, they could lead to improvements in Ethiopia’s wheat production and in the lives of the majority of Ethiopians.

– Lindabeth Doby
Photo: Flickr