food security in EthiopiaAccording to USAID, Ethiopia’s economy is dependent on agriculture, which is 43 percent of the GDP and 90 percent of Ethiopia’s exports. With such a significant economic reliance on a single sector, the community must section a large amount of dedicated time and resources towards agriculture’s viability for food security in Ethiopia.


Barriers to Food Security in Ethiopia

Access to weather-resistant seeds, fertilizers and pesticides is limited in Ethiopia. On top of that, only a small percentage of the land is actually irrigated. All of these combine to threaten agricultural output. The livelihoods of farmers are at risk if they do not have high enough crop yields to support themselves and sell in the market.

Since its discovery in 1939, there is one crop that has continued to contribute towards food security in Ethiopia. It is a crop that farmers do not worry about and it is a source of nutritional value for all consumers. This crop is commonly referred to as the “false banana.”


The Importance of the “False Banana”

Its scientific name is Ensete ventricosum; it is a perennial crop indigenous to Ethiopia. Enset is called the “false banana” because of its similarity in appearance. However, it is usually taller and fatter, with no edible fruits.

Over time, it has ranked as the most important cultivated staple food crop in the highlands of central, south and southwestern Ethiopia. It has been discovered to be weather resistant, which earned enset another title: “the tree against hunger”.

This weather resistance happens because the bulk of this plant is composed of air, then water and then fiber. The cells in the leaves hold an incredible amount of water for years. Therefore, even if Ethiopia faces a drought, this incredible plant can survive up to seven years without rain.

The main product of enset is the starchy pit from its “pseudo-stem,” which is pulped and then fermented for a few months before producing kocho, which is a solid staple that is eaten with bread, milk, cheese, cabbage, meat or coffee. Its diversity in usage makes it an excellent crop to bring food security to Ethiopia. According to an article published by Kyoto University, over 15 million people depend on enset to supplement their diets.


Bacterial Wilt and Solutions

Recently, a bacterial wilt caused by Xanthomnas campestris has ravaged enset, putting many enset farming systems at risk. As of 2017, according to a publication on Agriculture and Life Security, “up to 80 percent of enset farms in Ethiopia are currently infected with enset Xanthomonas wilt.” This disease has forced many farmers to abandon their crop production and threatens their survival.

Control of this bacterial disease is challenging, but sanitation and reducing the bacteria’s transmission rates are key. The same study from Agriculture and Life Security wrote that “Management practices recommended for EXW and BXW include uprooting and discarding infected plants, planting healthy, disease-free plants from less susceptible varieties, disinfecting farm tools after every use, crop rotation, avoiding overflow of water from infected to uninfected fields, removing alternate hosts around plants…”

The government must focus on educational programs to teach farmers how to manage all of the above steps towards reducing bacterial wilt in their enset plants.

Another method is currently in process, led by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, which has partnered with the National Agricultural Research Organization and the African Agricultural Technology Foundation in order to develop transgenetic enset that are resistant to the bacterial wilt disease.

This project, if a success, will reduce the losses of small-scale farmers strongly relying on enset as a staple food. It would distribute the necessary resources and infrastructure to farmers to plant this new, bacterial-resistant enset. Thanks to dedication and scientific advancements, a project such as this one will help contribute to food security in Ethiopia.

– Caysi Simpson

Photo: Flickr

sustainable agriculture in ethiopiaThere is a need for sustainable agriculture in Ethiopia because the sustainability of agriculture affects other needs such as food security and water. Food security is accomplished through small-scale irrigation projects which allow communities to produce food and cash crops, vegetables and fruits at least twice a year. Markets are also able to expand beyond local consumption and goods are transported to larger centers, thus bringing in income.

Steps to develop sustainable agriculture in Ethiopia include training farmers in better agricultural practices, giving farmers improved seed and holding activities to manage natural resources such as soil and water. These types of projects also lead to opportunities for off-farm activities, including work opportunities for women, and encourage long-term participation for a sustainable system.

There continues to be efforts toward establishing water and food security in order to allow people to feed themselves and have access to nearby, safe water. According to the organization Rainbow for the Future, irrigation development projects are one of the most innovative and successful methods of bringing water and food security as well as necessary infrastructure to people in remote rural regions.

Rainbow for the Future is a Canadian development agency dedicated to the organization and integration of sustainable development efforts in Ethiopia, aiming to help people help themselves. When pastoral groups have the land and water needed to properly cultivate, they are able to make a consistent living and need not rely on aid.

Rainbow for the Future, Westlock Growing Project, the Canadian Foodgrains Banks and other organizations have participated in around 60 projects over the past 20 years to address various sustainability issues. Examples include:

  • Creating an accessible water supply, sparing women and young girls from walking five kilometers to fill a 60-pound container with contaminated water.
  • Building new high schools and a vocational school closer to rural towns, enabling children to have a bright future and preventing them from facing violence when leaving their homes in pursuit of education or work.
  • Improving grinding mills and grain stores to provide both food and income security.
  • Providing accessible healthcare and medical facilities so people do not have to make a dangerous and difficult full-day’s walk to get help.
  • Developing economic empowerment programs for women, including the establishment of women’s cooperatives and microloan programs.

Because of these types of partnerships and support, projects for sustainable agriculture in Ethiopia are able to be completed successfully and change is able to take place. The nation of Ethiopia is on its way to a more sustainable, brighter future.

– Julia Lee

Photo: Flickr