Lessons from Ethiopia’s food crisis
By Titange Ndemo
Adversities and challenges always offer vital lessons. Personally, all the obstacles I’ve had in my life have continued to strengthen me. But you may not realise it when it happens. This is well expressed in the words of Walt Disney: “A kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.”
Although regarded as a successful theme park designer and filmmaker, Disney experienced many adversities. He started sketching as a means to emancipate himself from an abusive parent. His cartooning and acting endeavors failed. He eventually succeeded when he developed the character Micky Mouse.
If there is any place that has seen adversity as Disney did, it is Africa. Through poverty, disease, hunger, and exploitation the continent has seen it all. As Disney said, perhaps we sometimes need adversity to wake us up, especially now when the region is facing drought and starvation.
Africa may not be where it should be, but it requires tenacity.
Food in Africa today is a significant geopolitical issue. When Senegalese President Macky Sall met Russian President Putin and perhaps innocently said the Ukraine war “may destabilize the continent,” he had no idea that his statement could give rise to a mockery of Africa’s food systems.
Leaders elsewhere took advantage of Macky’s statement to announce, “We expect a famine in Africa because of Russia’s war against Ukraine.”
The narrative changed from drought due to climate change to war in Ukraine. At home, politicians took advantage of the crisis and began to exploit human suffering to solicit for aid to buy food.
But unfortunately, the leaders were inadvertently advancing a different agenda. Once again, pictures of starving African children and their sorrowful mothers have returned to TV screens across the world.
But for Ethiopia, they saw an opportunity, which has made them lead the way. Ethiopia has witnessed the greatest adversities ever seen in human history of all African countries.
They went through hunger that attracted global attention. At one point, the country had the highest poverty rates in the world and has lived with conflict for several years, but it remained tenacious.
Despite all these challenges, the country has made a remarkable turnaround. It is one of the fastest-growing economies in the region.
And when the war between Russia and Ukraine created the food crisis in Africa, Ethiopia saw an opportunity. So, the country adopted a new strategic plan by focusing on agribusiness.
As a result, their production of wheat increased from 1.42 million tonnes in 2021 to 2.4 (equivalent to Kenya’s total imports from Ukraine in 2020) in 2022, an increase of 70 percent. And now, they plan to lower their wheat deficit to just 400,000 tonnes with an additional 600,000 hectares of land.
Currently, Ethiopia is the largest producer of wheat in sub-Saharan Africa. The country plans to be self-sufficient and export to other African countries by 2023. Although the target date, according to experts, is unrealistic, the government seems to be making progress with irrigation-based cluster farming.
With few adjustments to help smaller holder farmers be more productive, the country might be moving closer to food security.
In my view, Africa must develop rules around food systems. It must move out of reactive policy measures on food imports and seek to protect citizens with a better legal and regulatory environment. Therefore, Africa must tenaciously ensure food security despite the challenges by exploiting its resources.