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Ethiopia leads the way

Tagel Gebrehiwot | 21 February 2013

Research showed that food security intervention in Ethiopia succeeds in improving food security and reducing poverty in rural areas. Preconditions for success include households' asset ownership and improving alternative sources of income.

It is increasingly being recognised that improving food security is a foundation for reducing poverty and hunger, but also for economic development. In fact, alleviating food insecurity and hunger is one of the eight Millennium Development Goals. Despite notable progress in economic growth and welfare improvement in developing countries over the last decades, food security has not been attained in most developing countries. Particularly food insecurity continues to form a deep seated problem in several Sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries. A recent report of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) indicates that the number of undernourished in Africa still remain high at 279 million (FAO 2010).

Like other SSA countries, Ethiopia has persistently suffered widespread food insecurity. Despite some changes, Ethiopia still has a high level of food insecurity, and food shortages continue to be an on-going problem in the country. The 2005-2009 World Bank assessment report estimated 41.6 per cent of the population of Ethiopia to be undernourished, which remains the highest prevalence of malnutrition (World Bank 2011). Devereux (2006) reported that even in a year where rainfall is favourable it is estimated that around 4 to 5 million Ethiopians depend on food aid reflecting how deep-rooted food insecurity is in the country.

The causes of food insecurity problems in Ethiopia are complex and interrelated. Lack of governance and misdirected economic policies during the military regime, unfavourable weather conditions and high dependency on rain fed agriculture are among the factors that are supposed to be responsible for the country’s struggle to ensure food security. Consequently, in Ethiopia, food security has been among governments’ priority areas of development strategy. In light of this, the current government since November 2002 has embarked on an aggressive economic reform program to revive the economy and improve the wellbeing of the population. The integrated Household Food Security Package (FSP) program is among the programs introduced for this purpose. Large amount of money and energy have been spent by the government and multi-lateral development bodies to reduce the problems of widespread rural poverty and improve people's access to food. But does the FSP program affects the beneficiary households’ food security conditions?  

To shed light on the outcomes of the program, we evaluated the impacts of FSP program have had on improving rural household’s food security. A household’s level of food security can be determined by obtaining information on a variety of specific conditions that serve as outcome indicators of the varying degrees of household conditions. Food calorie intake, which is one of the most direct indicators related to food security and nutritional security was thus considered as an outcome indicator to measure the impact of household food security package program.

Accordingly, we conducted a local case study local case study in 9 villages of Tigray region, northern Ethiopia. Tigray is one of the most drought prone areas of Ethiopia facing recurrent droughts and food deficits. The vast majority of the populations do not have enough food to support themselves. In Tigray, the household oriented FSP program was launched with the aim of addressing the specific and complex problems and causes of food insecurity that are plaguing the regional people. The intention of the program is to secure food at household level by diversifying the income base of the poor through provision of credit for a range of activities provided in a package. To this end, identifying the basic interest of the rural poor and providing the required resources, technical assistance and training to engage in their choice of activities is the prime concern of the program. 

Selection of households for the program involved local consultation. Households had to fulfil certain criteria in order to be considered for the FSP program. The main formal criteria for selection of beneficiary households were poverty status as expressed by the household’s livestock holding (households without cows and oxen were given priority), land and severity of food insecurity problem. Upon selection, first an assessment was made of what the household already possessed and then only the components lacking were presented as a package. Households thus participated in one or more program activities, including irrigation, vegetable and fruit production, livestock production, poultry, beehives and crop production. Accordingly, a household can get financial support for a range of activities (package). The FSP program was thus expected to address the rural household’s risk of not having access to the required food through increasing food production, provision of improved technologies and promoting employment opportunities. Gains in income are thus expected to improve household’s food consumption and nutritional welfare.

A valid measure of the impact of a household food security package would be to compare the outcomes in households receiving FSP benefits with the presumed outcomes had the same households not received any benefits. Hence, using the data from 400 randomly drawn farm households, we estimated the impact of the FSP program on calorie-intake by employing a non-experimental method. The policy impact analysis showed that the FSP program had a significant and robust effect in improving household food calorie intake. The physical food calorie intake of the FSP program participants was found 41.8 per cent higher than the calorie intake of households not involved in the program. The observed significant effect is due to: the close follow up, monitoring and implementation of the program by a technical staff, thus helping the program to improve food security for the beneficiary households; the increase in the number of development agents assigned to each village centre have been pivotal in implementing the program and training farm households; the integrated nature of the program provided ample opportunities for beneficiaries to choose a suitable component (or components) and participate depending on their needs and preferences; and the strong coordination among different key players in the rural development contributed to the success of the program.

The Ethiopian experience showed that government policy interventions must not only increase agricultural production, but also boost rural households' asset ownership, access to agricultural services (marketing, credit and training), and improve alternative sources of income streams and reduce endemic poverty in rural areas where most of the poor live. Food security program interventions should also support livelihoods in ways that protect and buffer the natural resilience of farm households, which able them to cope with the fragile and variable situations in which they exist. By and large, ensuring food security necessities policy and investment reforms on various aspects, including human capital, rural infrastructure, natural resources management and agricultural research. Reforming currently accepted traditional agricultural practices and addressing farmers’ interest should also be the main focus for making substantial progress in improving household food security.   

To sum up, the case study on the impact of pro-poor focussed programs indeed showed the insight that appropriate development policies and programs had a role to play to improve food security outcomes and reduce poverty in rural areas where most of the poor live. 

Photo credit main picture: World Bank Photo Collection

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About the author

Tagel Gebrehiwot

Tagel Gebrehiwot is a graduate economist and is a post-doctoral researcher at the Laboratory for...

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