Ethiopia: A country confronted by climate change, population growth, poor agriculture & bad governance By Keffyalew Gebremedhin

May 10th, 2012 Print Print Email Email

A newly released report on climate trend analysis of Ethiopia, a product of the US Geological Survey (SGS), USAID and the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET), says the latest findings by experts represent worrisome trends in one of the world’s most food insecure countries.

A Climate Trend Analysis of Ethiopia builds on examination of the March–June, June–September and March–September rainfall and temperature recent trends in the country, covering the period from mid-1970s to 2000s. The findings of the experts indicate significant reductions in rainfall and increases in temperature over time in many areas of the country.

By way of example, the study highlights, “A decline in rainfall of approximately 0.5 standard deviation, and an increase in the frequency of droughts of approximately 40 percent, is sufficient to markedly increase the number of poor harvests that can be expected.”

This long-term trend analysis has arrived at five major conclusions. These are:

Spring and summer rains in parts of Ethiopia have declined by 15–20 percent since the mid-1970s.
Substantial warming across the entire country has exac¬erbated the dryness.
An important pattern of observed existing rainfall declines coincides with heavily populated areas of the Rift Valley in south-central Ethiopia, and is likely already adversely affecting crop yields and pasture conditions.
Rapid population growth and the expansion of farming and pastoralism under a drier, warmer climate regime could dramatically increase the number of at-risk people in Ethiopia during the next 20 years.
Many areas of Ethiopia will maintain moist climate conditions, and agricultural development in these areas could help offset rainfall declines and reduced produc¬tion in other areas.
In terms of the measures required to diminish the problems, i.e., the lack or shortage of rains and increases in temperature, the study points to the need for improved water and agricultural management practices. In that regard, amongst the recommended suggestions is the importance of raising agricultural yields in the more viable areas, instead of farm expansion into unopened lands or ever more marginal areas.

The spatial pattern of the drying and warming trends, the experts state, tends to indicate disproportionate stresses on south-central Ethiopia, where the Belg agricultural yields have already been affected.

At risk population centers include cities and towns such as Nazret, Meki, Arsi Negelle, etc. Nevertheless, large parts of the country would continue to receive adequate amounts of rainfall, especially in the western highlands. The experts emphasize that these areas need better agricultural methods and water manage¬ment practice. With these measures would contribute to the country enhancing its food security at the national level.

A major source of concern is also Ethiopia’s population growth, since it has outstripped food production. This year, Ethiopia’s population has hit the 90.0 million mark. This represents an increase of 33 million between 1990 and 2010, data drawn from the Gridded Population of the World statistics on which the experts based their analysis for this study.

It is reported that most of the population growth took place in Oromia (11 million) and SNNPR (6 million), the two areas with densely populated and where also rainfall has been declining faster. Populations in the chronically food insecure areas of Somali, Tigray, and Afar regions are reported to have increased by approximately 1.5, 1.9, and 1.1 million people, respectively.

These population trends are putting added severe stress on limited natural resources of the country. Unless, these problems are addressed seriously and in a multifaceted manner, they could become causes for tension and conflicts.

In highlighting the problems, the study links the population factor to existing data on production of crops. It points out that cereal production of 150 kgs per person is one of the lowest in the world. If the present trends continue, by 2025, Ethiopia’s cereal production would decrease by 28 percent, turning the country into a nation of millions of undernourished people.

Along the same line, a Special Report By FAO/WFP Crop And Food Security Assessment Mission To Ethiopia of April 2012 contains similar concerns about the 2011 Belg rains being generally very poor and having serious impact on agricultural production. It also noted that a huge gap exists between agricultural production and specific farmer requirements in improved seeds (i.e. rust tolerant wheat varieties), although in recent years their use has significantly increased.

Similarly, the mission observed that use of fertilizer is dependent on access to cash. Fertilizers are available to farmers through cooperative unions that require full cash payment, which many of the farmers cannot afford.

Over the years, these adverse situations have affected the life conditions of the people and their health. Already for the last several years, over half of Ethiopia’s population has been reported to be undernourished.

At present, according to FAO, this figure has come down to 41 percent. In 2011, UNICEF & WHO reported 51 percent of Ethiopian children are moderately or severely stunted.

All these are indications that serious and immediate and multifaceted actions are needed to reverse these situations. Unfortunately, the country’s political environment and the governance structures in place do not allow these measures to be effected. Even by the admission of the United States, as USAID Assistant Administrator for Africa Earl Gast’s informed the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee in his testimony of April 18:

Ethiopia is one of the starkest examples of the risks that emerge when a country lacks sufficient democratic checks and balances. By significantly constraining political speech, human rights, and the ability of civil society and the media to hold government officials accountable, the Ethiopian Government is creating an environment that is ripe for instability and that sends mixed messages about its place in the international community.
Instead of addressing, the above problems regarding the social and economic problems, what the country’s leaders are most preoccupied is their own permanence in power. As Mr. Gast rightly pointed out: “in the long term, Ethiopia is now in danger of reliving its history of turbulent political transition. Unless restrictions on civil society and the media are lifted and dissenting political views are allowed, the country’s substantial gains in economic development and poverty alleviation will be threatened.”

The present fury in the country that has destructed attention from national development are the outcome of ethnic nepotism, dispossession of people from their lands and denial to the people of voice and accountability. As the lastet report of the Auditor-General indicated, Ethiopia has become a country where mismanagement and corruption have reigned supreme.

Our country stands a better chance of safeguarding its future, when, unlike today, the conviction that Ethiopia belongs to all its children becomes the country’s governing ideology and shown in deeds. The current prevailing practices scurrying to impose on the nation supremacy of one minority ethnic group is certainly not the way to a better future for all Ethiopians.

To read full reports:

A Climate Trend Analysis of Ethiopia
Special report – FAO/WFP crop and food security assessment mission to Ethiopia
The State of the World’s Children 2011
USAID Assistant Administrator for Africa Earl Gast’s testimony
News report on Auditor-general’s findings

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