Despite food shortages, Zenawi to grow biofuel crops – By Simon Roughneen, The Irish Examiner, Dire Dawa, eastern Ethiopia

July 8th, 2008 Print Print Email Email

Despite hunger, Ethiopia’s growing economy looks to biofuel crops to cut energy costs

When drought and food shortages hit, it is the very young who suffer first, and most. Weighing only 4.5 kg, Ayaan is among the almost 100,000 children whose lives are at risk across Ethiopia. Just four days before her first birthday, she weighs no more than an average 3 month old baby. This clinic, about 15 miles outside Ethiopia’s second city Dire Dawa, is seeing an increasing amount of such cases over recent weeks. (more…)

Despite hunger, Ethiopia’s growing economy looks to biofuel crops to cut energy costs

When drought and food shortages hit, it is the very young who suffer first, and most. Weighing only 4.5 kg, Ayaan is among the almost 100,000 children whose lives are at risk across Ethiopia. Just four days before her first birthday, she weighs no more than an average 3 month old baby. This clinic, about 15 miles outside Ethiopia’s second city Dire Dawa, is seeing an increasing amount of such cases over recent weeks.
Here land is used to grow the cash-crop narcotic known as khat. In over a dozen villages on the northbound road out of the city, this reporter witnessed groups of mainly young men, but also some women, getting high in the shade on the chewed leaves. This drug is an appetite-suppressant, and local culture means that children often only eat after adults. As the doctor at this clinic told this newspaper “if parents are on khat, the whole family goes hungry.”

Khat is not just for local consumption, it is a lucrative revenue source for an economy best-known for its high-grade coffee exports, but with few other viable exports. At Dire Dawa’s airport on Tuesday last, a Russian Antonov loaded up with a khat consignment, with the flight due to stop in Djibouti, before export to Gulf States and the UK.

Rising food and energy prices mean that not only people across the country are being squeezed. Agencies – including Ireland’s GOAL, which is ramping up operations to try meet needs – are struggling with rising input costs.

Not only are food prices and basic staples more expensive – in some cases double the price from June 2007 – energy prices have skyrocketed, eating into aid budgets.

Rising oil prices have part-prompted the Ethiopian government to embark on a biofuels project, despite ongoing global debate that diverting cropland for alternative energy has contributed to global food price rises by narrowing supply.

“There is no shortage of agriculture land in Ethiopia for food production,” Melis Teka, coordinator of biofuel development in the Ministry of Mines and Energy, told Reuters.

“We have up to 23 million hectares which could be developed both for crops and biofuel. Biofuel plants are being developed on arid and barren land not suitable for food production.”

“As the country accelerates its economic development, the demand for petroleum is anticipated to increase,” Melis said.

Last week a World Bank report outlined how biofuels may contribute up to 75% of the recent global spike in food prices, which have caused riots across dozens of countries.

In Ethiopia, the series of droughts has added 4 million people to the those needing emergency assistance across Ethiopia. With children most at risk, the first in a series of UNICEF airlifts of a ready-to-use therapeutic babyfood called Plumpynut arrived on June 30. According to The Lancet medical journal, a child with severe acute malnutrition faces a 9-10 fold risk of dying unless properly treated with therapeutic foods.

Last year Ethiopia, which has its own calendar, celebrated its second millennium, while donors seeing the country as a valuable counter-terrorism ally have praised its various economic reforms contributing to 7-10% growth rates in recent years. However criticism of the Zenawi government has mounted, with human rights organisations angered at its counter-insurgency tactics in the Somali-speaking Ogaden region, where it is alleged that food aid is being withheld deliberately from regions where rebels are hiding.

Do we need to remind ourselves of the 1984 famine? It seems far-fetched, not least given how the ruling Marxist Derg regime of the day withheld food from rebel held-areas where the famine hit hardest, as much a cause of that famine as any drought or crop failure. Those insurgents went on to depose the Derg in 1991, and now make up the core of the Ethiopian government.

But to paraphrase Samuel Johnson, people need reminding more than they need new instruction, and there can be few more poignant reminders than Ayaan.

  1. | #1

    It is not a distant memory that TPLF and our brothers and sisters in Tigray suffered in the hands of the cruel Dergue.
    Now the TPLF, completely bereft of the memory of their past persecution, are inflicting the same on our helpless people.
    Dr.Johnson’s pithy observation, that entities like the TPLF,need reminding of their past plight rather than instruction, in order to ‘feel’ for the suffering of the people they rule, seems to be rather simplistic.
    Not just in our country but also in many other places in the world and many other times in history, many persecuted people in the past have turned out to be exactly like their persecutors when they come to power and have meted out the same cruel treatments against those who stood in their way. Time and time again many revolutionaries have changed into tyrants. Those who once knew the pangs of hunger, homelessness and destitution, when they got rich, have completely forgotten about their dire past and have turned blind eye to the plight of the hungry and the poor in their solipsist pursuit of wealth.
    By contrast, a few noble individuals have abandoned their wealth and power for the service of those who are helpless and disadvantaged. But these are the exception rather than the norm.
    Sadly,‘Reminding’ seems to fall often on deaf ears. Reminding appears to lack the potency to penetrate through the thick barrier of corruption bred by power. Reminding about what? so asks the mutated self now with power.

  2. aselefu
    | #2

    As always, for some nothing good is good news. Envy is poisnous. What will people do when ethiopia continues to progress and show encouraging economical development similar to this decade.
    The ethiopian millenium will be that of prosperity. 2001 will be better than 2000 and so on.
    Friends of ethiopia will do their best to upset the haters.

  3. MebrateM
    | #3

    Dear aselefu,
    What is so good about the corrupt and dictatorial regime you sing about?
    Now biofuels instead of raising those crops to feed our own starving people rather than catering for the needs of the rich in the West? What is the gain?
    Ofcourse,the hard currency earned selling biofuels goes lining up the pockets of your corrupt TPLF officials.
    Also, this service your faithfully give to the West rather than to your own people, you think it enables you to stay in power while still receiving more ‘development’ or aid cash.
    The result is that in Ethiopia one finds the most fantastic inequality between the few rich and the many poor.
    The few rich are the TPLF crime family in whose hands the wealth of the nation is now so obscenely concentrated through massive corruption while the majority continue to live in abject poverty. Many are dying with no help and in silence. This then is the millennium of prosperity you are bragging about. Shame on you heartless stooge of the tyrant!
    I am angry at and protest against your greed and corruption which you deliberately misconstrue as envy and hate.I do hate your lies.I do hate your servility and lack of honor.I do hate your injustices.

  4. aselefu
    | #4

    Dear MebrateM or shoul I call you ChelemayeM.
    Why are you a hater. Why do you hate any sign of progress in Ethiopia? What fuels your hatred. Are you hundred percent sure that you know what you are talking about or are your arguments(if it can be called an argument) based on your uniform hatred of any good news coming out from Ethiopia.
    Obviously, from your response one could gather your lack of knowledge regarding basic economics. Like most other cyber-wariors you wrap around your minimal knowledge and shoot left to right.
    Are we to assume that you have first hand knowledge about your claims or is it just wishful thinking that the ethiopian government is pocketing all proceeds from investment activities.
    Admit the truth to yourself, sleep on it and come back and write about what really is bothering you.
    Did it ever occur to you that bio-fuel could be generated from agro-waste? or are you an expert in bio-fuel technology?
    See the problem with people like you is just that just because that you try to communicate in English, it doesnt make you an expert.
    If you want to be a hater, then hate the reality. Reality is that there is a big gap between the rich and the poor but the fact of the mater is the amount of financially empowered ethiopians had increased. Farmers are running their businesses using a mobile phone in ethiopia.
    You are an ethio-hater disguised as a concerned citizen. Shame on you since you only hope for disaster to Ethiopia. We wont let that happen.
    A punk will always be a punk. Ethiopia doesnt need punks but wellwishers.

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