By getuabebe

Over the past two decades, the Government of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia has carried out far-reaching institutional and policy reforms to transform itself from a centrally planned, Marxist regime to the facilitator of a stable market economy. These reforms have underpinned efforts to reduce poverty and increase spending on agriculture, education, health, water, transport and telecommunications.

Since 2007, Ethiopia has achieved strong economic growth, making it one of the highest performing economies in sub-Saharan Africa. Yet it remains one of the world’s poorest countries. About 29 per cent of the population lives below the national poverty line. Ethiopia ranks 174th out of 187 countries on the United Nations Development Programme’s human development index, and average per capita incomes are less than half the current sub-Saharan average.

Ethiopia has enormous potential for agricultural development. At present only about 25 per cent of its arable land is cultivated, and agriculture is dominated by subsistence rainfed farming, using few inputs and characterized by low productivity. The vast majority of farmers are smallholders. About 12.7 million smallholders produce 95 per cent of agricultural GDP. These farmers are extremely vulnerable to external shocks such as volatile global markets and drought and other natural disasters.

Smallholder farmers form the largest group of poor people in Ethiopia. More than half cultivate plots of 1 hectare or less and struggle to produce enough food to feed their households. A large number of poor households face a prolonged hunger season during the pre-harvest period. Herders, like farmers, are vulnerable to increasingly frequent drought, which can wipe out their livestock and assets and bring on severe poverty.

The persistent lack of rainfall is a major factor in rural poverty. Drought has become more frequent and severe throughout the country over the past decade, and the trend shows signs of worsening. The impact of drought is most severe for vulnerable households living in the pastoral areas of lowlands and the high-density parts of highlands.

In addition to their vulnerability to climatic conditions, poor rural people lack basic social and economic infrastructure such as health and education facilities, veterinary services and access to safe drinking water. Among the more specific causes of rural poverty in Ethiopia are:

• An ineffective and inefficient agricultural marketing system;
• Underdeveloped transport and communications networks;
• Underdeveloped production technologies;
• Limited access of rural households to support services;
• Environmental degradation;
• Lack of participation by rural poor people in decisions that affect their livelihoods.

The intensity of poverty varies at the household level in relation to the land’s size, quality and productivity, climate conditions and production technologies. Households headed by women are particularly vulnerable. Women are much less likely than men to receive an education or health benefits, or to have a voice in decisions affecting their lives. For women, poverty means more infant deaths, undernourished families, lack of education for children and other deprivations.

Ethiopia has an estimated 1.3 million people living with HIV and AIDS. Rural areas have low prevalence rates, but available data suggest that the incidence could increase in these areas. With the support of development partners, the government has embarked on major programmes to combat the spread of HIV and AIDS, and assist poor rural households in coping with the social and economic consequences of living with the disease.

Source: IFAD