Ethiopia: "We still need food aid!"

By Yohannes Ruphael

An appeal for food was once again made last week by the government.

This year's need, however, is said to be less than that of last year. According to Simon Mechale, Commissioner for Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Commission (DPPC), the number of needy people has come down from 13 million to about 7.2 million and food requirement is now down to about 840,000 mt from 1.8 million mt.

"This is a reduction compared to last year but that in itself is a very big number," Simon Mechale was quoted as saying.

According to the recent appeal, out of the needy of 7.2 million people, 5 million are said to be chronically short of food, the rest are reported to be victims of an emergency situation. Unfortunately, this country has a long history and dismal record of chronic hunger, poverty and famine.

Depending on the measures used, 50 percent or more of the population is food insecure. While the great majority of the food insecure area is located in rural areas, there is also a growing problem of food insecurity amongst the lowest strata of urban dwellers, many of which are recent migrants to cities.

It is generally recognized that despite costing several hundred million dollars every year, food aid is doing nothing to address the root causes of food insecurity. Increasingly there are also concerns that food aid is not the most appropriate or cost effective means for addressing the short-term symptoms of food insecurity.

Food security research seems to point to the fact that if we wish to understand famines, we should not concentrate on identifying a sudden shock to food entitlement, but more to a past history of entitlement decline for vulnerable communities, after which even a micro-shock can induce large survival changes in the survival prospects of the very poor.

There is a general consensus among community representatives, NGOs, academics and donors that high food aid beneficiary numbers will continue for some time, that the food security situation is worsening in low potential areas of the country and that household and community level destitution is increasingly apparent.

A Sustainable Livelihood Framework emphasizes its focus on people, their assets and their activities rather than on sectors and their performance; the conventional point of entry to policy. One of the key principles to emerge is that assets, or the lack of them, are fundamental to livelihood strategies. By targeting farmers who by definition already possess certain assets, the relatively better off are likely to be more effectively targeted by agricultural interventions.

What is clearly missing is a convincing labor-intensive development strategy for the worst affected woredas of the country which should be running regardless of relief requirements, but which can override relief requirements for those geographical areas as a result of the employment provided on a regular basis through safety net implementation.

Researchers believe that the key assumption is that an improved natural resource base can contribute to enhanced livelihoods but only if conceived as one component within long-term strategic perspective including an adequate safety net, increased agricultural production in low potential areas among less well-off households, population movement, off-farm opportunities for income diversification, improved service delivery and appropriate policy shifts.

Clearly the articulation of such a strategy and the coordination of all resources within such a framework require an institutional framework mandated to take up the appropriate multi-sectoral position required for a livelihood perspective. Strengthening an effective and appropriate policy think tank and stakeholder focal point at Regional and Federal levels will be the first step on the way to revisiting food insecurity through a livelihood lens.

An immediate priority currently being addressed is the co-ordination with other stakeholders of a process leading to the generation of a bold and innovative regional food security strategy grounded in a detailed analysis of international and national success stories.

If this involves an accelerated revision of conventional relief and development approaches, then so much the better. Empirical studies of famine invariably conclude that food itself is rarely the key to reducing vulnerability. Interventions that occur early on in the development of the "famine" process and build upon existing, largely cash-based coping strategies stand a better chance of being effective as long as local initiatives are fully understood and supported. What will also be required is the strengthening of a political will to fight food insecurity at all levels.

The challenge of building partnerships and collaborative approaches to understanding the complexity of food security issues among disparate stakeholders so as to integrate the efforts of all into a common livelihoods framework is one which we should be committed to support. Above all, it is imperative that in-depth, continuous research into local perspectives and struggles is intensified.

As stated by the Christian Relief and Development Association, the coming year is challenging in such a way that more is expected to be done from all stakeholders in harmonizing activities and in making the year a real transitory one that prepares the country for a more stable and food self sufficient status.

We hope that the appeal for 2004 will be transitory until government's plan for food security programme for the coming five years materializes. Let us hope for the best!


Addis Tribune
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