FAO: 32 percent of Ethiopians are undernourished in 2015

28 May
FAO's Hunger Map 2015

FAO’s Hunger Map 2015

By Keffyalew Gebremedhin – The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)

FAO defines undernourishment as condition in which a citizen “is not able to acquire enough food to meet the daily minimum dietary energy requirements, over a period of one year.” In that sense, for FAO, chronic undernourishment is the other name of hunger.

In that regard, against the backdrop of the persistent humming by state propaganda about the economy’s double-digit growths, the FAO data are now revealing that 31.6 million Ethiopians, about a third of the nation, suffer from hunger or chronic undernourishment.

Without trying and meaning to compare past data, however, anyone with closer look could glean from these numbers a sense of the looming danger of carefully-tailored inequality amongst Ethiopians; reading the analysis accompanying the numbers is important in shedding more light.

That said, it is obvious that reality on the ground and the numbers on problems of hunger and poverty in Ethiopia across time are basically a human construct, a policy problem.

For instance, in 1990-92 there were 37.3 million undernourished Ethiopians. No doubt that this was a very high number for a population at that time of 48.3 million according to the United Nations Population Division. In addition, keep in mind that Ethiopia adds up annually a little over two million hungry mouths that need to be cared for, under normal circumstances.

The danger is that the 1990 high proportion of hungry population group did not start to decline until 2002, according to the FAO report. In 2005/07, the number moved down to 34.3 million, 9 percent decline. In 2010, it further notched down to 32.1 million, 16.2 percent reduction from its height in 1990. Its movement has not ever since looked in other direction, other than its upwards.

Land grab and rising destitution in Ethiopia

The latest trends in the destitution of Ethiopians partly come on the heel of a few hands taking charge of the nation’s resources, such as land. In February 2008, the law was instituted systematically reversing the gains of the Ethiopian Revolution of 1974, which broke the back of feudalism by responding to the slogan that the land belonged to the tiller. The reversal came quietly and quickly, making it too late for citizens to protest, because of which the TPLF easily won – what I see as Ethiopia’s conquest – thereby hatching all of today’s problems.

In the past, land belonged to the people, as well as the state, both exceptionally seeing one another as co-equals. The change was needed, because When the TPLF started robbing lands, it faced resistance. Therefore, it realized that it could be easier to do it by first changing the law and making land state property.

Today, the TPLF has got all the freedom in the world to send its militia and throw away any individual or people from their lands, without any compensation. That is why land grab has huge contributions to the state of undernourishment in Ethiopia, with the TPLF people and their allies having become the new landlords, worse than the ancient feudal lords and aristocrats.

Initially, the regime’s interest was to get as many Chinese, Indian and Middle Eastern investors in commercial agriculture. This could be seen from the interview Meles Zenawi had with Barney Jopson of The Financial Times on August 27, 2008. Meles made the case that agricultural productivity was very low in Ethiopia and he badly needed foreign exchange. However, it is unlikely that policy has become successful, hence the revert to the Chinese model of setting up economic zones – another tool for confiscation of land without compensation, or token payments.

Today, its worst consequence for Ethiopians is its long term implication. Land grab has instead become means to empower particularly the Tigreans at home and the Tigrean diaspora. This is a time bomb in Ethiopia’s political womb, since the ethnic dimension of land grab has unleashed a curse on our motherland as source of future conflicts. The regime today sees only the Tigrean diaspora possibly serving as its wealthy economic and political base in its goal of permanent Tigrean domination of Ethiopia.

One latest example of this is what happened in Gamo Gofa in southern Ethiopian, in Algé Kebele, in March 2015. The state sent its militia to Algé peasant association to tell several farmers that had organized themselves in peasant association to vacate their lands and go wherever – for that matter without any compensation.

The reason for this action is the TPLF decision the land by Lake Abaya to be given to ethnic Tigrean investors to use it to produce tobacco. The suspicion is that there are some family members of the big TPLF dons behind this arrangement.

Death and injuries in Argé farmers' kebele by Lake Abiyata (Credit: Negere Ethiopia)

Death and injuries in Argé farmers’ kebele by Lake Abiyata (Credit: Negere Ethiopia)

The farmers refused to be pushed off, claiming the land belonged to them not those Tigrean investors. The next thing that happened was the the police subjecting the farmers to barrage of gunfire. This left one dead and seven others critically wounded, the bloodshed unable to stop the land from changing hand. This may be one incident in that locality, but not something new in most other parts of Ethiopia, especially in Western and Central parts of the country.

It clearly shows that ethnicity is above everything else in Ethiopia today. It has become an effective tool for the TPLF to ensure that political power remains in its hands, although small minority group, barely six percent of the country.

Evidently, this shows that it is a deliberate policy in which case politics is allowed to skew development and the distribution of the gains of Ethiopia’s economic growth in favor of the minority regime. In a word, it is carefully implemented policy of subversion of opportunities toward the interests of small group of elites, who have the levers of power in their hands that have successfully disabled the nation’s laws and institutions.

For the past quarter century, the regime has managed without any accountability to redirect the benefits of the much-harangued double-digit growths to a smaller group – the members of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), Ethiopia’s ruling party, and its key agents and allies in the army, security, and the hordes of political cadres.

Dichotomy of non-inclusive growth as source of undernourishment & 100% electoral support to TPLF regime

In identifying the sources and problems of undernourishment and its solutions, FAO and UNDP experts are on the same page. Both are showing with their respective numbers that in countries wherever there is inclusive economic growth, undernourishment and poverty are on downward trajectory.

They also agree that economic growth in Ethiopia has not been inclusive. In its latest report on Ethiopia’s human development index, UNDP underlines that Some 25 million Ethiopians remain in poverty, a figure that “has remained largely unchanged over the past fifteen years.” In that connection, the report points out that these and even many Ethiopians who are just above the poverty line are vulnerable to shocks and food insecurity.

In the circumstances, as people suffer from hunger and undernourishment, how is it that these many people found a unity of mind to vote for hunger and poverty in the latest election on May 24, 2015, giving 100 percent of their votes to the same policies and a ruling party practicing ethnic discrimination?

On the merits of inclusive growth, FAO observes in its latest report that it provides opportunities for those with meagre assets and skills. It recognizes it as one “among the most effective tools for fighting hunger and food insecurity, and for attaining sustainable progress.” It says it improves the livelihoods and incomes of the poor especially in agriculture.

On inclusivity, the latest UNDP’s National Human Development Report on Ethiopia states:

    “Ethiopia’s rapid growth and development are thus not being evenly distributed throughout the country, nor are they spreading fast enough, with emerging regions in particular remaining relatively disadvantaged.”

The report further elaborates this by pointing out that, while the incidence of poverty has substantially declined, “poverty severity is increasing indicating that there is a need to focus on reaching the poorest of the poor more effectively.”

As far as the special support to the undeveloped regions is concerned, the mockery on human lives is disturbing. On April 22, Federal Affairs Minister Shiferaw Teklemariam told parliament that no progress could be made in terms of enhancing the development in the regions that need special care (Afar, Benishangul-Gumuz, Gambela, Somali region). This he said was because of neoliberal enemies of the country (mainly national and international human rights organizations, NGOs, etc., the Ethiopian diaspora) had been campaigning against the country’s resettlement program.

In denying that on behalf of the ruling party, former prime minister Addisu Legesse, who has been the ruling party’s eyes as caretaker for those regions, contradicted the minister. He told ENA on May 2, 2015 that they have made major progress in terms of their development in keeping with the country’s growth and transformation plan (GTP), which is false even when considered from the point of view combatting communicable diseases, as I discussed the state of trachoma in Ethiopia.

This clearly shows how much the TPLF regime gives priority to political propaganda, including lies and manufacturing numbers, because of citizens and entire regions fall into the cracks.

In Ethiopia, a country where numbers are easily manufactured, in May 2014 the man in the office of the prime minister said in a speech celebrating anniversary of TPLF’s victory over Ethiopia’s army Ethiopia has attained the status of food secure.

That was a lie, since shortly after the Finance Ministry signed an agreement with the World Bank for loan to the tune of $640 million to assist millions of people in hundreds of districts that are considered chronically food insecure. Since then the Bank has been pumping money into Ethiopia’s agricultural sector, although the food security goal and as source of foreign exchange have become moving targets.

Millennium Development Goals MDGs

The just released FAO report is intended to serve as the organization’s last monitoring of progress in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs 1990-2015). Under Goal 1, Eradicating extreme hunger and poverty, of the total of 129 developing countries, 72 have reached part of the target, i.e., 1c: “Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger.”

In other words, Goal 1 is about Eradicating extreme poverty and hunger. Under it there are three Targets:

    *   Target 1.A: Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people whose income is less than one dollar a day

    *   Target 1.B: Achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all, including women and young people

    *   Target 1.C: Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger

The indicators to monitor the above targets are:

    *   1.1 Proportion of population below $1.25 (PPP) per daya
    *   1.2 Poverty gap ratio
    *   1.3 Share of poorest quintile in national consumption
    *   1.4 Growth rate of GDP per person employed
    *   1.5 Employment-to-population ratio
    *   1.6 Proportion of employed people living below $1.25 (PPP) per day
    *   1.7 Proportion of own-account and contributing family workers in total employment
    *   1.8 Prevalence of underweight children under-five years of age
    *   1.9 Proportion of population below minimum level of dietary energy consumption

Consequently, very few developing countries have achieved most of the above under Goal 1, Eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, . Interestingly, Ethiopia has been among those 72 countries, notwithstanding the substantial part of its population, that is, 32 percent is undernourished, as mentioned above.

Of that, FAO report indicates that Ethiopia since 2010 has been identified as one of the 20 countries with “protracted crisis” and its success in this regard is noted. Protracted crisis countries are those where prevalence of food insecurity and malnutrition is significantly higher due to past conflicts or environmental problems, such as droughts and/or natural disasters.

This attainment of the target 1c of MDG is attributed to the Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP) – largely funded by foreign governments and the World Bank. The FAO report seems to accept the view that PSNP was designed to enable the rural poor facing chronic food insecurity to resist shocks by “shortening the lean season”, although so far the graduation criteria is either unknown or not working.

Also note that assessing undernourishment is easier said than done. There were were intensive debates inside the UN especially regarding how hunger could be measured. Eventually the consensus is that, while it is liable to leading to errors, it should be “assessed only indirectly, through minimum food intake and its deprivation”, according to the World Bank’s Global Monitoring Report 2011.

For that matter, most of those developing countries do not even have the standards for caloric intake to assess their own progress.


Ethiopia is in worse situation than its feudal past, especially it being a country where agriculture is the main driver of economic growth. Land grab is the main impediment to the country’s future and as unsettled problem. For one, land has become a subject of speculation in the hands of the TPLF people, whose price has skyrocketed. Thus in a country where the majority of Ethiopians do not own their homes, especially in urban areas, land and affordable housing have become beyond ordinary citizens, including college graduates.

Even if we leave aside foreign investors in commercial agriculture in Ethiopia, the problem is that large scale land grab is still taking place, waged by members of the ruling party – the army, security people and politicians seizing fertile lands.

As a matter of policy and as a reward, exclusively retired commissioned and noncommissioned TPLF soldiers are sent offered lands, not in Tigray, but in Western Ethiopia especially in Gambella and Benishangul-Gumuz. Not that they would be handed measured lands, but they are told to push the locals off and seize their lands. That is why there are ongoing conflicts in Gambella in particular, the most fertile and already considered by many as the country’s granary.

Unfortunately, Gambella is not at peace. It has been heavily militarized in no less degree than the Ogaden. This forcible removal of individual farmers and communities from their only assets – land – would not be forgotten today or tomorrow, even if the people are resettled in less fertile lands.

The immediate adverse effect of this policy has pushed many Ethiopians in different parts of the country into poverty – the non-Tigrean men into homelessness and non-Tigrean women into prostitution.

Are you saying this is not the source of future conflicts in Ethiopia, especially by those angered by the TPLF and their supporters, who have benefitted at the expense of ordinary citizens? People resent being disenfranchised, being treated in their own country as second class citizens – denied of their rights as citizens.

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