Ethiopia’s economic boom and the future of agriculture

On 8 November 2014 I assisted a very interesting event at the BOKU organised by the Center for Development Research (CDR). The topic was “Ethopia’s economic boom and the future of agriculture”. Ethiopia’s Minister of Trade and Industry, Dr. Mebrahtu Meles, was answering to questions of Prof. Michael Hauser, head of the CDR on this topic.

It was very interesting to hear the Minister’s words on how the actual growth rates of 9% during the last years have been achieved. He explained that the “secret” behind the success is based on the three pillars

  1. Inclusive and sustainable development
  2. Democracy and
  3. Good governance

The focus areas of the last decade were education, health, infrastructure and agriculture in order to eradicate poverty. In fact, poverty has come down from 46% to 24% within the last ten years. Enrolment in primary school is almost 100% now. Education is for free. Only in higher education, there is cost sharing. An important measure was the massive introduction of extension workers in every village, he further explained, as well as investment in roads, telecommunications, power and social infrastructure.


The vision of Ethiopia is to become a middle-income country by 2025. In order to do so there is a strong focus on agro-processing and agri-business. All small-scale farmers should be transformed into “commercial farmers”. But it did not become clear to me how “commercial farmers” has to be understood because also small farmers aim to produce for the market. Does it mean that they will produce mainly for the export market? Wouldn’t this be again a threat to food security and being exposed to the volatility of international markets? And what about the environmental consequences on “commercial farming”? The Minister mentioned a green development policy that is in place, as well as soil conservation and tree plantation programs. But at the same time Ethiopia aims to boost production through a strong focus on biotechnology that despite the “bio” is certainly not organic farming practice.

One other question was on the tip of my tongue, but there was no time to ask it. If Ethiopia is now a food secure country based on democracy and good governance, as the Minister said, how comes that only in 2011/12 a large part of Ethiopia’s population was threatened by hunger and many even died? Don’t we know, also from Sen’s studies on famines, that in democratic countries no one has to die of hunger even in case of a drought?

In conclusion, I think it will be interesting to observe during the coming decades the economic and agricultural development of a country that aims to make the great step from low-income to middle-income country.

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