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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 September 2005, 19:10 GMT 20:10 UK
Ethiopia strives to feed itself
As the United Nations discusses anti-poverty measures, the BBC News website assesses how Africa could meet the Millennium Goals in 10 years' time. Here, Mohammed Adow investigates whether Ethiopia will ever be able to feed itself.

Malnourished children in Boricha district, southern Ethiopia
Ethiopia has long been synonymous with malnourished children

Hundreds of hungry farmers line up at a relief food distribution centre in Boricha district, southern Ethiopia to receive their monthly ration.

"I've a family of four and I used to support my family by tilling the land. Because of the drought I don't have anything to harvest from my land," says 66-year-old farmer Waricha Chema, who like many in Ethiopia entirely survives on food relief from the government and aid agencies.

"I would have liked some more food, this is not enough for the family, but I have no choice except making use of this."

Ethiopia has long provided the world with an unfortunate case study of the devastating effects of hunger.

Since the 1984 famine in which an estimated 1m people lost their lives, the country has emerged as one of the most food insecure countries in the world

Tenuous situation

Due to cycles of drought and erratic rainfall the country has been receiving an average of 700,000 metric tonnes of food aid annually for the past two decades.

This year is no exception.

Herder in Ethiopia
The potential of the country is enormous
Bereket Simon
Information minister

"There're about 8m people altogether that are benefiting either from the Safety Net programme or the Emergency Relief programme," says Paul Turnball of the United Nations World Food Programme.

"The Safety Net programme is new for this year and covers about 5m people. The emergency programme deals with about 3m people. So if we look at that compared with other years that's still quite a high figure and frankly there's still a fairly tenuous situation in rural areas."

With only 10 years to the deadline for the achievement of the Millennium Development goals, will Ethiopia eradicate hunger within this time frame?

Massive hurdles

Prime Minister Meles Zenawi strongly believes that his government can achieve this goal within the next five years, if an improvement in agricultural production in the past two years is anything to go by. His information minister, Bereket Simon, concurs.

Failing crops in Boricha district, southern Ethiopia
Erratic rainfall has a devastating effect on crops

"Definitely we believe that Ethiopia will achieve this target. The potential of the country is enormous," he says.

"The only lacking element in the past was a clearly formulated agricultural development strategy to guide rural development in Ethiopia. Now we have both the right policies and strategies as well as the right leadership down to the grassroots level."

Part of that plan, is an ambitious move to resettle 1m people from arid highland areas to more fertile lowland areas.

But many dismiss the government's optimism and point to the massive hurdles it has to clear out of its way if it is to achieve meaningful food security within the next decade.

"It's gone so far and it's done very well but the last bit is always the hardest bit, " says Oxfam's Mandy Woodhouse.

Western conscious

Challenges, she says, include a growing population with one of the largest HIV prevalence rates in Africa at 1.5m people and trying to reach everyone with its Safety Net programme.

Halve the number of people living on less than $1 a day
Halve the number of people without safe drinking water
Halve the number of people who suffer from hunger
Enable all children to complete primary school
Halt and reverse the spread of Aids and malaria

"You've got other external challenges around the trade issues. Ethiopia imports more than it exports and also the commodities that it exports on the world market are subject to fluctuations and unjust trade rules," she says.

Aid agencies believe that progress in Ethiopia, Africa's second most populous nation is extremely important to the Horn of Africa and the continent's anti-poverty record.

This is because not only is it of strategic interest as a stable state in an unstable region, but it also occupies a particular space in the Western consciousness especially since Live Aid, which donors cannot politically afford to ignore.

But it remains to be seen whether they will readily provide the 37bn the Ethiopian government says it needs to finance its programmes of halving hunger by 2015.


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