Recurrent droughts make millions of Ethiopians dependent on food aid. But the country has the potential and the will to take care of itself.


Official language



Addis Ababa


1,104,300 km²


Approximately 99 million

Population growth

2.5% (more than 2 million per year)

Rural population

About 80 million (80.5% of the total population)

Gross domestic product

USD 6.6 billion

Per capita annual income

USD 619

Share of agriculture in GDP


Severity of hunger according to the Global Hunger Index

Serious (Value: 33.4 / Trend: -9.6)

Share of the population suffering from malnutrition


Human Development Index

0.445 / Rank: 174 out of 188 countries

Proportion of the population living on less than USD 1.25 a day


Rich, poor Ethiopia

Cradle of humankind, birthplace of coffee: Ethiopians are proud of their country and their ancient culture. With almost 100 million inhabitants, Ethiopia is the most populous country in Africa after Nigeria. Ethiopia is one of the world's fastest growing markets, with economic growth of around 10 percent, with strong investment from foreign investors and development organizations. The successes in the fight against hunger have been impressive, particularly over the past ten years. The capital city of Addis Ababa is booming with construction and infrastructure projects and, since 2002, is also the headquarters of the African Union. The government is making great efforts to further increase Ethiopia's political and economic significance. But despite all this, Ethiopia still remains one of the poorest countries in the world, ranking 174 out of 188 in the United Nations Human Development Index. One third of all Ethiopians suffer from extreme poverty and malnutrition. In a country where agriculture accounts for 85 percent of the work force and 40 percent of the gross domestic product, 4 to 5 million Ethiopians live under constant threat of food shortages. 


Still dependent on food aid

In the mid-1980s, Ethiopia's military government allowed tens of thousands of people to starve during a devastating drought in the northern part of the country. Since then, Ethiopia has had a one-sided image as the "country of starvation". The shocking images from the accounts of the disaster are seared into our memories: emaciated children with heads that looked too big for their bodies, young mothers looking out apathetically with emaciated babies in their arms, and dead cattle. Food aid from international organizations began on a large scale, and continued for many years.


Ethiopia has the most extensive water resources in East Africa.


Ethiopia is still haunted by droughts, which are becoming more frequent. When the rain finally does come, it is often so heavy that it causes the fields to flood. Around 18 million people in Ethiopia are currently dependent on food aid. But food deliveries from abroad, which have continued for decades, are not enough to solve the problem. Due to a lack of seed and insufficient investment in the country, not all affected farmers can support themselves. Meanwhile, the agricultural potential in many regions is enormous: alongside barren areas, Ethiopia boasts some lush green landscapes. Ethiopia also has the most extensive water resources in East Africa.  


Coffee, khat and grain crops 

Ethiopia has traditionally been a land of small farmers, raising crops and livestock for their own consumption. According to the constitution, the land belongs to "the state and people of Ethiopia". Private land ownership is not allowed. Farmers live on state-owned land and receive a right of use from the state. As a result, there is little private investment in irrigation systems or agricultural equipment. Moreover, deficient infrastructure makes it difficult for farmers to get their goods to market. For the most part, Ethiopian farmers are still tilling their fields with wooden plows, so that crop yields are small and dependent on rainfall. Sedentary and nomadic cattle breeders keep herds of sheep and goats, camels, donkeys and small livestock.


Nevertheless, small and subsistence farms, which comprise an average of just one hectare of land, are the primary source of the country's agricultural products, which are traded locally and exported abroad. These include coffee, corn, flowers, legumes, teff, wheat, sorghum and other cereals, as well as various oilseeds. Ethiopia has the largest livestock population in Africa and exports live animals as well as leather goods. Ethiopia is in the top ten in the world market in some categories: it's the sixth-largest producer of coffee, the tenth-largest producer of livestock and the world's largest producer and exporter of the herbal stimulant khat along with Kenya. Ethiopia is a world leader in the cereal cultivation of teff. Ethiopia is also the leading global producer of teff, a kind of grain.


FLUFFY PITA Ethiopian cuisine differs greatly from that of other African countries. A characteristic element is the sour dough injera, made of teff, a grain from the Horn of Africa. Ethiopians and Eritreans eat the soft pita bread daily at every meal. It also doubles as a plate and silverware, as various sauces and purees made of lentils, beans and chick peas are served on the pita. Ethiopians tear off a piece with their fingers and dip it in the filling. There is also strong Ethiopian coffee.

Ethiopia's goal: increase yields, process food 

The Ethiopian government has ambitious plans to transform its economy, which still consists primarily of subsistence farming, and become a modernized agricultural and food producer with the ability to efficiently process food to create added-value products. The government hopes to drastically cut down on the country's high post-harvest losses. Significantly expanding agricultural production and processing will enable the government to better supply its people with basic needs and create urgently needed jobs. Ethiopia plans to export surplus production. Other measures planned by the Ethiopian government with a view towards improving food security and promoting economic growth including increasing land cultivation, increased use of fertilizers and productive seeds, and attracting powerful foreign investment.



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