Exactly 30 days from today I will be in the air on the way to Addis Ababa with the ONE.org team and a group of incredible women. For a week following that flight I’ll have the incredible fortune to travel around the country of Ethiopia, meeting its farmers along the way.
When I told you about this trip, I promised I’d try to do the people there justice. Educating myself on their agriculture industry is just one step I’m taking to make that promise happen. Today, I want to share a few of the interesting things I’ve learned in the past two weeks.
In no particular order:
Though their biggest cash crop is coffee, Ethiopian Farmers grow many of the same crops we do. When I went looking for information on agriculture in Ethiopia I didn’t expect to find the same crops I’m familiar with here in the U.S. on the list. Sorghum, wheat, barley, and even corn are major staple crops in Ethiopia and make up a bulk of the average Ethiopian diet. A grain I didn’t as readily recognize, Teff, is another important grain and the traditional grain used to make enjera, the country’s traditional bread.
Roughly 85% of Ethiopia’s population is supported by crops grown on plots of less than five acres. Due to our small scale I often joke that the only thing “real” about our farm is that it’s destined to put me in the poor house, yet the grand majority of Ethiopians — many of which live in extreme poverty, the likes of which we will never know — are fed and supported by farming less land than we do.
Ethiopia’s livestock population is thought to be one of the largest in Africa. Cattle make up a bulk of the country’s national herd. Sheep, horses, mules, donkeys, poultry and even camels round out the roster. (Looks like I’ll be in full blown swine withdrawals by the time we step foot back on U.S. soil.)
If you met an Ethiopian cow you probably wouldn’t recognize it. Though Zebu cattle are considered endangered here in the U.S. they are quite common in Ethiopia. There, they thrive in the harsher environment of the country’s highlands. Here, they can often be found in zoos and on heritage breed based farms. The cow pictured at the top of this post is a Zebu I had the pleasure of seeing at the Sedgwick County Zoo in Witchita, Kansas last year while there as a guest of the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy.
Though Ethiopia’s farmers face many challenges and disadvantages, agriculture remains the country’s greatest resource. Agriculture accounts for roughly half of the country’s GDP and most of both its exports and employment.
With more than 2/3 of the population employed in Agriculture, it is also one of the single most effective ways to reduce poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa. Growth in Agriculture is more than twice as effective at reducing poverty as growth in other sectors.
Though Ethiopia is known the world over for the struggle to feed their population, they are investing heavily in their own agricultural future and reaping the rewards of that investment. Ethiopia’s government runs outposts that help educate and serve farmers across the country. Their efforts have led to better soil fertility, drought resistance, and yields — all of which ultimately lead to less hunger and poverty overall.
Today, infrastructure remains one of Ethiopia’s greatest hurdles. Currently, moving products to both domestic and export markets is a major struggle for many of Ethiopia’s farmers. Roads, transportation, and market-friendly policies will be integral in future agriculture growth.
I’ll be traveling to Ethiopia as an expense-paid guest of the ONE Campaign to report on how American-supported programs are improving and saving lives. ONE is a non-partisan organization that fights extreme poverty and preventable disease by pressing political leaders to support smart programs that do just that. They’re also launching a new initiative to focus specifically on Agriculture, which is where I’m most excited to join in. ONE doesn’t ask for your money, just your voice. It’s something I can get behind and I hope you can, too.