This article is the product of my personal reflection and research after working in a malnutrition crisis in Ethiopia in 2008. I came back to the university directly from the field to start to analyse my impressions. The first explanation to be considered is that of overpopulation. According to the World Food Program (WFP) and The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) the population growth was 2.77% per year and the estimated population in Ethiopia was 79.24 million in mid-year 2008 (FAO/WFP 2008:10). This estimation showed a significant population growth in Ethiopia. The second factor pertains to the unequal distribution of the population in Ethiopia which results in regions with high density of population having more demand for food. In this regard 36.7% of the Ethiopian population lives in Oromyia region, followed by the Amara region with 23.3% and the SNNP region with 20.4% (CSA 2008:10). These highly populated regions have a higher demand for food and have more propensity to develop starvation crises. During July 2008, 75,000 children were reported to be affected by Acute Severe Malnutrition and the prospect was worse for the rest of the year; Oromyia and SNNPR were the hot spots (OCHA 2008:1). Demographic factors may play an important role but there would need to be additional factors to account for the increase in food security since they cannot alone cause malnutrition
Malnutrition became a headline in the news and NGOs websites in the year 2008. Drought and food crises were pointed out as major causes of malnutrition in Ethiopia. This article analyses other factors which underpinned malnutrition. In spite of the drought, food production remained increased for some products but was unable to satisfy the market demands. The first section of the article will explore the ways in which the local market is affected by global affairs and how globalization plays an important role in national markets and food security. Debates about malnutrition should consider globalization because it may have positive and negative effects on food access although the government can protect the population from the negative effect of globalization.
The second section overviews the food aid system in Ethiopia which has innovated new developed innovative programmes such as Productive Safety Net Programmes (PSNP) in order to facilitate the creating of assets by the vulnerable sector of the population This programme opens the debate about whether food security programmes should provide food or money to create food security. The debate is still open but malnutrition in 2008 may demonstrate that cash aid in food security programmes is very vulnerable to the unpredictable changes of the market. Finally in this paper, the Disaster, Preparedness and Disaster Agency (DPPA) and the famine early warning systems are examined to uncover the limitations that did not enable them to prevent starvation in 2008.
Food production, population and market
The media tried to explain the reason for the malnutrition crisis in 2008 as a consequence of the drought. This section attempts to demonstrate that drought was neither the only nor the main cause of malnutrition. It will explain that market and inflation played a major role in the food crisis. Meanwhile the government and the Ethiopian population were unable to cope with the difficulties to food access due to the effect of competition in the global market.
There are two rainy seasons in Ethiopia: the Belg and the Meher. The Belg from February to the end of April/beginning of May, supports crops that are harvested after the rainy season and also supports crops that are collected in September. The Meher begins in June-July, terminates in September-October and supports the crops planted before or during its season. Commonly, most of the media, governmental reports and international agencies emphasised the drought as an important factor that precipitated the starvation crisis. During the year 2008, the Belg production was affected because the Belg was poor and late. On the other hand, Meher was as good as normal (FAO/WFP 2009:14). The WFP and the FAO estimated the 2008 harvest production as shown in the table 1 and table 2.
Ethiopia: Harvest Belg Cereals and Pulses Production in 2007 and 2008
Ethiopia: Cereals and Pulses Production from 2004 to 2008 Meher Seasons for Peasant Holdings
Table 1 shows that the production of cereals suffered 52.9% loss in 2008 in comparison to the Belg season in the year before. However, table 2 shows that cereal production increased steadily during 2004-2008 in the Meher season. Moreover, the region with the highest production of cereal was Oromiya with 8 356.8 tonnes for peasant holdings in the Meher season (Ibid 2009:26). In comparison with 2007, the annual production of cereal and pulse was 834657 tonnes more in 2008. This means that the annual food production remained increasing. Therefore, drought and low production cannot be the unique factors responsible for starvation because some products such as cereals increased in production.
In 2007-8 Ethiopia exported 233 tonnes of pulses which represented an increment of 46.8% in comparison to the year before (FAO/WFP 2009:8). This represented a reduction of the food availability in the internal market. Even tough pulses are rich in protein and are considered to be the “meat of the poor” (Brink et al 2006:146). On the other hand, the government of Ethiopia banned the export of cereals in 2007, imported 300 000 tonnes of wheat and distributed it at subsidized prices to the urban poor in 2008 in order to improve the supply of food in the market (FAO/WFP 2009:10). However, exports and governmental measures were not able to ensure access to food for the poor consumers in Ethiopia. Food access was determined by food prices that were beyond the control of the government during the current year 2008. In spite of the fact that the population did not have access to food in the local markets, pulses were exported.
There was also a global food price crisis. According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTD), the global food crisis was a consequence of the following factors: a food production crisis, a rise in population, growing demand for some products, a decrease in the purchasing power of consumers, a malfunction of the market, climate change and drought in key food producers (UNCTD 2008:6). In the face of such problems governments can play an important role as protectors of national consumers by implementing protective measures. For instance, the Ethiopian government removed taxes from selected food items, increased the daily wage in the PSNP from 6 Ethiopian birrs (ETB) to 10 ETB, distributed 300 000 tonnes of wheat at a subsidized price to the urban poor, maintained a ban on cereal exports from 2007, increased the minimum interest rate on saving deposits, and raised the minimum reserve requirement on commercial banks from 10 to 15 percent of the net deposits (FAO/WFP 2009:8). These measures may have an important impact on the purchasing power of the population. However, the purchasing power in the local population is quite diminished during a food crisis, especially in rural areas, due to a reduction of the market size. USAID reported shortages of food in the domestic market in August 2008 (FEWS 2008a:2). The domestic market has to compete with international and regional markets. This competition also reduces food availability in the domestic market in the event of stronger regional and international markets. Local purchase of grain represented only a small proportion of the total grain production in Ethiopia. Furthermore, the regional export of livestock increased during the last years from 3 000 tonnes in 2003/04 to 43 700 tonnes in 2006/07, (FAO/WFP 2008:9). This data considers only the formal economy; the proportion of exports could be higher, if the trans-border movements of goods in the informal market with Somalia, Kenya and Sudan are considered.
The domestic market was also affected by inflation. On the one hand, inflation attracts sellers to the market because it increases the value of the product. On the other hand, if inflation is high, it limits the number of potential consumers and encourages hoarding. In the case of Ethiopia, there were other internal factors that contributed to inflation and the rise in cereal prices such as the increase in the amount of money in circulation due to increases in the government employees’ salaries by 37%, pension adjustments of up to 60% and cash aid in the PSNP. In addition there were structural changes in rural economies which allowed the producers to hold supplies until prices rose further. There were also governmental efforts to prevent traders from selling at unreasonably high prices and consequently traders decreased the volume of cereals brought to the market (FEWS 2008b:5). These factors contributed to inflation which the government was unable to reverse. Thus governmental measures may not always contribute positively to the global food price crisis and specifically in the case of Ethiopia the government was unable to protect the poor from the consequences of the global food crisis.
Market dynamics may be one factor which links population, food production and food access and can be an important cause of starvation. Before and during the malnutrition crisis, the Ethiopian market continued exporting food and decreasing the accessibility of food for the local market. Even though the Ethiopian government took measures such as banning cereal exports, importing wheat and distributing it to the urban poor, the government was unable to prevent the shortages of food in the domestic market, especially in rural areas. The internal market was unable to compete with the international market which was itself in food crisis and consequently increased the food price globally.
The inability of the internal Ethiopian market to compete with the global market reduced food accessibility for the Ethiopian population. In addition Inflation impeded access to food for the poorest people of Ethiopia. The inflation may have been due to the increase in food prices in the global market but it may also have been attributable to several measures taken by the government that were intended to improve food access to government employees, retired people and people in PSNP. This may suggest that the competition between global and local markets rendered the steps taken by the Ethiopian government powerless to prevent inflation and consequently reduced access to food. However, The Ethiopian government had more resources than economic ones to prevent malnutrition. The next section of this article will explain the PSNP that the Ethiopia Government has in place and the difficulties of this program in prevent the malnutrition crisis.
Productive Safety Net Program (PSNP)
Prevention of food insecurity can be an essential component of socio-economic development of the most vulnerable sectors of the society. The Ethiopian Government implemented the Productive Safety Net Program (PSNP) to provide food security and prevent dependency on state aid. This section of the article will describe describes the PSNP and analyze the relevance of cash aid versus food aid in providing food security. The consequences of PSNP relying on food prices to provide ways of creating assets for beneficiaries will also be discussed. The limits that high unemployment places on the program will be discussed as will the positive benefits.
In 1996, the Ethiopian government launched the Sustainable Development and Poverty Reduction Programme (SDPRP) with the aim of reducing poverty and food insecurity. The SDPRP’s main focus was to ensure food supply at the household level by the Agricultural Development-Led Industrialization (ADLI) policy (Pankhurst 2009:2). This policy aimed to improve agricultural production in order to create asset, to enhance food stocks and livestock in the household. ADLI would also enable the selling of surplus to the market thus improving household economies. However, in 2002-03 the famines caused the government and international donor agencies to rethink this strategy and to create the Productive Safety Net Program (PSNP) and to resettle two million people (Bevan 2006:20). The PSPN provides cash or food aid to vulnerable households in exchange for public work or direct support to people unable to do public work. The aim is to improve conditions in the community and enlarge the capacity of the individual as a sustainable measure to prevent food insecurity in the household.
Whether aid is in the form of food, cash or a mixture of both may have different impacts on a household. Cash can be more helpful for development of assets than food aid because the latter limits the beneficiary to consumption of the food provided and does not promote for the development of assets. According to Emebet Kebede “Cash could encourage households to invest strategically in other needs or income-generating activities which can help beneficiaries to re-capitalise assets and break the downward spiral to food aid”. (Kebede 2006:587)
Cash provides more liquid use than food and can be an incentive to developing other products, gaining skills or investing in education. Moreover, if the price of food fluctuates favourably cash aid may have more potential to create asset than food aid.
Prices of food crops in PSNP survey communities, 2005/06 (Birr/kg)
Table 1 shows that from mid-2005 to mid-2006 prices decreased and those who were paid in cash were able to gain more assets than those who were only paid in food (Ibid 2006:47). However, it is important to consider the relevance of the market in this regard. The market regulates prices and the government did not have full control of the market. While food prices can decrease as it did in 2005-2006, prices can also increase as they did from late 2005 to mid -2006. Thus the market can also have a negative impact on food prices and, in consequence, a negative impact on beneficiaries. Making vulnerable people more dependent on market fluctuations can also make those receiving cash aid be more vulnerable than those who are receiving food aid. It could be unsafe to expect people who suffer from food insecurity to take risks by relying on the market to gain food security and assets. This can explain why the food price crisis of 2008 exposed beneficiaries of PSNP to fluctuations in market prices thus resulting in food insecurity and starvation for this vulnerable population.
Respondents’ preferences for type of assistance from the PSNP
Table 2 shows that people would prefer security to risk. In fact, those in the study preferred to receive food aid rather than only cash aid. Furthermore, the Tigray region was the second largest percentage of people where 60.4% of the beneficiaries preferred food aid alone. On the other hand, the high preference for only food aid in Oromyia is a reflection of its high population density with high demand for food.
Type of PSNP transfers received by region
Table 3 shows that the Tigray region had highest proportion of cash only aid 60.4%. It is interesting that Tigray received the highest percentage of cash only considering that most of the food production of Ethiopia is in the Oromyia and Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People’s Region (SNNPR). One explanation for this would be to strengthen the trade entitlement of the Tigray region by allocating money in the region and attracting the food market towards the Tigray region. Again, it is notable that the government also relied on the market to move food in the Tigray region. It can be seen that the government relied on money to facilitate food trade and therefore food security. At the same time, beneficiaries on cash aid increased the exposure to market changes and to food vulnerability if food prices increase. Therefore, food security for people on only cash aid would depend more on the market than on the food aid system. In fact, the government reduced the proportion of beneficiaries receiving cash aid in the PSNP from 74% in 2005 to 48% in 2008 and increased the proportion of beneficiaries on food aid during the period of food crisis. However, this food aid was restricted due to limited availability of food in the domestic market and stocks of food in the Emergency Food Security Reserve (EFSR) (FAO/WFP 2009:1). Then the government was unable to provide complete food aid due to the lack of food access from the local market and emergency food reserve.
The Ethiopian government established this food-for-work program in order to avoid the beneficiaries’ dependency on state aid. In spite of the fact that the PSNP payments were lower than the minimum unskilled salary (6 Birr or 3 kg. of grain per working day), acceptance into the program was very competitive due to the high level of unemployment (Sharp et al 2007:37). The lack of job opportunities made unemployed people dependent on the PSNP because it became their only source of income. Unemployment limited the aim of the program to provide extra income for a household. In some cases PSNP became the only income in a household. Thus, ironically, the very beneficiaries of the program became dependent on state aid.
The PSNP is implemented by the government and complemented by international agencies and selected international NGOs (Ashley et al. 2006:14) However, there is a lack of governmental staff and qualified people to plan the public work of the PSNP (Ibid 2006:17). This has reduced the quality of the PSNP and the benefit for the community. There is a risk that this lack of qualified staff may encourage the administration to push too quickly for results or to treat the problems in a superficial manner, thus further jeopardizing the success of the program. This was the case in Ethiopia in 2008. In the Amara region, the administration emphasized support to beneficiaries who were less vulnerable to food insecurity in order to qualify more people for the program. This short-sighted step further prevented access by the most vulnerable. On the other hand, the administration considered the most poor and vulnerable as candidates for a resettlement program in 2005. However, the Ethiopian government realized the short-sightedness of this policy or grasped the risks of this decision and it was eventually reversed. By mid-2005 the PNP was focusing on the more vulnerable in the population (Ibid 2006:17).
PSNP is still expanding. In 2005, it targeted 4.8 million chronically food insecure people and it has been further expanded to target 7.19 million people (Pankhurst 2009:3). It has also improved the quantity and quality of food for the beneficiaries. 75% of the beneficiaries reported eating more and better and 25% reported building up some assets (Devereux et al. 2006:36). Thus it is evident that the PNSP has improved both food quality and quantity as well as security. Furthermore, PNSP provided support, reduced the impact of food insecurity and prevented those in the program from starving.
The implementation of the PNSP represented a good attempt to provide a sustainable solution to food insecurity. Cash aid can facilitate the creation of food assets although it exposes the beneficiaries to remove market fluctuations which may limit food access. Unemployment and exposure of the beneficiaries to market changes limits the capacity of PSNP to offer food security. PSNP is unable to provide food security if food prices increase dramatically or food availability in the market decreases significantly. PSNP still needed time to mature and to overcome its structural weaknesses, although the economic, social and political context in Ethiopia markedly limits its impact. In spite of all these constraints, PSNP has achieved limited positive results which demonstrate the potential of this program. The next section of this article examines the emergency and relief mechanisms that the Ethiopian government has in place to prevent starvation.
DPPA and Famine Early Warning System
Emergency and relief system is one of the last resources that a government has to prevent famines. This section examines the Disaster, Preparedness and Disaster Agency (DPPA) and the famine early warning system in order to provide some understanding of these internal mechanisms. It will also expose the difficulties in preventing famines by examining the interaction between the different actors in the evaluation process.
After the defeat of the Dergue regime in Ethiopia, the new government established a national strategy for disaster preparedness and response (NDPPS) and an Emergency Code for the management of relief activities. The NDPPS created the Disaster, Preparedness and Disaster Commission (DPPC), later transformed into the Disaster, Preparedness and Disaster Agency (DPPA), to coordinate food aid; it tried to decentralise an early famine warning system and created a plan with middle and long term interventions to prevent famine (Villumstad et al. 1993:126).
The early famine warning system evaluates the situation monthly and twice a year by visiting the field in November-December and June-July. According to the field evaluations, the DPPA appeals to donors for funding in order to prevent major nutritional catastrophes. The field evaluations are conducted by a commission formed from governmental staff in the departments of agriculture, statistics and meteorology (Eten 2008:28). The ensuing report must be agreed upon by the political administration and DPPA at different levels, federal, zone, region and woreda. However, international donors and international NGOs have questioned the numbers provided in these reports, because usually appeared to be inflated. In order to increase trust, international NGOs and international donors have been integrated into the field evaluation teams since 2000 (Ibid 2008:28).
This evaluation process seemed, on the surface, to integrate all the political and humanitarian actors and to harmonise the process. However, the field evaluations tend to become negotiation processes in which every actor claimed different numbers of beneficiaries and negotiated for their own numbers in the final report. As a consequence the final number may be far away from reality. Furthermore, the final report had to be approved by political authorities each of which also had different interests. Therefore, the evaluation report became a politicised document, in which the technical aspects of the report disappear during the production process. According to Eten, in November 2003 the evaluation committee proposed an estimate of 31,000 requiring food aid in the Befekadu woreda which the woreda administration disputed as too high. The woreda administration and evaluation committee negotiated an agreement of 25,000 beneficiaries which then was submitted for approval by the federal administration in Addis Ababa (Ibid 2008:51). This is an example of the ways in which different perspectives based on personal views and interests affected the outcome. Thus the validity and credibility of reports coming out of the early famine warning system were suspect.
In 2008, the international agencies and public administration staff prepared the joint evaluations which were presented to the Ethiopian administration preparatory to making a humanitarian appeal. The government made different appeals with different estimates of numbers of people in need. For instance in April there were 2.18 million people at risk , in June, 4.6 million people and in October 6.4 million people (BBC 2008). These large fluctuations in number throughout the year question the efficiency of the early famine warning system in Ethiopia.
This failure to perform quality evaluations had consequences for the people of Ethiopia and has made them more vulnerable to starvation. Without accurate assessments of numbers of the vulnerable population the government is not able to plan for their food needs. Furthermore, this failure to estimate needs and to plan for the future has not helped the government to protect people from the global food price crisis. Inadequate food provisions also have the potential to overburden PSNP and DPPA. Both the emergency and the PSNP food pipelines faced serious shortfalls at the beginning of the summer in 2008(WHO 2008:1). Administrators in the food aid systems considered extreme measures such as a reduction of the ration by one third in order to cover more beneficiaries (OCHA 2008: 4). These developments suggest that the food aid system was weak and not prepared to face the starvation crisis in 2008. Yet this was not a new problem. During 1999, the Ethiopian administration made six appeals for food aid while the number of affected people rose markedly (Hammond et al 2002: 266). The repeat failure in 2008 suggests that causes other than technical issues were at the root of the problem and therefore that technical support would not have solved the problem. Measures to prevent the repetition of these failures could be taken if these failures were examined more seriously.
This section has examined how the famine early warning has become a negotiation process among the different political and humanitarian actors involved. During the negotiation process, the technical aspects of the reports are overridden by the conflicts of interest among the different actors. This has resulted in inaccuracies in the evaluation with catastrophic consequences for the most vulnerable sector of the population. This famine early warning system has no internal mechanism by which to ensure the accountability of the different actors redundant. Such a mechanism would require that all those involved in the evaluation put aside their personal and political agendas and allow the facts to emerge. Another option would be to have a system, internal or external arbitrator to overview the process with independence and authority to prevent inaccurate evaluations. Without accountability to an independent and impartial body these inaccurate and misleading may have tragic consequences in the years to come.
The causes of starvation are multidimensional. The starvation crisis in Ethiopia in 2008 was no exception to this. The Ethiopian domestic market had difficulties in competing with the international market and was unable to maintain internal food access?. Even though food production was affected by the drought some products had a better harvest than the previous year. In spite of this, the government was unable to ensure food access due to inflation, food export and the weakness of the Ethiopian domestic market to resist the demand from a global food market in crisis.
The PSNP has the potential to provide food security and it is expanding the coverage it provides. Nonetheless, the PSNP has proven to be too weak to provide food protection to its beneficiaries under the circumstances of high unemployment and the Ethiopian domestic market in 2008. Cash aid continued to be an important element of this program. However, cash aid is dependent on market fluctuations which render the recipients more vulnerable, as demonstrated in 2008. Food inflation did not enable the creation of assets for those on cash aid and food access for this type of beneficiaries was diminished. For this kind of context, food aid has been proven to provide more food security than cash aid.
The DPPA and Early Famine Warning System have not been able to provide adequate evaluations allowing provision of appropriate relief to the victims of starvation because of personal and political interests of the players involved. There is not a system in place to demand accountability from the different actors. This lack of accountability leaves the door open for another starvation crisis.
This article has explained how the global market crisis, the incapacity of the Ethiopian government to protect the population from the market crisis, a weak preventive safety net system and malfunctioning early warning system have been unable to protect the most vulnerable sector of the population from starvation. Through this process of examining these issues, it has been noticed that the affected population has no voice with which to influence and demand changes. They remained excluded and disempowered from the decision process and are thus unable to react to difficult socio-economic contexts such as the one in 2008. Starvation will remain present in the coming years if its prevention is not at the top of the agenda of all relevant actors including government, international humanitarian agencies and donors, and if accountability is not guaranteed and the population continues to be excluded from decision- making.
List of abbreviations
ADLI Agricultural Development-Led Industrialization
CSA Central Statistics Authority
DPPC (Federal) Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Commission
DPPA Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Agency
EFSR Emergency Food Security Reserve
FAO Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
FEWSNet Famine Early Warning System Network
FSCB (Federal) Food Security Coordination Bureau
MoARD Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development
MOFED Ministry of Finance and Economic Development
NGO Non-Governmental Organisation
NDPPS National Strategy for Disaster Preparedness and Response
OCHA United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
PSNP Productive Safety Net Programme
SDPRP Sustainable Development and Poverty Reduction Programme
SC-UK Save the Children (United Kingdom)
SNNPR Southern Nations’, Nationalities’ and Peoples’ Region
UNCTD United Nations Conference on Trade and Development
UNICEF United Nations Children’s Fund
USAID United States Agency for International Development
WFP World Food Programme
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I would like to thank especially Dr. Amanda Sackur, Dr. Elaine Wynne and Dr. Karen Seyffart for their support and patience. I would not have been able to write this article without all the team which was working with me in Oromyia (Ethiopia) in 2008. They were source of inspiration and critical thinking, for all of you, many thanks.
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