In chronically food-insecure areas, long-term provision of food aid is often attributed to a dependency syndrome: peoples’ unwillingness to initiate activities on their own to improve wellbeing. This discourse is strong in Ethiopia; the country has been dependent on food aid for over three decades. This study explores this discussion by analyzing local peoples’ behaviors in a chronically food-insecure district where food aid has been central for more than two decades. Based on ethnographic fieldwork undertaken for approximately 18 months, the paper analyzes a group of 112 food aid beneficiary households. Results show that food aid constitutes a small proportion of overall household food needs, and that food aid is only one of several components of the livelihood portfolio poor people use to cover household food gaps. The paper thus argues that the dependency syndrome is largely a construct of outsiders, rather than an existing risk among food aid beneficiary households that receive a limited amount of aid that cannot cover entire household food gaps.
The study reveals that hunger is as much the result of poor or weak governance precipitating economic downturn as that of episodic natural or manmade events causing individual and community crises. Effective governance provides an enabling environment which facilitates effective institutional capacity, and the policies and legislative measures needed to pave the way so that individuals, households and communities acquire the sustained ability to reduce hunger. Action by a government to genuinely engage in anti-hunger action fuels the shared views and determination of its citizens to enhance the quality of their lives. This can be accomplished by leveraging physical, social and intellectual resources towards nation building. Humanitarian organisations must now build on their experience and expertise to forge a coalition with their national and international partners in order to strengthen the capacity of national systems for greater accountability to guarantee hunger solutions for their citizens.