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Ethiopia: A model of African food aid is now in trouble

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Ethiopian farmers as well as livestock herders may be put at risk by the government's determination to curtail rising food prices in the cities; the farmers by a renewed government reliance on foreign food aid and the pastoralists by the use of grain reserves that may be desperately needed if conditions in the south worsen.

Ethiopia has long been the beneficiary of global goodwill, but in the past the free food from abroad has forced local farmers to sell their crops at lower prices or to abandon their fields as unprofitable.

How Ethiopia became an aid model

In the past four years, Ethiopia has been working to undo that damage, pioneering a program in Africa that has now become part of the World Bank's prescribed recipe for coping with a food crisis.

Through the country's main food assistance program, the Productive Safety Net Program, Ethiopia has been giving rural residents who are chronically short of food, those who survive just below the basic nutritional threshold, a chance to work for food or cash.

Those needy individuals unable to work, such as the handicapped or single mothers, receive the same benefits.

About half of the more than 7 million people enrolled in the program choose cash, people that may have once received rations, often in bags or cans labeled "from the American people."

Instead, those people now buy their food from neighboring farmers.

In addition, foreign aid organizations like the World Food Program have been able to buy food locally from surplus areas to distribute in areas where food, and not cash, is desired.

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