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What changes are needed to the present Ethiopian, Eritrean and international economic

The current policies in place designed to reduce the effects of famine in the African countries of Ethiopia and Eritrea are a long way from achieving their goals.Famine has been a regular occurrence for hundreds of years.Ethiopia and Eritrea depend on two rainy seasons a year to ample crop growth.

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Sweeping changes must be made at local, national and international level if the severe problem of famine is to be brought under control and eventually eradicated.

85% of the rural population relies on rain, as farming is the main source of income (Jonathon Steele in Addis Ababa reports on efforts to contain disaster). In Africa annual rainfall varies dramatically and this plays a vital role in the success or failure of crops each year. There are also regional differences in the level of rainfall throughout Africa which means that drought cannot be assessed as a nationwide issue but as a regional issue.

Current policies to regulate management of land are largely ineffective. The over-cultivation and mismanagement of land is leading to shortfalls in food production. Food growth is increasing annually by 0.6%, in contrast population in Africa is growing at 2.9%. (

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The ground surface of an area can be dramatically altered by processes such as overgrazing or over cultivation. This has a dramatic effect on the formation of clouds and subsequently levels of precipitation. (Draught and famine workbook) Steps need to be taken to change the way land is cultivated to prevent over intensive cultivation, before any steps can be taken towards eradication of famine, if the African people cannot become self sufficient then they stand little chance of escaping the cycle of drought leading to famine.

Schemes and Policies designed to ease famine and drought

The African government has introduced a range of schemes designed to reduce the risks posed by drought. Huge investment in agriculture has been made since 1991. This includes rural credit schemes and the creation of dams to catch rainfall. On an international level the World Bank has offered a �300 million loan for rural road building. The World Bank and International Monetary fund have given their support for the reduction of subsidies on fertiliser prices; which has forced farmers to cut back on their use. (Jonathan Steele) Resulting in a fall in crop yields, leading to a fall in food supplies.

A worrying trend is the increasing use of inorganic fertilisers by African farmers. They cause untold damage to the environment, releasing chemicals into the water, harming both people and vegetation. These inorganic fertilisers are purchased from the more affluent economies which mean’s that African farmers must pay in cash for fertilisers which increase crop yields but which are ultimately destroying their own ecosystem in the process. This is indicative of the lack of sustainable food production policies in Ethiopia and Eritrea. (

A nationwide scheme introduced by the African government gives farmers who own more than 0.5 hectares of land, improved seed varieties, fertilisers and pesticides, on loan. This has seen results in many areas which have led to higher incomes for some farmers. Schemes such as this yield benefits today but the future cost and effect on the environment in the long term is as yet unknown. (Information from Oxfam, leaflet no OX450 May 1997)

Schemes to counteract the problems of soil erosion have been introduced. Oxfam in partnership with thousands of volunteers in community programmes are attempting to rebuild the land. Millions of trees have been planted to help curb soil erosion and to put back nutrients into the soil. (Information from Oxfam).Reforestation projects are of paramount importance in regenerating the land and preventing soil erosion and leaching of vital nutrients.

Types of farming

Many of the crops grown by African farmers are cash crops. These crops are often unsuitable for the environment in which they are grown and leach vital nutrients from the soil. As agriculture is the main source of income for 85% of the population cash crops are vital to the survival of many African farmers. Nomadic pastoralism is the most efficient form of land use in arid and semi arid lands where crop production is very risky due to high annual variances in climate. (Kilby 1993, Scoones 1995)

“Development policies introduced over the Last fifty years have undermined the traditional management of pastoralists”. (Kilby 1993) Kilby states that they have focused on the extension of crop production into marginal areas, on sedentary ranching, and on an expansion of national parks. Such policies deny pastoralists resources and the ability to roam freely which they require to feed their herds, especially during periods of drought. Many of the policies introduced with the intent of reducing the impact of draught on the peoples of Africa actually hinder them.


Policy changes within agriculture are urgently needed. Technological change which will stabilise production at higher levels is also needed. Money needs to be invested in researching drought resistant crops, and a higher level of irrigation is also required if droughts are going to cease to be a catalyst for famine. Agricultural productivity needs to be dramatically increased in order for individuals to become self-sufficient.

It is only through better management of agriculture that famine can be eradicated in the long term rather than simply on a short term basis.

Policies need to be changed and action taken, short term, and more importantly long term, so as to reduce the severity and frequency of the occurrence of famines in Africa. The issue of famine and drought is highly complex and is very difficult to resolve. “Famine is a direct result of drought; however it is the vulnerability of people when faced with reduced food availability that turns the situation into a disaster”. (Information from Oxfam)

Long term policies need to focus on food security, ensuring that food supplies are large enough to sustain the population and that excess food supplies are managed to ensure the populations survival during drought years. In the past excess food supplies have been sold to foreign countries for profit rather than being kept to feed the African population during times of famine. Government policies need in the short term to focus on making people self sufficient before they can tackle issues of producing surplus crops to sell. Existing policies have made little difference to the situation. Much still needs to be done for the long term prevention of famine in Ethiopia and Eritrea.

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