"While we have a sharp mind and working hands, we must not bequeath dependency for posterity!" Meles Zenawi
Akalu Derbabaw 03/26/13-
The various development policies being pursued by the leadership in Ethiopia used to be a source of debate among opposition political groups and some members with in the international community.
One of the policies under debate was the country’s agricultural development strategy that focuses on small scale farmers.
The argument made by the aforementioned groups regarding this strategy was that the capacity of small scale farmers to bring about agricultural development, improve food security, and enable the sector contribute to the national economic growth is very much limited.
According to these groups agricultural production and productivity couldn’t be attained unless large scale farming and industry based agricultural development endeavors are intensified.
Several international studies indicate that about 75 percent of the world’s people live in rural areas, and most of them are engaged in farming. And also the sector remains fundamental to developing countries like Ethiopia.
It has been observed that GDP growth from agriculture benefits the incomes of poor people two to four times more than GDP growth in other sectors of the economy according to these studies. The recent phenomenon in Ethiopia is a tangible example to substantiate this reality.
More than 85 percent of the Ethiopians live in rural areas, and nearly all of them are farmers, dominantly smallholding farmers.
However before 1990s Ethiopia’s situation in terms of agricultural production and productivity was unimaginably the worst. Despite its importance in the national economy, agriculture and the farmers, whose modes of farming were only for subsistence, have remained unchanged for centuries.
And as a result agricultural productivity had been deteriorating until 1991, which place a large section of farmers powerless to feed even their families and often dependant on food aid.
When Ethiopia commenced its agricultural development programs through the intensification of smallholding farmers, in 1990s it had encounter strong criticisms by these same groups.
Despite the criticisms however the leadership perused with its programs for there was a clear understanding of the objective realities and the importance of the sector to tackling poverty. And it was also very confident in smallholding farmers to realizing its objectives.
In my observation the practical experience so far pursued in Ethiopia has disproved the argument being waged against small scale farming as if it is insignificant for sustainable development.
Ethiopia could be one example as to how small-scale farming could double food production in less than a decade and make use of the farmer’s efforts an engine to its economic development.
Smallholding farmers are also becoming by far the largest source of economic advancement in the country.
Recent studies have also been confirming that small-scale farmers are not only successfully feeding themselves but also wider communities, regions and even whole countries.
Currently many have started to accept the fact that besides food security, small-scale farming also offers a number of other key social, economic and environmental advantages.
Even Some international organizations that are engaged in activities related with the fight against hunger and enhancement of food availability, have been urging governments and other pertinent bodies in the world to give a prior attention to the intensification of smallholding farmers.
Studies conducted by these organizations suggests that in order to curb the existing ever escalating food price and improve the availability of food production throughout the world, it is important to strengthen small scale farming by providing the necessary support to the farmers.
According to Speaker Olivier de Schutter, UN special rapporteur on the right to food “Small-scale farming is creating employment and contributing to rural development… It is better at preserving ecosystems because … farmers combine various plants, trees and animals on the same piece of land.”
He also said that “when the incomes of small farmers increase, it creates a market for services and goods in the country which benefits other sectors of the economy in ways that increased incomes for large landowners do not.”
In my view we should be very much appreciative for the clear guidance the country has been provided by its leadership for the betterment of the nation, despite a relentless discouragement.
And this, to those of us with rational mind clearly, shows how our government was certain and very optimist about its actions and the positive consequences of engaging smallholding farmers to its development endeavors.
By drawing important lessons from some countries like china and India whose experiences are similar to ours and brought exemplary improvements in the transformation of smallholding farmers, the leadership in Ethiopia has pursued a variety of programs, strategies and investments focusing on its small scale farmers.
The very purposes of these development programs and strategies were to boost agricultural production, improve both rural and urban food security, as well as to creating conducive environment to make the agricultural sector an engine to the development of the national economy.
It has been providing several supports aimed at building the capacity of small scale farmers by dedicating 17 percent of its budget to farming, which is above the 10 percent commitment agreed by African governments.
In line with the policy the government introduced new farming technologies and provided technical and institutional support to smallholder farmers.
These included fertilizer supply and distribution, improved seed supply and distribution, development of small-scale irrigation, conservation of natural resources and environment, agricultural research and extension.
In line with these programs a number of other restructurings were also made to generate a more supportive macroeconomic framework and liberalize markets for agricultural products as well as to creating market networks suitable for the farmers.
The focus of government’s strategy in the intensification of small-scale agriculture is not only limited to meeting the farmer’s food and nutrition needs. It is also crafted in a way that they could be able to go much more beyond food subsistence and become key suppliers of agricultural products to domestic and international markets.
And the country now has been able to see the fruits of this strategy. In addition to achieving food security, and reducing poverty, particularly in rural areas, Ethiopia's use of agriculture as the base for the country's overall development has indeed begun to speak the positive achievements by itself.
We have been observing how the life of many farmers is improving who before had tested the agony of poverty and passed through the horrifying consequences of the repeated drought and famine.
Following the concerted efforts and devotion currently many of our farmers even gone beyond subsistence and become major suppliers of agricultural products to the local and international markets.
In addition to food production, a lot of Ethiopian farmers have also been engaging massively in the production of agricultural export products as a result of government’s agriculture diversification strategy being implemented in the last years.
According to documents the billions of dollars which the country earns annually, from the international trade, that is also drastically increasing every year, mostly attributed to our smallholding farmers.
Most of the raw materials that supply the agro-processing industries which are rapidly increasing in the country are also derived from the newly emerging farmers.
Due to all these interventions made in the last years enabled the agricultural sector to play its key role in the development of the national economy.
Numerous international organizations and renowned researchers have now been acknowledging that Ethiopia’s economic growth being registered over the last ten consecutive years mostly resulted from this sector.
According to a document obtained from the World Bank unlike other fast growing Sub-Saharan African economies, where growth has been supported by the minerals sector, Ethiopia’s robust growth performance over the past couple of years has been driven by the agricultural sector.
The sector has benefited from continuing government investment in roads, power projects and marketing networks, which has helped bring more small-holder farmers into the market, the report stated.
These improvements are also being demonstrated in the lives of millions of Ethiopians. As it is fact that improving the living conditions of the majority of the people is the ultimate goal of development, the economic advancement accelerated due to the expansion of agriculture, helped the country enormously to change its terrible image in the international community.
Despite the fact that there is a need to bolster the existing efforts so as to make use of the country’s agricultural sector to the maximum level, thanks to the policy and targeted investments in the sector, the country’s socio-economic situation has tremendously transformed.
According to several international reports millions of Ethiopians have been lifted out of poverty over the past years.
In this regard the Human Development Index (HDI) is very good evidence. HDI one of the instruments used by the United Nations to measure poverty level at which a certain country is placed, described Ethiopia as one of most improved countries in terms of the basic dimensions of human development: health, education and income.
According to its 2013 report released last week Ethiopia is among the ten African countries that made the greatest strides in Human Development improvement since 2000.
The other top-performer African countries mentioned in the report are Angola, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and Tanzania.
As it is stated by the report these top-performers on the HDI include a mix of countries with or without resources as well as diversified and high-performing agriculture-based economies. And Ethiopia’s improvement in HDI has also been driven by agricultural development.
Many believe in the fact that Ethiopia’s success in HDI, which also demonstrates progress in economic development, is the outcome of the country’s agricultural development lead industrialization policy that principally depended on its own realities, being carried out over the past two decades.
To me the acknowledgement extended by this report demonstrates how the strategies implemented successfully designed to improving the living conditions of the majority of the people through attaining higher levels of human development.
As stated in the 2013 HDI report these advances are best achieved in countries with strong leadership, openness to trade and a focus on innovative social policies.
All these achievements are made possible due to the rigorous efforts exerted to realize the policies and strategies designed taking in to consideration the objective realities in the country by centering agriculture and rural development.
Since last Ethiopian year the country is able to reduce poverty by 10 percent. The nation has also able to provide educational opportunities to more than 20 million children and young citizens in all levels in public owned institutions alone.
Also the country’s total number of health institutions has reached close to 19 thousands. And as a result of this the nation’s basic health service coverage drastically increased.
Now all Ethiopians particularly the rural community, have been able to have access to primary health services and educational opportunities more than ever.
However, it is also my belief that a lot more must be done in order to make all farmers beneficial of the sector. As the potential for agricultural development in Ethiopia is very vast, the existing efforts should be scaled up to the utmost level.
In this regard I have been observing our government’s intensive endeavors to scaling up the encouraging achievements that enabled the nation to be one of the best economic performers of the world.
This is mainly depicted in the five year Growth and Transformation plan which targets to harvest 400 millions quintals of agricultural products the end of 2007 E.C. And in so doing ensure a 100 percent food security in all levels and create a much more conducive environment to making the nation one of the middle income countries of the world.
I am very much optimistic that Ethiopia could attain this if the country able to continue with the existing pace and dedication that enabled our small-scale farmers not only successfully feeding themselves but also the entire country and motivated the over all national economy.
The famous inspirational words of our former Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who is also in my belief the master mind of Ethiopia’s successful development strategies : "While we have an intelligent mind and a working hands, we must not bequeath dependency for posterity", is now instilled in the hearts of all Ethiopians and stimulating them to a much more practical actions.
The existing reality clearly shows to all that Ethiopian farmers who spent centuries struggling only for their daily bread started to think beyond.
The strategies and policies, being implemented, tamed and stirred the minds of millions to realize their potential and operate beyond subsistence.
Whatever our position towards the current leadership in Ethiopia may be, as a citizen we have to acknowledge that the political system, and the development policies enacted over the past two decades has been a very practical instrument to inculcating an Ethiopian feeling that invigorate the nation to prosperity.
The positive achievements witnessed in the agricultural sector and the subsequent socio-economic changes the country has been enjoying created a society that passionately fight poverty and strongly aspire for development.