By Samuel Gebreselassie, Amdissa Teshome, Stephen Devereux, Ian Scoones, and Kay Sharp
Policy Brief 002
The paradox facing agricultural policy in Ethiopia was neatly encapsulated in a statement by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, in 2000: “The agricultural sector remains our Achilles heel and source of vulnerability. … Nonetheless, we remain convinced that agricultural-based development remains the only source of hope for Ethiopia.
” The reality is that most Ethiopians continue to struggle to make their living from smallholder farming, despite low returns, high risks, and the evident inability of agriculture to provide even a reliable subsistence income, let alone a ‘take-off’ to poverty reduction and sustainable economic growth.
Policy-makers and analysts, both national and expatriate, have vacillated between arguing for increased investment in smallholder farming, commercialising agriculture, or abandoning unviable smallholder agriculture by promoting diversification or urbanisation instead. It is often remarked that, if Ethiopia can solve the profound challenges facing its agriculture sector, the lessons will be applicable in many other parts of Africa.