Saturday, June 19, 2004

Hunger-threatened Ethiopia to export corn [essay]

Two headlines earlier this month grabbed my attention.

The first, from The Addis Tribune, was: Ethiopians Hunger for the World's Help. Not really surprising for a country long viewed as an mismanaged basket case whose economy largely depends on foreign aid. After two years of drought, the crops are growing this year in Ethiopia. Some relief agencies insist that is precisely why now is the time to dedicate and target money to development aid. Progress is easier when people aren't starving, they say... A year ago, Ethiopia was a dust bowl and 14 million people needed food aid. But when Tony Hall, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations' food agencies, traveled to Ethiopia in April, he found that some emergency feeding centers for children were actually closing because the crisis had eased.

Hunger is a persisent problem in the East African country. As recently as last year, famine appeared on the horizon. Ethiopia represents a "compelling case for attention," according to a Bush administration document produced in advance of the G-8 summit and distributed by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

So after reading this, I was fairly surprised to read this headline in The Addis Fortune newspaper: Ethiopia to Export Maize [corn] to Southern Africa. Ethiopia may be looked on by the world as a food aid recipient, with close to four million people at risk of hunger in any given year [emphasis mine], so it is very difficult to think of it as a food-exporting nation. However small the quantity, the Ethiopian Grain Trade Enterprise, a state owned company with a workforce of 1,700, will be contributing to that lesser image by exporting 100,000 quintals of maize to Southern African countries. Now, I don't know if maize/corn is a staple food in Ethiopia, but if there's enough to export, maybe it should become one.

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