Ethiopia: Saving Livelihoods / by Morgana Wingard

Ethiopia has one of the fastest-growing economies in Africa. Yet, the inability to access food and proper nutrition remains a reality in many communities. 2.7 Million people in Ethiopia need food assistance. That’s the size of the population of Chicago.

Recently I flew to Ethiopia with the poverty-fighting organization CARE to see first hand how purchasing locally is boosting the local economy and increasing food security in the region.

The United States government is the largest provider of humanitarian assistance in the Horn of Africa, providing over $1.8 billion since 2011. Despite the best of intentions, we learned that American food aid can be slow to reach people in need, inefficient, and not cost effective. On average, U.S.-grown emergency food aid can take more than two months longer to reach its destination than locally procured food aid.  Local and regional procurement is a lower cost alternative and a more efficient method for virtually all U.S. food aid commodities.

The World Food Program's new initiative, Purchase for Progress (P4P) is working with the Ethiopia Commodity Exchange (ECX) to buy produce from local farmers for their food aid programs. In 2012 33,000 smallholder farmers represented by 17 cooperative unions participated in P4P. Since 2010, P4P has purchased nearly 55,000 metric tons of haricot beans and maize for use in all WFP programs in Ethiopia, generating over US $16 million for Ethiopian smallholders as a result.

As a technical experts said in one of our briefing, "Food aid is not about saving lives. It's about saving livelihoods." Purchasing commodities for food aid in Africa is not only saving lives, it's also saving the livelihoods of local farmers and increasing regional food security.