FAO Initiative on Soaring Food Prices



In the 1980s, Ethiopia’s image in the West became synonymous with famine. Over the last twenty five years and particularly in the last decade, the country has experienced unprecedented economic growth. Nonetheless, food security remains a serious challenge and rising food prices threaten to undermine recent achievements in national development.

Ethiopia’s borders encompass some of the most diverse agro-ecologies in the world. Staple crops such as wheat, teff (used for the national dish injera) barley, maize and sorghum are planted over 13 million hectares. The national economy is dependent on agriculture but the sector is at the mercy of variable annual rains.

In January and May 2008, drought affected large sections of southern, central, western and north-eastern Ethiopia. The resulting harvest failures left 4.6 million people needing emergency food aid and 7.5 million in drought-affected areas requiring other handouts such as additional cash or food transfers.

The Somali Region (on the border of Ethiopia and Somalia) is extremely vulnerable, characterized by poor rangelands, extreme water shortages and regular crop losses that are further compounded by tensions between the two countries.

Across all regions of Ethiopia, food and non-food prices have been on the rise since 2005. Between June 2007 and June 2008, the nominal price of maize shot up by an average of 202 percent, wheat by 83 percent and sorghum by 83 percent. Agricultural inputs are also more expensive, with the price of fertilizer doubling in a year. Without immediate action, reduced meals and malnutrition will become an increasing reality for many more Ethiopians. 

FAO’s Response

FAO has an Emergency Coordination Unit with offices in every regional state of Ethiopia. It operates an Emergency Programme in close collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. An FAO/WFP Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission was fielded to Ethiopia early in 2008 to monitor the situation and assess food aid requirements. In the context of the global food crisis, a Technical Cooperation Programme (TCP) project is being developed to build technical capacities in the vulnerable agriculture sector.

The UNCT Taskforce also made recommendations for a humanitarian response to the food price situation in Ethiopia. These included:

  • reviewing the Government’s social protection programmes in rural and urban areas to soften the blow of price hikes
  • restocking the Emergency Strategic Grain Reserve
  • introducing and supporting agricultural insurance systems and micro credit
  • improving access to agricultural inputs for diversified cropping and livestock production systems such as fertilizer, improved seeds, technologies and innovations.
Agriculture in Ethiopia is dependant on extremely variable rain patterns.