Excerpted from Ethiopia: Exciting Innovations in Agriculture and Health
Around 85 percent of the Ethiopia’s population survives by growing crops on small plots of less than five acres. But frequent droughts and soils that have been depleted of nutrients often led to low crop yields and considerable food insecurity. More than half of the country’s population of 83 million is malnourished and more than 5 million households receive food aid each year.
Our foundation has been working with the Ministry of Agriculture, the county’s new Agricultural Transformation Agency, and other partners to help farmers plant higher-yielding, drought-tolerant seeds, improve soil health and fertility, and get higher prices for their crops by selling to global markets.
At the Melkassa Research Station, one of 13 government-run agricultural outposts, Dr. Markus Walsh, Sr. showed me a new, state-of-the-art technology called NIR spectroscopy that’s part of a digital revolution in agriculture. This portable device, which quickly and cheaply analyzes soil conditions, is a fantastic breakthrough that will help farmers everywhere. But it’s especially valuable in countries like Ethiopia, where farmers haven’t been able to afford laboratory tests but need to know how to amend soils to grow better crops. The spectroscopy is part of an even bigger agricultural digital information system that will provide a comprehensive and detailed map of soil properties across the country.
I also met with a number of farmers to talk about new varieties of sorghum (a grain) and beans they are growing. Beans are very important because they provide protein and people need a combination of protein and grain to have a reasonable diet.
Helping small farmers sell their crops in world markets is another important part of the work we’re supporting in Ethiopia. It’s currently a big challenge because poor farmers may not be growing the right crops for world markets and they often lack the roads, trucks, and other infrastructure necessary to enable exports. And getting foreign investors to help build this “value chain” can be difficult. But I visited one agricultural processing facility called ACOS, that is processing and shipping a variety of beans to European markets. It is jointly owned by an Italian company and Ethiopian investors and is a great example of private investment in developing countries.
Ethiopia still faces some big problems. But the people I met and what I saw re-energized me and increased my optimism that the big investments we and other donors are making in health and agriculture will pay off for the people of Ethiopia and can serve as model activities in other African countries. Improving agricultural productivity and the quality of life through better health services is the key to unleashing the potential of Ethiopia and other poor countries and getting them on the road to self-sufficiency.