between Economic Growth and Food Security:
live in a world where of the 80,000 edible plants used for food, only
about 150 are being cultivated, and just eight are traded globally.
In a world where we produce food for 12 billion people when there
are only 6.3 billion living, 800 million suffer from malnutrition.
Shiva. World-renowned environmental leader (Manifesto on the Future of
Food & Seed, 2007).
causal linkage between food security and economic growth hasn’t been
fully resolved. That is, does
food security contribute to economic growth or does economic growth result
in food security; or is there a two-way causal relationship between
economic growth and food security? The causality has not yet been
ascertained. Drawing on previous research and insights, this study
attempted to find and understand the relationship between food
availability and economic growth. A
review of existing secondary studies indicates that food insecurity, low
food intake and the variable access to food endemic in Ethiopia, is not
due to the lack of economic growth and income distribution.
Rather, excluding transitory food insecurity, chronic food
insecurity in Ethiopia seems to derive directly from inflationary
pressures, resulting from excess in the money supply, population growth,
budgetary deficits, imprudently addressing the “supply side” of food
production during favorable seasons, the lack of adequate storage systems
for stocking food items that could be used to tackle food insecurity
during shocking periods, a fragile natural resource base, and weak
institutions. Particularly for policy makers, the study’s findings
contribute to an understanding of some of the crucial factors that could
lead to a reduction of food insecurity and help to design advance
strategies to alleviate food insecurity in Ethiopia.
Keywords: food security,
economic growth, income distribution, inflationary pressure, population
growth rate, budgetary deficits, supply side
the fact that enough food exists for the entire world’s population,
“…almost one in seven people around the world are chronically hungry,
lacking enough food to be healthy and lead active lives” (World Bank,
2007). More specifically, an authoritative estimate by the Food
Agricultural Organization (2010) indicates that there are more than 925
million people in the world who are food insecure. Nevertheless, what is
amazing is that Ethiopia with 100 million people has attained constant
economic growth and recorded an income distribution index (based on data obtained
from Ethiopian government statistical agencies and World Bank country
departments) stands at 0.29.Interestingly enough, Ethiopia’s Gini-coefficient
index of 0.29 is far below the Gini-coefficient of newly industrialized
nations, indicating that the income attained from economic growth in
Ethiopia has been fairly distributed (World Bank, 2010 and Desta 2011).
More specifically, it is stated by Teshome of the World Bank (2016) that:
2000, when Ethiopia had one of the highest poverty rates in the world,
households have experienced a decade of remarkable progress in well-being
and the country has seen a 33 percent reduction in the share of the
population living in poverty. Agricultural growth drove reductions in
poverty, bolstered by pro-poor spending on basic services and effective
rural safety nets. This progress has been underpinned by strong and
sustained economic growth averaging 10.9 percent annually.
before the recent adverse climate conditions caused by El
Nino that contributed to drought, Ethiopia’s dramatic economic
growth in tandem with a more or less equitable income distribution seems
to camouflage the fact that a staggering number of people are experiencing
malnutrition and outright starvation. That is, the impact of the
impressive economic growth has been negligible on food security. For
instance, the average number of food insecure people in Ethiopia was about
7 million from1991 to 2003, 4 million between 2003 and 2014, 8.5 million
in 2008, and is more than 10 million between 2015 and 2016 (See for
example, Adugan, 2016).
by this paradoxical (asymmetrical) connection between economic growth and
food security needs, a number of scholars have questioned and seriously
challenged the Ethiopian Government. As stated by Adugan (2016), because
of the food insecurity that has developed recently because of El
Nino, some scholars have tried to question the so called economic
growth achieved in Ethiopia during the last twelve years. According to the
“Aid for Africa” publication of February 5th, for example,
they have questioned how millions of Ethiopians could be at risk of
starvation “…when in recent years Ethiopia was lauded as a country on
the rise—one of the bright spots in Sub-Saharan Africa?” Some
critics go one step further and loudly argue that unless the data were
“cooked” to portray an impressive image of Ethiopia to the outside
world, it is not possible for the Ethiopian economy to grow at more than
10 percent per year for the last decade when so many of Ethiopia’s
poor are facing chronic
starvation as a persistent characteristic of their life.
partial agreement with what the critics have been saying about food
insecurity in Ethiopia, Teshome somehow seems to have changed his mind and
argues that, “… poverty
remains widespread in Ethiopia. The poorest households have become poorer
than they were in 2005; high food prices that improve incomes for many
poor farmers make buying food more challenging for the poorest” (2016).
the argument that economic growth contributes to food security, Torero
(2014) argues that rather than economic growth contributing to food
security, it is food security that induces economic growth.
Actually, Torero persuasively argues that economic growth is only
sustainable if developed countries try to achieve food security as a base
for their citizens. In his empirical findings, Torero establishes that
“… a 10 percent increase in economic growth only reduces chronic
malnutrition by 6 percent” (2014). After establishing that there is no
linear correlation between economic growth and food security, Torero
asserts that this asymmetrical relationship between economic growth and
food security indicates that
economic growth by itself won’t resolve the problem of chronic
malnutrition but needs to be taken as one of the key variables in any food
security strategy (Torero, 2014).
study, therefore, draws on previous research and insights to develop an
eclectic framework that could drive or determine the relationship between
food insecurity and economic growth. Exploring the linkages between
economic growth and food security, the study attempts to find and
understand other eclectic perspectives that could have an impact on food
availability. Particularly for policy makers, finding and understanding
some of the cardinal factors that contribute to chronic food insecurity
could help them to design strategies to create the conditions necessary to
alleviate chronic food insecurity.
growth in less developed countries is highly dependent on food production.
To measure economic growth, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or the market
value of goods and services produced by a country in a given period of
time is used. While producing agricultural products, since less developed
countries are dependent on natural resources, less developed countries
contribute to resource scarcity, ecosystem degradation, and climatic
challenges. In order to assess the status of food security, the estimation
of GDP needs to integrate income distribution, investment in human
capital, non-marketable products, and other positive and negative
the concept of food security originated as a result of the international
global food crisis that occurred during the mid-1970s and 1980s. During
these decades, food security mainly focused on the status of the supply of
food availability and attempted
to incorporate the effect of price
stability with food security. A case in point is, among the food
insecurity that emerged globally, the famine, hunger and food crisis in
1974 contributed to the downfall of the Haile Selassie regime in Ethiopia.
In addition, the drought of 1984 during the authoritarian Derg
regime contributed to the death of more than one million and left many
a result of the famine that became rampant globally, the concept of food
security was elaborated by a number of scholars. For
example, while operationalizing food insecurity, the Food and Agricultural
Organization (FAO) focused on securing
access to food, necessary for an active, healthy life by the most vulnerable
people. Around, 1994, a broader perspective of food security was adopted
by the United Nations Development Program to include food security as a
necessary element of human rights. Starting
In 2001, the concept of food security was further expanded to include
food and nutrition status (food
availability, food access, food utilization) and stability
(vulnerability and resilience), and food security was expected to exist
“when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic
access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets their dietary
needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life” (FAO 1996 and
shown in Table 1, the operational definition of food security was designed
to include: 1) availability of
sufficient quantities of food of appropriate quality, mainly supplied
through domestic production at prices that the poor can afford,
2) access by households and individuals to adequate resources or
jobs and income that give poor people the means to
acquire appropriate foods
for a nutritious diet, and 3) utilization of food through adequate diet,
water sanitation, and health care (United States Department of
1: Four main Dimensions of Food Security
The EC-FAO Food Security Programme (2008).
“Food Security Information for action: Practical Guides.”
their argument on the human rights clause but stressing more on the
“Pro-poor growth” strategy, Dreze and Sen (1989), forcefully argue
that economic growth in itself is not sufficient enough to ensure
individual food security and nutrition.” Growth, of course can be very
helpful in achieving development, but this requires active
public policies to ensure that the fruits of economic growth are widely
shared, and also requires—and this is very important –making good use
of the public revenues generated by fast economic growth for social
services…” (Dreze and Sen, 2011).
explain the seeming paradoxical dilemma that exists between food security
needs and economic growth, routes by which this dilemma could be resolved,
along with other factors that contribute to hunger and food insecurity,
need to be explored in detail. As a result, food consumption in Ethiopia
is seen as a function of income distribution, inflation, population
growth, and supply of food production. In addition to the possible
linkages that exist between food security and economic growth, the
distinction between chronic and acute insecurity needs to be elaborated.
While chronic food insecurity is likely to originate because of a lack of
assets, acute food insecurity on the other hand, emanates from unusual
shocks, such as drought. Furthermore,
a combination of short-term and long term strategies is needed to form
policies to tackle food insecurity needs.
A) Income distribution:
Food security is to a great extent affected by economic growth and income
distribution. For example,
Timmer (2004) persuasively argues that “improved food security stems
directly from a set of government policies that integrates the food
economy into a development strategy that seeks rapid economic growth with
improved income distribution.” With the income distribution policies
that Timmer portrays, economic growth and food security mutually reinforce
each other, because poor countries in East and Southeast Asia have
addressed these steps concurrently for about two decades to increase the
production and distribution of food and have escaped from hunger (2004).
Timmer’s point of view, we could stress that though the Ethiopian
economy has performed strongly and the income gap between the lower and
upper households has been narrowing, then, the deplorable food insecurity
that Ethiopia’s poor have been facing for the centuries before the havoc
of El Nino, could be attributed to a substantial decline in the purchasing
power of the Ethiopian currency known as the birr.
As documented in the Pigou’s
wealth effect theory, a higher price level contributes to
lower real wealth thereby inducing to lower consumption spending (see
Mankiw, G. and Scarth, W, 2011). As stated by Durevall and Sjo (2012), the
Ethiopian Real Gross Domestic product has experienced strong economic
growth, for example from in 5.9% in 2000 to 7.5 % in 2011. Along with
higher economic growth, Ethiopia has been facing an overheated economy due
to inflation volatility. For example, the inflation rate in Ethiopia
increased from 0.3 percent in 2000 to 36 percent in 2011. Since the
financial global crisis in 2008, Ethiopia has been faced with an average
inflation rate of 17.65 percent from 2006 until 2016. Therefore the “…
High and volatile, inflation is a threat to good economic performance and
has negative effects on many of the poor” (Durevall and Sjo (2012).
After the 2008 global crisis and the soaring price of oil and food
items, inflation in Ethiopia has become rampant. At the peak of the global
food crisis, in July 2008, “…annual food price inflation surpassed 90
percent” (Durevall and Sjo, 2012).
As a result
of this unprecedented rise in inflation starting in 2006, in Ethiopia many
people, more particularly, those
with low incomes and retirees have lacked enough to buy the food needed
for survival (See Desta, 2014). As
stated by Durevall, D. Loening, abdJ.
Birru, Y, (2010), with the exception of Zimbabwe and some small
island economies that had the strongest acceleration in food price
inflation in Sub-Saharan Africa, Ethiopia had the strongest acceleration
in food price inflation.
A caveat needs to be added that though there is no consensus on the
causes of the rise in inflation, an empirical study by Desta (2014)
indicates that Ethiopia’s inflationary situation is the result of an
expansionary monetary policy, primarily due to large government
expenditures on infrastructure and budget deficits. Rising food prices led
to devaluations and feedback effects on consumer prices in general. At the
same time, it is possible to argue that government budget deficits caused
by an increase in large-scale capital projects and military spending might
also have contributed to the extreme inflationary conditions in Ethiopia.
Population Growth: Another dimension of food insecurity popularized by
Thomas Malthus that contributes to food insecurity is population growth.
The Malthusian “approach is focused on the (dis)equilibrium between
population and food. In order to maintain equilibrium,
the rate of growth of food availability should not be lower than
the rate of growth of the population” (Burchi and DeMuro (2012). Stated
differently, on the demand
side, the reason why a number of countries with the highest numbers of
people face food insecurity is because they have high fertility rates and
rapid population growth. Given this, it is possible to assert that an
increasing population growth rate has a substantial negative impact on
on the latest estimates, the current population of Ethiopia is
101,481, 000 and the annual rate
of growth rate is close to 2.53percent (Country meters, 2016). Given this
possible projection, the Ethiopian population would double in about 28
years and its effect on food security would be insurmountable. The density
of population impacts the productive capacity of Ethiopia and will
continue to affect the demand for food for decades to come. That
is, “population increase reduces landholdings further and places
intolerable stress on an already fragile natural resource
it is vital that Ethiopia’s demographic projections be incorporated in
the developmental plans of the country to help policy makers design
strategies to improve agricultural production and attempt to help Ethiopia
achieve greater food security (See for example, Population Action, 2015).
Sufficiency of Supply: As
stated by Torero (2014), the UN Food and Agriculture Organization
assume that high rates of malnutrition can lead to a loss in gross
domestic product (GDP) of as much as 4 to 5 percent per year. Therefore,
to achieve food security for its productive citizens, a nation needs to
increase agricultural production through research and innovative
technology. Furthermore, as a means of optimizing their food production,
developing countries must use drought –resistant crops and soils and
invest in rural infrastructure by building roads, irrigation, and storage
facilities (Pieters, Guariso, and Vandeplas, 2013).
attempted, the Ethiopian government needs to take further steps to amass
food stocks and create early warning systems to handle an unexpected
drought. For instance, in 2015-16, experts estimated that Ethiopia would
need up to $1.4 billion to cope with the El
Nino drought. However, much more was needed because the Ethiopian
Government only committed about $200 million and another $170 million was
delivered by philanthropic international communities or NGOs (Africaaid, 2016).
that the majority of Ethiopian households are engaged in agriculture and
live in rural areas, additional drivers of poverty reduction, more
particularly, those that encourage some type of structural transformation
of the Ethiopian agricultural system is worthwhile (2016). Without stable
and long lasting food security that contributes to physical and mental well-being,
the economic growth of Ethiopia cannot be sustained. Though food
production in Ethiopia is unpredictable, it is persuasively argued by
Torero (2014) that “strategically designed, food security is central to
both short and long-term economic growth.”
agreement with the argument that agriculture is the driving force for the
economy and a means of ensuring household food security, the Ethiopian
Government initiated Agriculture Development Led Industrialization (ADLI)
in 1994. The components of
ADLI included: a) input provision to peasants, b) promotion of small-scale
irrigation, c) improved livestock herds, d) environmental protection and
natural resource management, e) grain marketing efficiency, e) women’s
participation in agriculture, and f) expanding rural and feeder roads
(Devereux, 2000). However, since the ADLI was very low in details, it was
never fully implemented (Rahmato, 1994).
has become debatable whether those who participated in the programs were:
1) poor and chronically food insecure, 2)
forced to resettle in other areas, 3) getting sufficient resources
and wages in exchange for their services, and 4) productive and
sustainable. Since 2003, the
Ethiopian Government in close collaboration with development partners
(i.e., United Nations organizations such as the office for the
coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, NGOs, the World Bank, International
Monetary Fund (IMF), US international aid Program, etc.), to prepare a new
Coalition for food Security in Ethiopia.
foreign donated food security assistance package included providing fertile
farm lands to settlers, seed, oxen, hand tools, access to clean water,
heath facilities, feeder roads and other capacity building facilities. The
food Security program (FSP) was targeted to give assistance to more than
6million beneficiaries located in 319 chronically food insecure districts
(woredas).As outlined by the
World Health Organization (WHO), the most vital components of the Food
Security Program (FSP) resettlement programs in Ethiopia include: 1)
Productive Safety Net Program (PSNP), 2) Household Asset Building Program
(HABP), and 3) Complimentary Community Investment (CCI).
Productive Safety Net Program (PSNP): Established in
2005, the Productive Safety Net Program (PSNP) is “one of the largest
safety net programs in the world” (USAID, 2016). It was established by
the Ethiopian Government to build the resilience capacity of chronically
food insecure communities to protect them from shocks and climate changes
and to give assistance to food-insecure households for six months of the
year for up to five years, to prevent depletion of resources in farm
activities such as crops and livestock at the household level (i.e., the
beneficiaries were chronically food-insecure households). More
specifically, in addition to direct sustenance given to the elderly, the
disabled (handicapped), sick, pregnant women etc. the chronically food-
insecure able-bodied participants were required to engage in labor
intensive public works projects (such as water harvesting, irrigation,
feeder roads) in-exchange for food-for-work programs or cash-for-work,
possibly financed by monetizing food aid (Devereux,
Household Asset Building Program (HABP): Officially it
was started in June 2013 by the Ethiopian Government, and the USAID
Ethiopia mission in collaboration with nine other donor partners (USAID,
2016). Its objectives were to
improve natural resources and food security by providing inputs to
increase livestock and crop production, and by establishing training and
market information for food insecure households.
Complimentary Community Investment program (CCI):
This program was mainly tailored to create community assets and
complement household investment through ecosystem rehabilitation
strategies. Among other things, such programs included soil and water
management, plant nutrient generation and recycling, planting drought and
pest resistant crops etc.
donors who gave food to Ethiopia may have had gracious intentions.
However, it has become debatable whether the participants were actually
chronically food insecure, or were getting sufficient resources and wages
in exchange for their services. Therefore, Ethiopia, as an aid recipient
country, needs to be aware that external sources of food donations at
times can lead to disruption of the local food market and might even
become a disincentive by discouraging local farmers from attempting to
produce their crops and to store the excess for bad seasons. As stated by
Devereux (2000), “…while safety nets risk perpetuating dependency on
two levels: beneficiaries will remain trapped in unviable livelihoods and
be dependent on relief indefinitely, and governments and donors will have
little incentive to invest in agriculture and other sectors.” Moreover,
unlike the current top-down methods that are used to design safety net
programs for chronically food insecure peasants, it would be better to use
a bottom-up strategy because the starving poor people “…know best for
themselves what they need, and will be motivated most thoroughly to
productive effort if they participate actively in decisions regarding
their development” (Pausewang, S. et al, 1990).
causal linkage between food security and economic growth is not yet fully
resolved. That is, whether
food security contributes to economic growth or economic growth induces
food security or whether there is a two-way causal relationship between
the two variables is not yet causally ascertained. However, a review of
existing studies seems to ascertain that food insecurity in Ethiopia is
not due to the lack of economic growth and income distribution. Rather it
seems to be originating because Ethiopia has failed to properly ground
itself with the necessary financial infrastructure to tackle the increase
in inflation, resulting from an excess in the money supply. The sustained
budget deficits, increase in population, and not stocking food production
(supply side), necessary during favorable seasons as a means of mitigating
of unanticipated natural disasters during unfavorable
seasons, are not addressed sufficiently.
not fully borne out by rigorous empirical studies, proponents of a neoliberalism
trade theory propagate the idea that an increase in trade and decrease in
government regulations, would decrease food insecurity and alleviate rural
poverty. Without designing
adequate methods for solving the food crisis, it is sad that this type of
unwarranted assumption has been hijacking the global food supply.
Taking these assumptions for granted, it is an irony to notice that
poor countries are faced with the dilemma of whether they should deny
their citizens their fundamental right to eat or rather concentrate on
exporting their products to accumulate foreign exchanges, essential for
importing unnecessary gadgets.
sustain food security in tandem with economic growth, Ethiopian policy
makers need to focus on well-orchestrated defensive stabilization policies
such as making food accessible or establishing food stocks as a means of
mitigating the increase in food prices or establishing food entitlementto
tackle food hunger. As suggested by Dreze and Sen (2011), governments
could save the poor from vulnerability to food insecurity arising from
negative shocks or resulting from the disjuncture between soaring prices
and the availability of food items. Based on Newbery and Stiglitz’s
(1979) theory that focuses on the high cost of national price
stabilization schemes, Anderson and Roumasset, (1996) empirically
demonstrate that to tackle food insecurity,
government efforts need to be tailored to: a) enhancing private
markets, b) increasing the availability of food products for the poor
through social services (i.e., food, health, education etc), c) giving
entitlements through transfers , d)
using intensive technology-based methods that could propel improvements in
productivity, e) improving transportation, enforcing standards and
measures in intensive grain transactions, and f) implementing
small-scale storage facilities.
must be stressed that property rights and land tenure might influence the
food security status at the household level. Given that the Ethiopian
government has full ownership of the country’s land, it has achieved
socially equitable outcomes because land in rural Ethiopia is distributed
fairly. However, the radical egalitarian measures of distributing land in
rural Ethiopia has “…generated insecurity practiced by fears of
further redistribution and a consequent unwillingness to invest effort in
measures to improve soil conservation and enhance fertility’ (Quan,
needs to be underlined here that in patriarchal Ethiopia, since women by
and large are excluded from owning land, reforming the use and ownership
of land by women is vital in Ethiopia (Pieters, Guariso, and
Vandeplas2013). Therefore, given the important role of women in Africa’s
agricultural sector and “… in all the different dimensions of food and
nutrition security, policies that support and stimulate productive
activities of women in general, especially in agriculture, have great
potential in terms of improving food security.”
In addition, as stated by Hull (2009), growth in the agricultural
sector of the economy cannot be translated into benefits for the poor
because benefiting the poor needs an identification of the location of the
poor. If culturally
acceptable, people who are volunteering to move to settlements in
ethnically sensitive regions, the needs of food security in Ethiopia could
be accomplished by designing the mobility of the poor across sectors of
the economy. However, not to
repeat the mistakes of the Derg, the basic infrastructures need to be in
place before the chronically food insecure are encouraged to move.
Furthermore, in order to participate in productive and sustainable
food production activities, participation in the programs needs to be for
chronically food insecure poor and who are given sufficient resources and
wages (instead of food for work) in
exchange for their services.
various donors with gracious intentions need to be appreciated for their
humanity-based food donations. However, as an aid recipient country,
Ethiopian policy-makers, need to be aware that external sources of food
donations at times can lead to disruption of local food markets and might
even become a disincentive. They might even discourage local farmers from
attempting to produce their crops and to store the excess from good
periods for seasons of emergency.
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