Ethiopia has been a priority for Biovision since 2001 and it supports various projects in the country, focussing in particular on the introduction of ecological methods to promote health and sustainable agriculture and expand the sustainable use of land. Biovision works with local partners and the local office of icipe in Addis Abeba.
In 2019, Ethiopia had a population of over 108 million and after Nigeria is most populated country in Africa. The population is currently growing at 2.6%, which is roughly in line with the African average. The annual increase is about 3 million people. In total, 59 % of people are under 24 years of age and about 20% of the population lives in towns and cities. As a result of the widespread rural exodus, this group is increasing annually by 4.9% – significantly faster than the country’s average.
The Human Development Index of UNDP, the United Nations Development Programme, which determines prosperity on the basis of health, education and income, ranks Ethiopia 173 out of 189. Average life expectancy is just over 67.5 years of age and child mortality per number of live births is 35.8 / 1000.
Despite progress in healthcare, its provision - particularly in rural areas - remains inadequate. Many people suffer from frequent bouts of diarrhoea caused by the parlous state of the sanitary conditions and for children this is the main cause of death. Only half of the country’s rural population has access to clean water and only 28% to sanitary facilities. In addition, diseases such as malaria, hepatitis, meningitis, schistosomiasis and AIDS are widespread, although the percentage of HIV infections is considerably lower than in other East African countries such as Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.
A total of 52% of those over 15 years of age are able to read and write and the rate although still relatively low, has significantly increased since the end of the military dictatorship in the 1900s. In 1994, only 3 million children attended primary school whereas in 2008, it had increased to 15 million.
With a land area of 1,104,300 sq. km, Ethiopia is almost 27 times the size of Switzerland. Since Eritrea gained its independence in 1993, Ethiopia has been landlocked and so is completely cut off from the Red Sea. Ethiopia has the highest population of all the landlocked countries in the world. About one-tenth of the country is made up of lakes, marshland and extensive river systems that rise in the upland areas. This includes the Blue Nile, which is the main source of water for the world’s longest river. The west and central eastern parts of the country are dominated by high plateaus, including Africa’s largest upland plateau. This is dissected by the East African Rift System that runs from the Kenyan border in the south west towards the north east. At the Eritrean end, the funnel-shaped rift broadens into a lowland plain that at its lowest point is 116 metres below sea level.
The fracture zone along the Ethiopian Rift has active volcanoes and numerous lakes. In the North East, there is the Danakil Depression, one of the most hostile deserts in the world. Also typical of the landscape are the steep cliffs that in many places form the edge of the high plateaus, particularly in the west on the border with Sudan and around the deep clefts formed by the great rivers. In addition to the deserts and semi-deserts in the East and the mountains in the north where peaks exceed 4,000 metres, the landscape is dominated by an extensive area of wet and dry savannahs. The climate varies significantly from region to region depending upon the altitude. The average annual temperature in the mountainous parts of the upland plateaus is only 16 degrees Celsius but in the tropical, hot plains it can reach 27 degrees.
A century ago, 40% of Ethiopia was covered by forests. However, decades of clearance to create extra land for agriculture and provide wood for fuel have decimated the forest cover. Today, only tiny amounts remain. Partly as a result of this deforestation, the rural population in particular suffers the effects of regular droughts and flooding: The associated erosion is seriously reducing soil fertility and exacerbating the destruction.
As a result of the structural problems, many small-scale farmers fail to produce enough food to feed their families throughout the year. Millions of people are dependent upon food aid to tide them over during periods of shortages. In normal years, international development aid covers some 10% of food requirements but in periods of crises this rises to 25%. In drought-prone Siraro, the project "Food security in rural Ethiopia" supported by Biovision is helping small-scale farmers – particularly women - improve the food security of their families by encouraging more sustainable land use.
Ethiopia’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has more than quadrupled since 2010. However, measured against a population of 108 million, its purchasing power remains modest - at just USD 75 billion in 2019. With annual growth rates of 11% or more, partly driven by the rapid growth of government infrastructure projects, average incomes have also increased from USD 160 to953 USD per person per year. Despite this, Ethiopia remains one of the poorest countries in the world. The World Bank has calculated that 24 % of the population were living below the general poverty line in 2015.
More than 70% of the working population are employed in agriculture and in 2017 this sector accounted for almost 36% of GDP (https://www.cia.gov). In addition to farming by settled families, whose small plots often only produce enough food for their own needs, both shifting cultivation and nomadic livestock farming are also widespread. Farming households have to cope, in particular with irregular rainfall and increasing soil degradation. All land is state-owned and so farmers do not normally have long-term exploitation rights. With food often in short supply, this situation exacerbates conflicts associated with the use of land, particularly during periods of drought.
The Ethiopian government has produced a development plan designed to achieve significant increases in rural incomes: Under the plan, small-scale farmers are being encouraged to expand their range of produce. In addition, access to markets will be improved and farmers – including the foreign investors - will be encouraged to grow produce for export. In so doing, the government hopes to reduce poverty in rural areas and strengthen domestic industry. At present, the latter consists primarily of the processing of agricultural produce and leather and only accounts for just over 22% to GDP. In addition, it is planned to expand hydroelectric power.
The service sector contributes almost 42% to GPD; it consists primarily of the retail sector, public administration and banking and insurance – this sector is only accessible to Ethiopian investors.
For years, the serious trade deficit combined with low foreign exchange reserves has made the country’s economy vulnerable to external volatility. Exports of coffee, oilseeds, gold, leather goods and livestock totalled USD 3.4 billion whereas imports amounted to USD 16 billion. Ethiopia’s main trading partners are China, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and France. They supply it primarily with chemicals, oil products, machinery, motor vehicles and cereals.
Following the change of government in the early 1990s, the Ethiopian government has started to move away from the previous socialist planned economy and introduced elements of a more liberal economic system. However, the concept of a state-run economy is still very much entrenched in daily life. For example, the constitution prohibits private ownership of land; the government controls state monopolies and corporations with close links to political parties and issues regulations in order to exert a controlling influence on the rest of the economy.
Ethiopia is the oldest country in Africa still in existence. Despite centuries of conflict with European powers, the ancient Empire – with the exception of a short period of occupation by Fascist Italy – was never colonised. The effects of this independence are still clear today and the many ethnic groups and religions have a common identity and live relatively peacefully together.
Following the overthrow of the military dictatorship under Major Mengistu, the new constitution approved in 1995 ushered in a democratic federation. Regional states are divided largely on ethnic and linguistic boundaries (http://liportal.giz.de). The federal structure and the introduction of regional languages in the administration and schools have strengthened the self-confidence of the ethnic groups that were previously subject to central control. The right of the various ethnic groups to self-determination is also anchored in the constitution as is the separation of state and religion. The main religious denominations are Orthodox Christians and Muslims - predominantly Sunni – who together make up more than 75%. Their comparatively peaceful co-existence is increasingly threatened by the extensive missionary work of the Christian Pentecostal Churches from the US and the growing influence of Muslim groups from abroad.
Since the end of the military regime in 1991, political power in the country has rested with the EPRDF, a coalition consisting of four formally equal parties. However, the TPLF, who come from the Tigre region, very much dominates. This dominance leads repeatedly to tension between it and other ethnic groups. Although human rights have significantly improved compared with the Mengistu regime, the government still pursues a very autocratic model of governance and the situation with regard to democratic rights and freedom of the press remains critical. Corruption is widespread both in government circles and in the judiciary.
Ethiopia’s stability is under particular threat from the conflicts and wars in neighbouring countries and the resultant influx of refugees. The country has accepted hundreds of thousands of refugees, particularly from South Sudan and Somalia, higher than any other country in Africa.
Another area of tension in Ethiopian foreign policy is its relationship with its eastern neighbour Eritrea with whom it fought a wasteful border war between 1998 and 2000 that resulted in ten thousand deaths on the two sides. The conflict ended 2019 officially but reminds critical.