Ethiopia 2000 (PART I):Role of Basic Technology in Supporting Social and Economic Development

Samuel K. Kassegne

San Diego, California

1. Introduction:

A turn of a century provides a yardstick, albeit artificial one, for measuring the progress of a country and assessing its opportunities and challenges for relevance in an increasingly complex and competitive global economy. A comprehensive analysis of any given country's prospect for progress, or lack of it, requires a detailed investigation from the perspectives of economic, political and social issues.

In these short papers, however, an attempt will be made to address only the challenges Ethiopia faces in catching up with the global technological advances both in basic and high-tech areas as the 21-st century fast approaches. Part I will address the issues of basic technology while Part II will focus on emerging and high technologies.

However, At this particular time of Ethiopia's History, it is important to mention that a discussion on the opportunities basic and high-technologies provide for a meaningful development is relevant and appropriate only if there is an inherent assumption that there is a stable political atmosphere and proper and fair governance without which any attempt to progress will be futile. It is only when the urgent issues of fair governance, peace and stability and national consensus on peaceful coexistence are addressed that the more fundamental and common issue of development could be addressed.

2. Basic Technology

The reasons that have contributed to the backwardness of the country and its people are numerous and complex. In the following discussion, we will address only the issues of an archaic state of agricultural system and a very inadequate and under-developed infrastructure in basic industry that have characterized the backwardness of the country and what needs to be done to help the country make substantial progress in these areas. Particular emphasis will be given to the role of basic sciences and technology in the areas of agricultural development, food security, environmental protection, land and water resources, energy generation and transportation.

2.1. Agro-Economic Development

Since more than 80% of Ethiopians live in the rural areas, any meaningful vision for economic and technological transformation of the country has to have the interest of this major segment of the society in mind. The rural economy which is based on agriculture accounts for 40% of the GDP, 80% of the exports and 80% of the labor in Ethiopia [World Bank, 1992]. Particular areas that need special attention are agriculture, education, housing, power and transportation [Ejigou Demissie, 1994].

The most pressing economic issue that Ethiopia faces today is food security, i.e., its ability to provide its citizens of almost 57 million people adequate and a guaranteed source of food. This is an issue that needs to be addressed with urgency and vision for short and long-term plans of action. Since it is a drastic improvement in the agricultural sector of the economy that can effectively provide "food security", an attempt will be made below to show how basic technology could be used and has been used to bring about fundamental changes in this sector.

For the past 20-30 years, there have been numerous attempts to apply basic technology and research to address the immense problems rural Ethiopia faces. While the Green Revolution of the 60's and 70's had dramatic effects in South East Asian countries enabling them to be net exporters of food grains, it had only very limited success in Ethiopia due to various complex reasons. It has, nevertheless, some bright spots particularly in such areas as low-level technology which have resulted in tools that increase production in the small farms where almost all Ethiopian farmers work on. While a discussion on most of these innovations is outside the scope of this paper, we shall, however, look at the most promising ones.

One such example of a very promising low-end tool is the "broad-bed maker", a plough designed jointly by ILCA (International Livestock Center for Africa), Alemaya Agricultural University, and the Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture. This plough is part of a carefully assembled package that blends new measures with traditional techniques [Michael Gross, 1994]. Much of the farmland in Ethiopia consists of clay soil called Vertisol that becomes waterlogged in times of rain and dries up to a hard, cracking mass that is very difficult to plough. What this new tool does is help the farmers make raised broad-beds that are 80 cms wide and surrounded by furrows that drain the excess moisture that causes the soil to waterlog. This enables the farmers to start planting as early as June during the Belg rainy season instead of waiting for September, the traditional planting season right after the end of the Kremt rains. Tests since the early 80's have demonstrated an increase in production varying from a modest 30% up to a dramatic 300% depending on how waterlogged the tract of land is. In one recent study in the watershed of Ginchy, west of Addis Ababa, involving about 60 farmers, a yield of almost 2 tonnes/hectare was reported for wheat. The average yield on traditionally ploughed fields is about 700 kilos/hectare only.

Another recent low-level technology that could be cited as a possible example in the application of basic science and technology to the benefit of Ethiopia's farmers is a project that involves the adoption of cross-breed cows for both milk production and as draught animals [Michael Gross, 1994]. This project which began in 1989 is jointly carried out by the Ethiopia's Institute of Agricultural Research (IAR) and ILCA. Traditionally only oxen have been used for ploughing and threshing which take place only two months of the year while for the remaining part of the year the farmers get nothing from their oxen. On the other hand, if the right breed of cows are used for ploughing, they will still be available for the remaining 10 months of the year producing milk which supplement the diet and income of farmers. The researchers hoped to sell as many as 500 of these cross-bred cows in the years 1993 and 1994 alone. So far the results from the field have also been encouraging. The crossbreed cows are usually larger than the local ones and have been observed to be as strong as the native oxen. Their milk production was also observed to be significant both during the ploughing and non-ploughing seasons.

The work of an the Ethiopian scientist, Professor Tilahun Yilma, who recently started field tests for a vaccine he developed for the biggest cattle killer of the country, namely cattle plague (rinderpest) is also a very good example of how basic science and technology could help development in rural Ethiopia [M. Fitzgerald, 1994]. The country has Africa's largest cattle population. Next to land, cattle are the most important assets for millions of Ethiopian farmers. The magnitude of the damage done by rinderpest on cattle could be best illustrated by the fact that almost 90% Ethiopia's cattle were wiped out by this disease in the years following the Italian invasion of 1888 which incidentally introduced the disease through three infected cattle. Subsequently 60% of Ethiopia's population, having lost its means of ploughing and vital source of food, starved to death in what has now come to be called the years of "ye-kebt Ilqit". A recent outbreak of the plague in the early 80's in the Sahel region and parts of Ethiopia resulted in a loss of cattle worth $400 million [M. Fitzgerald, 1994]. This vaccine could help eradicate this plague thereby helping the farmers keep their cattle which are critical to farming and which supplement the diet and income of these farmers.

Drought and famine are the most devastating natural disasters that have caused havoc in the nation quite periodically. Prediction of famine is an important step in the long fight for food sufficiency. Technology in the form of building computer models to monitor demand and supply in food production has also recently found use. Notwithstanding the complexities of Ethiopian rural economy, a computer model was recently developed by nutritionists to monitor food demand and supply in the country-side. The model uses raw data like how families get their food, i.e., through farming, selling livestock or firewood, or casual labor and the resources farmers have to fall back on in hard times such as livestock and cash as its input. The system then models the impact of change such as shortfall in food production to come up with an estimate of the percentage of population with deficit which will be used to arrange for food delivery in the particular affected areas [Michael Gross, 1994].

2.2. Population Growth and Food Production

The phenomenal population growth of the country currently put at 3.4% and with every indication of a continued rise in the years ahead will put an additional massive pressure on the land and its resources. The population is expected to reach a staggering 133 million by the year 2025 doubling every 22.29 years [UN Population Division, 94]. The fertility rate is almost 7 children per women.

In the mean time, food production in the country had dropped down to as much as -2.5 to -4.0% in much of the 80's. There have been some sporadic improvements in that area in the years between early parts of 1989 and 1992 mainly due to favorable weather. However, if current trends continue, the food production rate will still hover in the negative region. Another indicator commonly called the food production per capita index gives a more worrisome picture. By 1991, there was a drastic decline of 20% in the food production per capita from the figures of 1979/81 [World bank, 1990].

Unless some kind of mechanism is found urgently to address this problem whereby the population growth is stabilized or at least is in a reasonable par with the growth in food production in the country, there is a reasonable indication that this particular problem alone could cause massive social and economic disasters in the early part of the next century. So far it has been the massive continuous aid from donor countries and agencies that has somehow filled in the gap. The amount of food the country has needed to fill this gap consistently since the early 1980's has averaged almost 10% of the total food demand in the country. For example the country had to depend on a donation of food grains amounting to 1.3 Million metric tons in 1994 alone [UN Emergency Unit for Ethiopia, 1994].

This dependence on foreign-aid has a negative effect on Ethiopia's development. Government officials and policy makers have developed a habit of relying on foreign assistance and short-term relief efforts instead of addressing the real issues of land distribution and food security. In some geographic areas in Ethiopia, farmers are also reportedly cutting down on their farming efforts apparently lured by free hand-outs from foreign aid [Mesfin Wolde Mariam, 1994]. This lack of a long-term vision was also mentioned in a recent symposium in Addis Ababa that commemorated the "10-th Anniversary" of the Great Famine of 1984-1985. The final statement released by participants of the symposium pointed out that "....there is also today a greater inclination on the part of the donor community to fund relief programs and humanitarian intervention than genuine long-term development" [Inter-Africa Group, 1995].

2.3. Environmental Degradation

This is another serious problem which is further reducing the potentials of the arable land in the country. Deforestation, erosion, overgrazing, cultivation of slopes not suited to agriculture have now cut down the size of the arable lands drastically. The area of the country that was covered by forests was as much as 70% by the turn of the century. Now it is only a mere 3% most of it concentrated in south western and western parts of Ethiopia.

Conservation works such as building terraces and planting trees are the natural solutions to this problem. However, unless the land tenure system guarantees the peasants ownership of their land and the government has a committed long-term interest in these conservation measures, the on- going trend of severe environmental degradation will accelerate. Farmers are simply discouraged from taking such long-term efforts as afforestation and conservation unless they own the land and they foresee direct benefits relevant to their needs. This is also supported by collected data in the 80's [FAO, 1993]. The estimated forest covered area in the country dropped from 551,000 hectares in 1980 down to 165,100 in 1990 even though there was a significant reforestation effort during the same period.

2.4. Water Resources and Power Generation (Hydroelectric)

The highlands of Ethiopia have been rightly called the Water Tables of the Horn of Africa. Out of the more than 7 major rivers, only one, the Awash river, has been used productively. The Blue Nile which provides up to 87% of the total water volume of proper Nile has been of almost negligible use in Ethiopia so far.

Practically all the water for agriculture in the country is obtained from the rains. Whereas failure of the rains, particularly for consecutive seasons, result in failure of crops and widespread famine, the timely arrival of the rains itself is not a guarantee for a good harvest year. Most of the rainfall in Ethiopia's farmlands in the highlands is lost as rapid run-off resulting in very little percolation of the precipitation to the ground. This massive loss of precipitation to run-offs is part of the reason why Ethiopian farmers depend on the two rainy seasons, namely the Belg rains which soften the ground in preparation for ploughing and the Kremt rains which provide the moisture for the crops. The failure of the Belg rains or even their late arrival by weeks is a cause for alarm for the farmers. Therefore, there is a need for a systematic conservation and proper usage of the annual rainfall which forms the only source of precipitation for the majority of the country's farmers.

One of the methods for an efficient utilization of the nation's water-resource is building a series of small dams (preferably earth-dams for their low-cost and low-maintenance) in the watersheds in the highlands which feed most of the big rivers. A number of experimental earth-dams have been built in a number of places in the country in the 80's. Even though research that documents the success of these dams is not readily available, they provide a very economical, practical, geo-politically and environmentally acceptable way of conserving the country's water-resources. The water from these low-cost, low-maintenance dams could be available for the farmers throughout the year and periods of little or no rains for irrigation and other purposes. The continuous availability of water from such dams will also encourage and enable farmers to plant two or three rounds of crops through the year.

The country has also a formidable potential for hydro-electric power generation. Some estimates indicated that the total potential could be as much as l43 billion kilowatts. The main sources of this potential are the Blue Nile (79.9 billion kilowatts), the Wabi Shebele (2l.6 billion kilowatts), and the Omo (l6.l billion kilowatts). The remaining 25.9 billion kilowatts come from rivers such as the Tekeze, Awash, Baro, and Genale. [World Bank, 1992]

By 1987, only about 9 percent of the total population was using electricity. Providing the remaining 91 percent of the population with electricity is a task that requires tremendous amount of resources and commitment. However, there is no question on the magnitude of economic, social and technological advancement that it could bring. The country's hydro-electric power generation potential is not only enough to cover domestic demand but also could be exported to neighboring countries with a good potential of bringing a significant amount of foreign currency.

2.5. Transportation:

The lack of all-weather roads and the inaccessibility of the major segment of the population overwhelmingly hampers any attempt to bring economic, social or technological progress to the country.

By 1993, there were only a total of 24,127 kilometers of highway with paved roads constituting only 3289 kilometers in the whole country. Trains carry a very small part of the freight.

Possible recommendations for improving the nation's transportation backwardness are:

* increasing the participation of local economic, social and political units in financing, building and managing feeder and all-weather roads. The case of the self-help organizations that have been involved in building such kind of transportation infrastructure for more than two decades in the Gurage regions of central Ethiopia provide a good example. These region has now managed to put in a modestly extensive road system with little or no government assistance and interference.

* improving the Addis-Djibouti railway by introducing broad-gauge rails that carry more freight and passenger and travel faster. This has been on the studies for a very long time and was approved a couple of years ago after the issue of financing and ownership was tentatively settled with the French government whose ownership will expire in a decade or so.

* Re-visiting the long-since shelved plans to build railways to the country's most important agricultural regions such as the fertile regions of Jimma and Metekel in Gojjam. Since approximately 25 percent of Ethiopia's population depended directly or indirectly on coffee for its livelihood [UN Emergency Unit for Ethiopia, 1994], providing the coffee growing regions of the country with a reliable and efficient transportation will have a tremendous amount of impact in stimulating the local economy.

The expansion of all-weather roads throughout the country will also help the integration of not only the economies of the different geographic regions of the nation but also will also help in assimilating the different ethnic and cultural entities that haven't been part of the main-stream so far.

3. Conclusion

In this paper an attempt has been made to show that, with regard to making meaningful economic developments, the country is at cross-roads as the 21-st approaches fast. Both governmental bodies and international agencies involved in development planning and execution need to recognize the fact that basic and urgent issues such as peace, stability and fair governance are vital and need to be addressed before any meaningful steps are taken to help the country make progress.

Once these issues are addressed, the country could then, truthfully, deal with issues that are very crucial for the revival of its economy such as food security, land ownership by farmers and building infrastructure. The country will have a fair shot in making significant development in the fundamental sectors of its economy, particularly in agriculture, if policies that support basic technology are formulated. The government also needs to concentrate in setting long-term strategic plans for the revival of the economy by lessening its grip and encouraging market-driven competition.

If on the other hand, the country fails to address the immediate issues it is facing today, it will continue to have no credible chances of integrating with the world economy. Moreover, the pressures of a changing demography, unstabilized astronomical population growth, environmental degradation will bring misery in the years to come. The massive "aid" that comes from oversees donor governments and agencies will only serve to prolong the misery that arises from the inability of the country to address its most pressing fundamental problems.

4. References

1. Mesfin Wolde Mariam, "ItyoPya keyet wedEt? (Ethiopia From Where to Where?)", (in Amharic), GuramaylE Publishers, Addis Ababa, 1994.

2. Michael Cross, "Ten Years After the Famine", New Scientist, November 5, 1994, pp 25-30.

3. UN Emergency Unit for Ethiopia, "Annual Report", Addis Ababa, 1994.

4. M. Fitzgerald, "Man With a Mission", New Scientist, June 18, 1994, pp 30-33.

5. Ejigou Demissie, "Economic Policies of the TG and their Consequences for Ethiopia", Ethiopian Register, April 1994, pp. 21-24.

6. FAO, "Ethiopia: Assistance to Land Use Planning, Technical Report 3", 1993, also available on the World-Wide Web, .

7. World Bank, "Country Report: Ethiopia", 1992, also available on the Home Page of the Library of Congress on the World-Wide Web, "Ethiopia: A Country Study" edited by Federal Research Division of Library of Congress, .

8. World Bank, "World Development Report", Oxford University Press, 1990

9. Inter-Africa Group, "The Addis Ababa Statement on Famine", March 18, 1995, also available on the World-Wide Web,