Agriculture is critically important to the livelihood of the Ethiopian people. Many people grow their own food and the vast majority of jobs are in agriculture. It is also the largest contributor to the country’s economy, making up about half of the country’s GDP.
Coffee is the biggest crop produced, with about one quarter of Ethiopians working in the coffee sector. Coffee is consumed within the nation and is a major export. Because coffee is the biggest agricultural export, droughts are an economic threat as well as devastating for the poorest of the poor.
Other crops include cereals, oilseeds, pulses, vegetables, and sugarcane. Flowers and cotton are grown and exported. Grains are very important crops, especially teff, which is used to make injera. Wheat, barley, millet, sorghum, and corn are grown as well, depending on elevation.
Oilseeds are very important to orthodox Christians in Ethiopia because they cannot eat fat made from animals on fasting days. They grow the Niger seed, sesame seeds, and flax seeds, as well as several other oilseeds.
Agriculture includes raising livestock but most livestock is not exported or sold; people raise livestock to provide themselves with meat and milk. Livestock includes cattle, goats, sheep, donkeys, camels, horses, mules, and poultry. Leather, leather goods, and hides are manufactured on a relatively small scale for export.
Developing its agriculture sector is one way Ethiopia can improve its economy and the living conditions of the poor. But there are many challenges to doing this, especially frequent droughts. When agricultural production drops due to drought, famine occurs. We saw this in the 1980s and are seeing it again in 2016.
The Afar and Ethiopian Somalia Regions is particularly susceptible to drought. That’s why TEA partners with Support for Sustainable Development in Ethiopia to implement irrigation-based, integrated development projects. These developments allow people to produce crops, vegetables, and fruits so they have food security and can sell the excess. It is exciting to see the impact sustainable agriculture can have!