Smallholder Farmers Need Sincere Policies for a Change

The agricultural sector has always been labelled as the backbone of the economy for the last three successive regimes in Ethiopia, albeit being denied of the deserving attention. Despite employing close to three-fourths of the country’s workforce, the sector has been at the receiving end of disservice by the political elite who consistently claim to have modernized it. The EPRDF administration has acknowledged that the agricultural sector is the launching pad to industrialization.

In fact, the revolutionary democrats, now replaced by the more liberal Prosperity Party, had even introduced an agricultural development led industrialization policy, a move praised by many at the time. But that did not significantly alter the sector and was later overshadowed, in terms of government prioritization, by foreign direct investment and manufacturing.

Meanwhile, with incentives provisioned to foreign investors instead of small-holder farmers, the rural economy has been kept in the shadows. With inheritance and gifting the only means of accessing land, fragmentation has become widespread. The marginal productivity of farmers has drastically dwindled alongside rapid population increases. The rapid economic growth of the past fifteen years, fuelled by government infrastructure expenditure, did not extend the positive effect seen in urban centres to rural communities.

Acute cases of fragmentation and the absence of other means of accessing land has led landlessness to be commonplace throughout the country. The youth in rural areas have thus fallen victim to joblessness. Over the past decade, the average landholding size of farmers has declined from two hectares to just 0.25 hectares, as data obtained from the Ministry of Agriculture indicates. The sharp surge in population is trimming down the size of small-holders’ farms as communities have to divide their farmlands to accommodate demanding youth.

Such realities have led many to be food insecure, looking to migration as the only way out. Beyond a manifestation of poverty, landlessness is prevailingly common amongst households led by youth and women, and remains a cause and feature of insecurity, indebtedness, and powerlessness of the majority of rural households. Thus, farmers are faced with no choice but to migrate to urban towns and cities seeking a better income.

Whether jobless in rural areas or unemployed in urban centres, the youth are the primary victims of landlessness and have become a threat to the political stability of the country. The demographic has become a target and victim of elites vying for political power through unlawful means. It’s about time policymakers understand the seriousness of landlessness and its diverse impacts on society.

Overconcentration of farmers in highland areas is among the factors of landlessness in Ethiopia. That is indeed a true assertion easy to understand considering only 13.7 million hectares of land is cultivated from 57 million hectares of land believed to be arable. A closer look reveals that much of Ethiopia’s lowlands, which have the potential to make the country self-sufficient and become a source of income for many, remain idle and uncultivated.

Employing sincerity is expected from the current government when dealing with domestic farmers so that they can till the large portions of uncultivated arable land, access finance for agricultural inputs, and considerably raise their productivity. Tapping into the millennia-old local knowledge of domestic farmers and setting up an environment that evokes their creativity in problem solving should also be adopted as the way forward.

On the other hand, resources need to be diverted from unsuccessful schemes such as loans, tax holidays, and duty-free imports for foreign investors along with the costly construction of industrial parks that are not well integrated with the agricultural sector.EBR

9th Year • Feb.16 – Mar.15 2020 • No. 83

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