Food security.

November 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

I am working on my thesis which deals with land rights and reform in Ethiopia.  Ethiopia has a long history of government-controlled land distribution which continues today.  The administration says that they want poor farmers to always have access to land, so they take it off the free market and distribute to those who make a living from the land.  At face value, this sounds good.  But there are several problems,including

  • diminishing availability of land as the population grows
  • lack of incentive for farm households to work off-farm (resulting in a sluggish economy and stagnant rural development)
  • disempowerment of women
  • cash-poor farmers without resources to invest in technology, seeds, fertilizers, etc.

There’s been quite a bit of research around if Ethiopian land tenure policies result in poor agricultural productivity, and there doesn’t seem to be much evidence to support that.  However, something I’ve been exploring lately has been if these policies play a role in the eight famines that have ravaged Ethiopia in the last 26 years (my lifetime).  Food insecurity is a major concern in this nation, where 82 percent of the population live on less than a dollar a day.

My advisor is hesitant to let me pursue this, because he doesn’t think I’ll be able to quantify “food security” with empirical data.  So I’m looking into that.  I’m hoping that I can extract some data from an extremely in-depth Ethiopian household survey the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) has conducted over a period of years.  I’d like to see how farmers are feeding they’re families.  My suspicion is that they are barely getting by.

And I’ve been wondering: how do you quantify food security?  The U.N. has several different definitions of food security, such as access to enough dietary sources of energy, a high percentage of normal-weight children, and availability of and access to enough food to lead healthy, productive lives.  Is that all?  I’m not sure.  I’m hoping the path will become more clear as I walk.

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