On several cases, the concept of food security is mixed up with food self-sufficiency. There is, in deed, practical linkage between the two concepts but food security is not limited to food self-sufficiency. Food security implies food production, distribution, availability of food and marketing food products. Diversity of food items for healthy eating and preservation to close the gap in areas with recurrent food stress and drought is also linked with the efforts to ascertain food security.
Being food secured is also not limited to stowing away enough food to meet nutritional needs of a community or a country. It is also linked with sustained food supply and creations of assets that will help to avail food and other personal and family needs related to livelihood.
Among other things, food security is also related to food habits, religious and cultural outlooks that could have stronger bearing on either enhancing or discouraging the promotion of food self-sufficiency and security.
Attaining food security cannot be measured only through the volume of food produced and distributed. Diversity in food production targeting disease preventing varieties and cash based production are also important factors.
Some relate food security solely to agricultural production. However, farmers in rural areas are usually engaged in off-farm income generating activities to support their incomes.
Ethiopia is already engaged in huge national food security programmes funded by the government in partnership with international development partners. The country's food security programme is carefully mainstreamed in the economic development and poverty reduction programmes and strategies.
Ethiopia's Sustainable and Poverty Reduction Programme that was issued in 2002 and a Plan for Accelerated and Sustainable Development to End Poverty (PASDEP, 2005- 2010) enveloped the issue of food security as a major component.
Since 2003, a major food security Programme entitled New Coalition for Food Security in Ethiopia was in operation with four pillars, aimed at propelling food security through voluntary resettlement programmes, productive safety net projects, household asset creation projects and complementary community investment schemes in 319 Woredas.
Attaining food security in Ethiopia is not an independent variable which is not linked to other development programmes. Soil and water conservation programmes that are conducted through watershed management schemes, introduction of household manageable modern silos, construction of community managed micro dams, programmes targeting micro-nutrient malnutrition and healthy eating, all comprise a national package for promoting food security.
Primary health care and health extension programmes targeting the major 10 killer diseases in the country including malaria, upper respiratory infections like TB and internal diseases contribute to the effectiveness of food security programmes through disease prevention, family health programmes, environmental hygiene and sanitation as well as health education and communication.
One of the most important aspects of food security is interrelated with the introduction of family planning programmes that are conducted as part of the health extension programmes. The annual population growth rate in Ethiopia stands between 2.5 to 3 percent. This means that some 2.5 million new babies are born each year requiring balanced food and other nutritional inputs.
A number of "pull and "push" factors decisively determine the rate of acceleration of food security in Ethiopia. The pull factors, among others include accelerated climate change, extreme dependence on rain fed agriculture, gender biased economic disparity, weak market linkage and lack of good governance in the sector, lack of knowledge on balanced nutrition, traditional and religious oriented food habit, proliferation of harmful traditional practices and low level of irrigation practices (only 6 percent of the irrigable land is so far utilized).
The push factors include viable and applicable government policy orientation, agriculture food security programmes, relatively strong partnership with development partners particularly in the development of the agriculture sector, huge manpower that can engage in agriculture, favorable investment polices tailored for the agriculture sector, more particularly for horticulture and floriculture, strong agriculture extension system and government commitment towards the development of agro-industry to feed the manufacturing sector through industrial parks.
Although there is still more to be desired in promoting food security in Ethiopia by drought proofing the sector, there is a glimmer of hope that Ethiopia can certainly attain national food security objectives within a relatively short period of time.
For instance, a total agricultural production expected for this year is estimated to be 320 million quintals, exceeding the 266 million quintals of last year by 50 million quintals. (Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resource Development, 2016). Some 9.5 million quintals of fertilizer were distributed among farmers in the regional states in addition to the more than 275,000 quintals of selected seeds which have been distributed to farmers. If the current population size is divided by the total amount of expected harvest, it seems that all would be well in promoting further food security initiatives.
If the cyclic efforts in soil and water conservation is blended with safety net programmes in urban and rural settings, and if this is effectively up with the development of micro and small scale enterprises and empowerment programmes for women, Ethiopia would be able to roll back the impact of recurrent drought in a couple of years. Development of water harvesting schemes like construction of household manageable micro dams will help farmers to produce more food in areas with moisture stress.
Introduction of food preservation techniques like drying, smoking, salting, grinding will help to store food that is abundantly available in some seasons. This includes vegetables, root crops and meat products. Farmers in rural Ethiopia are used traditional preservation methods like root crops like Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes and enset (kotcho).
Pest control techniques, traditional methods of fumigation are all very important to preserve food to be used at time of food supply shortage. Such practices have been used in Ethiopia to preserve seeds for farming seasons and to be used for selling surplus food at a local market.
Promotion of food security, particularly at household level also involve creation of household backyard assets like fruit trees that can be used for enhancing household nutrition status and also help to generate some income to meet the financial needs of the farmers in rural Ethiopia.
Introduction of new food crops like cassava and other root crops which can easily be preserved helps to diversify food crops so that farmers can have better alternatives in choices between different types of food.
Ethiopia's food security programme cannot bring about the desired results, without considering the youth, which is the most decisive work force in the country. The recent policies and strategies that are geared towards the empowerment of youth in both rural and urban settings through safety net projects and revolving loan schemes can be more fruitful if it is carefully targeted and monitored closely.
Mobilizing the youth for national development, including the promotion of food security is not an easy task. It requires full participation of the youth at all levels of the programme and continuous sensitization to ensure commitments, ownership and innovative practices that can bring about impacts which are clearly measurable.
Ethiopia has been able to withstand the effects of El-Nino and La-Nina by registering 8 percent GDP growth. The experience gained over the last two years in fighting off drought induced food shortage will not only help to boost nationwide food security programme of the country but will also help to accelerate the development of the nation's agro-industry programmes to buttress the growing manufacturing sector of the country.
No doubt, Ethiopia will effectively cross the Rubicon of poverty by feeding its population and by exporting quality agricultural commodities that are desired at the global market.