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Country Terms of Reference: Ethiopia


Prof. W. Wolde-Ghiorgis


Broad Aspects of Socio-Economic Conditions and the State of the Rural Energy and Urban Scenes in Ethiopia

Ethiopia is a relatively large country with farming and pastoral rural communities. The area coverage of the country is 1.07 million square kilometers, and the total population has presently passed 63.5 million, which is rising at an alarming rate of 3 % annually. The geographical features and climatic conditions vary from lowlands to highlands, and from very cool temperate localities, to tropical regions, and also to semi-desert regimes.

The mainstay of the country’s economy is agriculture based on human and animal power using age-old farming tools on settled farm lands.  There are also sizable regions where the source of livelihood is pastoral farming. Land use is geared towards farming of staple food items, cash crops, and grazing for a relatively huge number of domestic animals. The mainstay of the country’s external trade is coffee, followed oil seeds , hides and skins, and some minerals. Mechanized farming and uses of fertilizers have been promoted with reasonable success for quite some time.

Next to farming for staple and cash crops, attempts have been made to build and operate a number of small- and medium-scale agro-industries, and medium–scale manufacturing enterprises. In 1974 and 1984, the country had however suffered from sever droughts, and at present another drought is unfortunately hovering in sight.  Forest coverage which used to be spread over 40 % of the land surface is now reduced to less than 4 %, due to deforestation for land clearance for farming and fuel consumption.

Ethiopia possesses  immense hydropower resources amounting to 30,000 MW, out of which less than 1 % has been harnessed. Presences of coal and natural gas have been established, but these have not been mined and developed due to lack of investment funds.  There are also abundant solar and wind energy resources, but again these remain unutilized by means of modern renewable technologies (RETs) such as photovoltaics, wind generators, and wind pumps.

For reasons that are unclear and not fully explainable, Ethiopia has remained as an agrarian country with a vast rural population comprising 85 % of the total population. Although rudiments of modernization and industrialization were introduced at the turn of the twentieth century, and continued as government goals  as early as 1940s, the country is still classified as being a noticeable member among the bottom ten less  developed ones in the world,  both in terms of goods and food stuffs produced for internal consumptions, as well as in its ability to attract or generate investments for future development and economic growth. It appears that the historical progress of urbanization that has been continually marching forward everywhere and elsewhere, even within its region of Eastern Africa, has somehow been postponed or even deliberately overlooked by Ethiopia for far too long by policy makers, learned nationals and concerned development agencies. One natural process has however been making its impacts felt clearly, and that is the rising population  growth which will soon choke the country’s meager resources economically and socially.  Potentially, Ethiopia is endowed with relatively rich farmlands, pleasant climate and plentiful rains during seasons with good weathers, and mineral resources that should not have been be neglected as being uneconomic for immediate development.

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