Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

21st Century Progress in Africa: Eradicating Hunger and Poverty (MDG1) in Ethiopia

April 29, 2013

I was recently in Ethiopia. We traveled up to the north of the country, to the city of Gondar, the former Royal capital of the Abyssinia Empire. It was a powerful visit given Ethiopia is on target to cut in half the number of people who live in extreme poverty, in the country, by 2015.

We were able to see some of the work Gates Foundation partners, Oxfam America and the Sasakawa Africa Association, are doing to support women and men farmers in the surrounding region. They told us that by bringing basic new technologies to farmers, like improved seeds, fertiliser and irrigation, they had seen some of the local farmers increase their crops six-fold.

Gondar is at high altitude and Lake Tana, the source of the Blue Nile, provides irrigation for some farmers.

We were there at harvest time. Our partners and the local government were demonstrating a threshing machine to a large group of interested men farmers. We arrived in the afternoon, after the women farmers had gone home to their second jobs, but we were assured that they had seen the demonstration in the morning!

In the background, we could see the traditional method of threshing teff and maize. A cow tramples the crop by walking on it in a circle for days or weeks on end. This takes a long time. We were told it can harm or even kill the cow, a valuable asset to the farmer. It spoils a lot of the value of the crop at the same time. The farmers were being shown that the machine thresher could thresh as much maize in one hour as it would take one week to thresh traditionally! They liked the sound of that and were willing to spend up to $1 (a day’s income for some people) to hire the machine for an hour, because of the time it saved and the extra profit they’d make from a better, cleaner crop. They were also talking to each other about how to club together to buy a machine and hire it out themselves when they weren’t using it. Investing in agricultural development really is investing in private sector development.

A recent report by the One Campaign, ‘A Growing Opportunity: Measuring Investments in African Agriculture,’ tracks commitments made by 19 African countries to support growth in agriculture and improve food security. Ethiopia stands out; from 2008 – 2011 almost 20 per cent of government spending was invested in agriculture and productivity rose each year by almost a quarter.


It’s this combination of strong investment in proven ideas which explains why the proportion of people living on less than $1.25 a day fell in Ethiopia from 61 percent in 1990 to 29 percent in 2008 (MDG Report Card by CGD) and the number of people living below the minimum dietary energy intake has fallen from 68 percent in 1990 to 40 percent in 2011 (MDG snapshot by UN). This means Ethiopia will meet the 1st Millennium Development Goal, one of eight goals which form an agreement by all the world’s countries to meet the needs of the world’s poorest, on poverty and hunger by 2015.

And Ethiopia is not unique. Did you know that the world has already achieved MDG1 to halve extreme poverty by 2015?

Up to 16 countries in sub-Saharan African countries are on track to halve the number of people living in poverty – including Uganda, Cameroon and Ghana – and up to ten countries could halve those who suffer extreme hunger – including Nigeria, Africa’s largest country.

This interactive map by the Center for Global Development shows in green the countries in Africa on track to meet the MDG1.  

We know other countries still have a long way to go and not all of Africa will achieve MDG1 to halve extreme poverty by 2015, and continues to need global assistance. But nearly one-third  of African countries achieving MDG1 to halve poverty reflect real progress which shows what can be done. And, as the graph below shows, progress in Africa is speeding up. That’s something to be optimistic about.

As we near the 2015 target date for all eight Millennium Development Goals, we’re looking at the next set. For more on this, see Mark Suzman’s blog on what the Gates Foundation thinks the next set of MDGs should ideally be.  

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