The Ethiopian food system is currently driven by various factors from production, consumption, distribution and trade. Out of the six indicators used to measure drivers of the Ethiopian food system, three have improved over the past decade, two deteriorated and one remained unchanged, which shows a good trend for the country’s food system drivers overall. The geographical neighboring countries have excellent performance with all six indicators showing improvements over the past decade.
In Ethiopia, improved technological innovations (measured by fertilizer use) stands out as one of the factors that has positively influenced the country’s food system from the production/supply side through improvements in production and productivity. Ethiopia recorded the highest percentage increase in fertilizer use (135%) between 2010 and 2019 compared to her neighboring countries with similar GDP per capita (61%), geographic neighbors (132%) and the global average (8%). Climate change is also an important factor driving the Ethiopia food system as depicted by the increasing temperatures over years. Increased temperatures could negatively affect the country’s food system due to the weather effects on the food production and supply. Ethiopia has experienced a 27% increase in temperatures over the past decade compared to her neighboring countries who experienced a smaller increase and even decrease in temperatures for some countries. However, the average global temperature change is double that of Ethiopia with a 88% increase in temperatures over the same period. Favorable trade policies in Ethiopia have contributed to an increase in the food export within the country over the decade. Increased food export is beneficial in bringing in foreign exchange to the country but at the same time may put strain on the country’s food basket when more of the local production is exported and insufficient amounts are left in the country for local consumption. In terms of food consumption/demand, Ethiopia has experienced tremendous urban population growth in the past decade. The Ethiopian urban population has been growing faster (at 2.2%) than neighboring countries with similar GDP per capita (decrease by 1.7%), the geographic neighbors (1.4%) and the global average (0.6%). Urbanization comes with new consumption behavior and negative lifestyle changes, and these affect consumer diets and nutritional status. Change in overall population growth is another factor driving Ethiopia’s food system. Population growth means increased food demand, which may affect access, consumption and overall food security. Ethiopia experienced a 0.3% decrease in population growth between 2011 and 2020 a percentage similar to her geographical neighbors but lower than the neighbors with similar GDP per capita (0.1% decrease) and global average (0.2% decrease).
Three out of the five indicators in Ethiopia improved over the past decade while the food-processing indicator deteriorated, and the retail and market indicator remained unchanged. The overall performance of the Ethiopia indicators in this component were rated as good, similar to neighboring countries with comparable GDP per capita and global average, but Ethiopia’s geographical neighbors performance was excellent in this category.
The Ethiopian agricultural production system has been improving overtime. Likewise, the food and livestock production averages have increased in the past decade although still lies behind the global averages and averages of the geographical neighboring countries and her neighbors with similar GDP per capita. In terms of food storage and distribution (measured using access to electricity), Ethiopia is doing better than her neighboring countries with similar GDP per capita (48% vs. 36% of the population), but the global averages are almost double of Ethiopia’s rates (86.6%). Food processing is still low in Ethiopia and has been decreasing over the years although overall Ethiopia is doing better than her neighboring countries and the global averages. Modernization of food retail is very low in Ethiopia compared to other comparison countries as well as the global averages. This shows overreliance of traditional food retail markets in the country and there may be need to diversify food environments to increase access and affordability.
The Ethiopia food environment is presented by food availability, affordability, convenience, quality and safety, promotion advertisement and information, and food loss and waste. The overall, performance of the Ethiopia food environment is concerning with only two indicator having improved or remained unchanged in the past decade and four indicators deteriorated. The indicator for food quality and safety remained unchanged. The food availability in Ethiopia (measured by Average dietary energy supply adequacy) has improved over the past decade and it is higher than the geographical and similar GDP per capita neighboring countries but lower than the global averages. However, food affordability remains a big challenge in Ethiopia. Between 2012 and 2021, food was more unaffordable in Ethiopia than the countries with comparable GDP per capita and global averages. The Ethiopia consumer price food index (proxy for food affordability), increased by more than 200% compared to 82% increase for the global averages, during the past decade. Ethiopia is performing poorly in terms of offering convenience foods compared to all other comparison groups. The convenience foods (measured by retail value of packaged food sales per capita (USD)) is only 3% of the global average and about a third of the neighboring countries’ averages as of 2018. The Ethiopian government show commitment to improve the nutritional standards in the country although the overall score decreased from 73.5 out of 100 in 2012 to 50 in 2021. The score is higher for the neighboring countries with similar GDP per capita (44) but much lower than the global averages (62) as of 2021. Ethiopia just published the food based dietary guidelines in 2022 to guide the population on consumption of healthy diets. Food loss and waste remains very low in Ethiopia (5.4% in 2021), and in all the other three groups, but the loss and waste is increasing overtime in all the groups, an unfavorable performance for the food system.
The Ethiopian consumer behavior falls under fair performance with three indicators recording improvements and two deteriorating over the past decade. Ethiopian consumer choices are influenced by consumers’ socio-economic status, their education and gender and the consumer preferences and tastes. The gender structure of the Ethiopian consumer population is almost balanced, at 50% men but the percentage of male population is increasing. Ethiopia has the least educated consumer population with an adult literacy of 52% compared to 83% global average, 63% of the geographic neighbors and 60% for the neighbor countries with similar GDP per capital. Education level influences consumer behavior and dietary choices and eventually contributes to the nutrition status of the people. Ethiopia is doing better than her neighboring countries (both geographic and those with similar GDP) in terms of poverty levels (31% of the population compared to 48% and 49% respectively), an indication of improved consumer economic empowerment, but these averages are much higher than the global average (11%). In terms of consumer preferences, there is an increase in sales of ultra-processed foods in Ethiopia as well as all other three comparable groups. The rate of increase is lower in Ethiopia compared to the other groups. Similarly the proportion of dietary energy supply derived from energy dense foods is highest in Ethiopia (75%) compared to all other groups, albeit recording a very small decrease in the past decade. This is an indication of over-reliance in energy dense foods in the country, which is not good for Ethiopia.
The performance of the Ethiopian food system is measured against four development outcomes: environmental, social, economic and health. Overall, the performance of Ethiopia outcome indicators is worrying, with only two indicator showing improvements and six deteriorating over the past decade.
From the environmental perspective, the Ethiopian food system is contributing negatively to the air quality as shown by a 12.5% increase in the emissions between 2009 and 2018. The data available shows that Ethiopian agriculture had almost double the amount of emissions compared to her neighboring countries with similar GDP per capital, and three times the emissions compared to the
geographical neighbors. Ethiopia emissions were still higher than the global average as of 2018. The percent of national land area with tree cover in Ethiopia has slightly decreased (by 1.9%) over the past decade and it is only a third of the global average (10.3% against 33.5%) but much higher than the geographical neighbors averages (5.8%).
On the economic aspects, the contribution of the Ethiopian food system to the national economy has declined in the past decade, whereas the neighboring geographical countries and global averages have both recorded positive contribution to the national economy. Ethiopia has recorded an improvement towards its food system contribution to the national financial performance, although it still lugs much behind the neighboring countries and the global average.
On the social aspects, Ethiopia as well as all the three comparative groups recorded decreased impacts of their food systems on gender equity over the past decade, although Ethiopia is doing better than the neighboring geographic neighbor and the global average. In terms of economic inclusion, Ethiopia is performing poorly compared to all the comparative groups, including the global average. Between 2006 and 2015, all the comparable groups have improved their economic inclusion while that of Ethiopia is deteriorating.
In terms of health outcomes, Ethiopia has been making impressive progress in improving its nutrition and health situation although the country is still below the global averages. The percentage of undernourished population is higher in Ethiopia (16.2%) than the global average (10.2%) and the neighboring countries with similar GDP per capita (12.4%). However, Ethiopia is doing better than her geographical neighboring countries who have an average of 32.2% of undernourishment. Compared to the three comparative groups, Ethiopia has made the largest improvements in terms of prevalence of undernourishment over the past decade (41% decrease). On the other hand, prevalence of adult obesity in Ethiopia is low (4.5%) but it has been increasing in Ethiopia and the three comparative groups. However, the available data shows Ethiopia has recorded a 25% increase in the prevalence of adult obesity between 2012 and 2016, the highest increase across all the comparative groups. In addition, Ethiopia has the highest obesity rates compared to the other three groups.