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Agriculture Program Helps Ethiopia Achieve Food Surplus

In 1985, the Live Aid concert alerted the international community to the plight of hundreds of thousands of starving Ethiopians.

Now, in a stunning turnaround, Ethiopia not only can feed its own people but also export food, due in large part to assistance from The Carter Center. Its Global 2000 Agriculture Program collaborates with the Sasakawa Africa Association to teach farmers in 12 African countries how to grow more food in an effort known as Sasakawa-Global 2000 (SG 2000).

In January, Ethiopia sent its first shipment of maize to Kenya, which had declared a drought emergency and issued an appeal for international assistance. "I always had hoped to live to see Ethiopia producing enough grain to feed its people but had never expected it to happen so soon and so fast," Ethiopia Prime Minister Meles Zenawi wrote to former President Jimmy Carter. "We all are very grateful for what you have done to make our wildest dreams come true."

Since 1993, SG 2000 has operated in Ethiopia as part of the national extension service of the Ministry of Agriculture. "Together, we show farmers how to plant extension management training plots (EMTPs)," explained Nobel laureate Norman Borlaug, Global 2000's senior consultant for agriculture. "Farmers cultivate these two-acre sites using high-yielding seeds; new fertilizer methods; and more productive timetables for planting, weeding, and harvesting."

A turning point occurred in 1994 when Prime Minister Meles accompanied President Carter to one of the Ethiopian EMTP sites. " We traveled in farm clothes, so as not to attract attention," President Carter said. "As we talked to local farmers who were using the SG 2000 methods—farmers who had no idea who we were—Prime Minister Meles became increasingly impressed with their very high crop yields, which exceeded traditional production by 200 to 400 percent, and with their enthusiasm for the new techniques."

Upon returning to Addis Ababa, the nation's capital, Prime Minister Meles instructed his minister of agriculture and SG 2000 Country Director Marco Quiñones to use the EMTP approach throughout Ethiopia. One year later, Ethiopia's farmers produced an all-time record grain harvest of 9.7 million tons. By the end of 1996, the country set another record—11.7 million tons—and became an exporting nation.

Although the country's investment has paid handsomely, many challenges remain. The government and SG 2000 are just beginning to address the lack of adequate storage facilities, transportation systems, and marketing mechanisms. "It is time for us to redouble our efforts, encouraged by our achievements so far," Prime Minister Meles said.

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