FOR THE first time since the famines of the 1980s Ethiopia has a surplus of grain.
Research by Ian Robinson, director of the centre for arid zone studies at the University of Wales, Bangor has found that the 1996 and early 1997 harvests will yield nearly 12 million tonnes of grain, which is more than Ethiopia needs.
Dr Robinson visited Ethiopia late last year, when he led a United Nations crop and food supply assessment mission. These missions are undertaken by the UN's food and agriculture organisations and the World Food Programme at the request of third-world governments. The findings are then directed to aid agencies so that they can plan for food shortages.
The Ethiopian harvest shows what can be achieved in developing countries in periods of peace, stability and good rainfall, according to Dr Robinson.
"Ethiopia has been at peace for five years, has enjoyed good rainfall for three years and the population has benefited from a liberalisation of the grain trade. In the past Ethiopia had a centralised economy. But now farmers are free to grow more crops and improve their quality."
A lack of pests and increasing use of fertiliser have strengthened the farmers' position even further.
But, as Dr Robinson's report to the UN explains, aid agencies and donor countries must be careful if they wish the situation to continue. "Despite the surplus, certain communities will require assistance because of the displacement of the population during the civil war, structural inadequacies or general poverty," says the report.