While Ethiopia’s urban population continues to rise; the majority of the population continues to earn their living from subsistence farming.
Agriculture is the backbone of the national economy and the principal exports from this sector are coffee, oil seeds, honey, khat, flowers, and sugar. There is also a thriving livestock sector.
Most poor families share their sleeping quarters with livestock, and children sleep on the floor, where nighttime temperatures drop considerably for those living 2000 meters above sea level.
The average family size is six or seven, living in a 30-square-meter mud and thatch hut, with less than two hectares of land to cultivate.
Since the landholdings are small, farmers cannot allow the land to lie fallow, which reduces soil fertility, reducing fodder production for livestock, which in turn causes low milk yields. Since the community burns livestock manure as fuel, rather than plowing the nutrients back into the land, crop yields suffer. Low productivity leads to reduced incomes for farmers, hunger, malnutrition and disease. The cycle of poverty is complicated.
Ethiopia is often referred to as the “water tower” of Eastern Africa because of the 14 major rivers that pour off the high tableland, including the Nile, and the has the greatest water reserves in Africa, but few irrigation systems in place to use it. Just 1% is used for power production and 1.5% for irrigation. This however is set to change as a number of hydroelectric projects are underway, most notably the Renaissance Dam on the Nile.