8.3  Causes of household food insecurity

If you think of food insecurity within your own community you might have become aware of a number of different causes. In Ethiopia natural and man-made disasters are the commonest causes of household food insecurity.

Drought and conflict are the main factors that increase problems of food production, distribution and access. High rates of population growth and poverty also play a part, within an already difficult environment of fragile ecosystems where it might be difficult to produce sufficient food. The fact that almost 80% of the population in Ethiopia depends almost exclusively on agriculture for its consumption and income needs means that measures to address the problems of poverty and food insecurity must mainly be found within the agricultural sector.

Other natural disasters such as pest infestations destroy area-specific production levels and the threat of locust swarms is often present. Currently there is an ineffective weather and pest early warning system in the country.

Depending only on rainwater for farming when there is variable rainfall in some of the arid areas is not reliable for producing sufficient food supply. Initiatives in Ethiopia, such as using irrigation systems, water harvest technology and drip irrigation, are encouraging steps that need to be strengthened further. Figures 8.1 and 8.2 illustrate the importance of adequate drinking water and grazing land for farming animals. Table 8.2 summarises the different causes of household insecurity.

Animals need an adequate source of drinking water
Figure 8.1  Animals need an adequate source of drinking water. (Photo: Dr Basiro Davey)
Animals need adequate grazing land
Figure 8.2  Animals need adequate grazing land. (Photo: Dr Basiro Davey)
Table 8.2  Causes of food insecurity.
Causes of food insecurity Mechanism (how it leads to food insecurity)
Rapid population growth

A high rate of population growth calls for more food production and the need for ploughing more land. This leads to deforestation. Population may exceed the carrying capacity of the fragile environment in some areas

At the household level the food produced from the same plot of land that the household has may not be sufficient. It is also very difficult to purchase food for large numbers of family members

Conflict/civil war/ trans-border war

Interferes with production, marketing and distribution

Shunts the gross domestic product (GDP) towards purchase of war weapons

Extreme production fluctuationDecreases food supplies available for consumption
Limited employment other than farmingLeads to poor purchasing power of households
Lower level of savingLeads to poor purchasing power of households
High rate of natural erosionPoor soil fertility and decreased productivity leading to food supply shortages
High rate of illiteracy and school attendancePoor income earning power and hence purchasing power due unemployment
Poor health and sanitation Morbidity, mortality and reduced productivity due to illness
Deforestation Leads to high top soil erosion and poor soil fertility. It will lead to decreased rainfall and dryness

HIV/AIDS leads to ‘green famine’ which has far-reaching adverse implications. There are four ways in which HIV/AIDS is linked to famine:

  • Changes in dependency patterns (children are dependent on children OR on the elderly due to death or frequent sickness of an adult)
  • Loss of assets and skills associated with adult mortality
  • The burden of care for sick adults and orphaned children
  • The vicious interaction between malnutrition and HIV infection
Poor governance

Corruption and diversion of public resources to personal use

Poor distribution of resources

High rates of chronic malnutritionDecreased wellbeing leading to decreased intellectual and physical productivity of people
Natural resource constraintsThe limitations of rainfall in the country place certain constraints on improving food security. The chances of drought occurring in parts of Ethiopia have increased the probability of food insecurity, especially in the arid and pastoralist areas (northern and eastern parts of Ethiopia)
Traditional rain-dependent farming systemsLack of agricultural intensification and low agricultural productivity means that many of those in rural areas remain subsistence producers. Therefore, the large quantity of food at low prices which is essential for economic growth in urban areas is not available

Stop reading for a while and think of the causes of food insecurity in your area. Are any of the above causes common in your community?

8.2  Chronic and acute food insecurity

8.4  Indicators of household food insecurity