Written by 9:05 am Opinion

Eritrea’s Self-Sufficiency efforts & Food Security

Eritrea’s agricultural success challenges the narrative peddled by the West and its media.

Abdiwahab Sheikh Abdisamad
Chairman, Institute for the Horn of Africa Strategic Studies

ASMARA, Eritrea — A recent visit to Eritrea — a strategic country on the Red Sea that is delightfully beautiful and peaceful — enlightened me about the steady progress it’s making on the issue of food security that other countries in the continent can learn from.

The reality I saw in Eritrea starkly contradicts the falsehoods peddled by the Western media about this great country whose citizens are both hospitable and generous.

Eritrea, a nation of about 7 million, is politically stable, almost free from crime and corruption. Unlike many countries in the West, Eritrea has no homeless people. Its inhabitants enjoy free healthcare and education up to the university level. Eritreans, who are traditionally proud of their country, have successfully resisted foreign countries’ malign influence that doomed other African countries.

Eritreans have survived threats by the West that barred them from international financial institutions for refusing to cooperate. Eritrea’s success story offers hope for African countries. It indeed serves as a role model for the rest of the underdeveloped world. Eritreans’ survivalist spirit is a textbook illustration of how Africans can resist major powers orchestrating their underdevelopment.

About a decade and a half ago, the pro-Western rulers in Addis Ababa, specifically the US-backed administration of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, lobbied for devastating sanctions on Eritrea, an effort that eventually culminated in Resolution 1907 adopted by the UN Security Council. The TPLF-led Ethiopia and Washington utilized a report by the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea (SEMG) to achieve their aim of crippling Eritrea and turning it into a pariah state on the pretext that Asmara supported al Shabab militants in Somalia.

Eritreans have paid a heavy price for the UN group’s falsehoods that are still being spread by organizations determined to continue their evil activities against this young nation.

The western world attempted many times to conduct a regime change in Eritrea or at least to incite a violent rebellion after its original objective to economically isolate Asmara to bring about a food crisis and economic suffering failed. The West’s plot initially caused great distress to millions of Eritreans, but rather than sparking outrage or pouring millions of people onto the streets, it ended up being a blessing in disguise. President Isaias Afwerki administration has embarked on an ambitious program to ensure that Eritrea attain food self-sufficiency.

That push is on the cusp of reaching fruition, and Eritrea is set to succeed in feeding its people in the coming few years without relying on humanitarian aid or on unpredictable food imports from other countries — a remarkable feat in a country whose rainfall is erratic. Asmara has transformed its agro-food system by turning farm labor into modern productive agricultural employment, while at the same time controlling the country’s food quality to meet the need of its people for nutrition.

During my visit, I met with Agriculture Minister Arefaine Berhe who told me that his country had built the necessary agricultural infrastructure to feed its people by itself.

The Eritrean agriculture ministry has, according to an internal document that I’ve seen, a $220 million, five-year plan to increase Eritrea’s food security until the country becomes self-sufficient in food in a region that is grappling with a drought the UN says was “not seen in at least 40 years.”

According to UN agencies, at least 18.4 million people in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia are facing high levels of acute food insecurity and rising malnutrition, a figure that could reach 20 million by September.

Eritrea has 2.1 million hectares of potentially arable, rain-fed land and 600,000 hectares for irrigation, as per the agriculture ministry, and is on pace to use all its arable land. It has already made an excellent use of 500,000 hectares despite almost ten years of UN and Western sanctions. It has also upped the productivity of its land increasing the harvest of cereals, pulses and oil crops compared to previous years. Other African countries can borrow from Eritrea’s simple, cost-effective and transparent system to keep humanitarian groups bent on destroying African countries’ initiatives for food security at bay.

Bereket Tsehaye, Director of Planning and Statistics Division at the Ministry of Agriculture, recently said in an interview that the production of fruits in Eritrea has “increased by 71 times, and that of vegetables by almost 6 times.”

“By 2021, the Ministry of Agriculture leaped from ‘food and nutrition security’ into ‘safe and nutritious food security,’” Bereket said, noting that Eritrea has now 785 ponds and dams, a figure that is markedly higher than the 138 ponds and dams the country had at independence in 1991.

Despite limitations on access to agricultural technological advancements, I witnessed the country has implemented stringent measures to support crop production, including on-farm and off-farm soil and water conservation practices, crop rotation, introduction of production technologies, improved seeds, compost, bio-fertilizer, bio-pesticides and a variety of locally manufactured machinery. These don’t only assure Eritreans’ food security but they also enable the government to earn substantial foreign currency via agricultural and agro-industrial exports and import substitution.

Eritrea’s accomplishments on agriculture is just a small part of the other successes registered by President Isaias’s government.

Farah Maalim, a regional expert and former Deputy Speaker of Kenya’s National Assembly, said it was refreshing to see an Eritrea that is debt-free country, technologically savvy, likely to become self-sufficient in food production and headed for a sound infrastructure and welfare state — even though the West did everything to stunt its development.

The simple lifestyle of government officials attracted my attention during my visit.

President Isaias, for example, earns a salary that is less than a professor’s in Kenya. His salary is Nakfa 6000, or about US$400, which is close to the median salary of a civil servant in other countries in East Africa. Eritreans fresh from university get a salary that is between Nakfa 3,500 and 4,000, or about US$233 and US$266 respectively.

While some may argue that this is a pittance, yet, with no inflation and the majority of basic services being provided for free by the government, this amount is good enough to sustain an Eritrean family in a country where income disparities among civil servants are not that big.

I was thrilled to meet with government ministers driving non-luxury cars. That is not to say that the government cannot afford top-notch cars for Cabinet members, but it has just decided to use its resources wisely.

African countries can take a leaf out of Eritrea’s development book.

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