Ethiopia’s Sugar Saga: How Millionaires are made and Violence Exacerbated,

by Asefa Belachew*

Introduction and Background

Ethiopia’s sugar shortage has become very pronounced in recent months. Since October/November 2017, it has become common to see long lines of people particularly women and children, but also a few men, waiting patiently in line for their sugar ration. In Addis, observers have noted such sites in Gulele, Cherkos and Yeka. During the same time, sugar had become a flash point (the trigger issue) for the violence in many towns in Oromia Region1.

Ethiopia depended on imported sugar for many years as the domestic production did not meet the increasing level of consumption. Traditionally, the sugar mills used to be closed between mid- June and mid-September for repairs and maintenance. During those months, attention was focused on the plantation of the sugar cane for the next harvest. Almost all the workers in the farms and crushing operations went on compulsory annual leave. Imports bridged the shortages during those lean months. From the time that imports became important (since the early 1990s), the Ethiopian Sugar Corporation imported sugar and distributed it through established channels. If the Corporation had such a long experience in managing the seasonal flows since the early 1990s, why did it fail this time? What are the underlying factors that exacerbate the need for imports and boost aggregate supply? Why did Ethiopia fail this time despite the promises of GTP1 and GTPII, the first of which has already concluded and the latter is in its mid-term of implementation? In responding to these and similar questions, this essay takes a broader and longer perspective.

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