About the Author: Ertharin Cousin serves as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Agencies in Rome.
Camels seemed to follow us from Jijiga this morning as we rode west on the highway to the neighboring Oromiya Region. Now and then they would cross the road and distract us from our breath-taking drive through the rocky, mountainous terrain.
Outside of Harar, an ancient holy city of Islam with mosques dating back to the 10th century, we turned onto unpaved, gravel roads and ventured deep into an area where the sorghum crop has been decimated by drought. Stalks holding this staple grain were dried stiff as the rains have failed again in this area. With this bleak backdrop, I visited a few sites that showed me how U.S. food assistance leverages other resources in support of an Ethiopian Government-led safety net program. In lean seasons, this program keeps communities from hitting rock bottom.
U.S. food provided through the USDA’s McGovern-Dole Program and through USAID to the World Food Program is the incentive mothers and fathers need to send their children to school when they otherwise would join their parents in activities to generate income. U.S. food nourishes young minds and bodies as funds from other donor countries and non-governmental organizations enlarge the safety net to keep the most vulnerable from selling off all of their assets and becoming destitute as well as food insecure.
U.S. food provides the energy the community needs to build schools, health clinics, and farmer training centers. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, U.S. food helps increase the needy communities’ capacity for self-sufficiency to reduce the need for assistance in the future. Food assistance is never an end to itself. After my short visit here to Ethiopia, I understand much better its value as a down payment on food security. It's an investment opportunity that when pooled with contributions from other donors and organizations, and the productive labor of beneficiaries, we can't afford to pass up.
I am off to Tanzania tomorrow. We’ll touch down at sunset within view of Mount Kilimanjaro, and I’ll look forward to sharing experiences from Tanzania with you later in the week.
Read Ambassador Cousin's previous entry from Ethiopia.