Ethiopians should consider changing their eating habits as part of the fight against repeated famines that have hit the nation, the United Nations said on Wednesday.
Sam Nyambi, the UN country representative in Ethiopia, urged the nation to adopt “diet diversification” as a means of combating recurrent droughts.
“It is a process we want to encourage, even more so in countries that are drought-stricken because you need to expand the ability of a family to survive,” Nyambi said.
His comments come as the UN and Japan launched a bid to encourage the impoverished nation to start growing a drought-resistant breed of rice called NERICA (New Rice for Africa).
Currently less than one percent of the 67 million people in Ethiopia eat rice – preferring wheat and a locally grown grain called teff.
Motoyoshi Noro, deputy head at the Japanese embassy in Ethiopia, said the aim was to offer people an alternative with NERICA which has never been grown in the country before.
“The question is how to help the people of Ethiopia who suffer from famine if they have no food to eat,” Noro said. “I think Ethiopian people do not like to eat rice but if they have nothing to eat, I think rice is quite sufficient and effective for them.”
Currently some 13.2 million people are receiving food aid – almost all of it is wheat and costs rich nations more than US $700 million.
The Japanese are funding a pilot scheme to the tune of US $180,000 to help persuade the country that rice could help feed millions of drought-hit farmers.
NERICA trials are expected to start in the northern Amhara region where some four million people are dependent on food aid each year, regardless of the weather.