Ethiopia is a country in permanent transformation, with a mystical integration of beliefs and religions, a diversity that overwhelms and illuminates and an intense history that is permanently written. The main themes of the global debate appear here, a country with more than 110 million inhabitants where 80% live in rural areas. Migrations to cities put pressure on governments to define how to receive the children of producers seeking a better quality of life, how to create jobs and sufficient public goods and services. In rural Ethiopia, in vast rural areas of Africa and other parts of the world, poverty hurts, communications make it more evident, and families disintegrate.
The great challenges of its production system are to improve productivity (related to the incorporation of greater technology), improve marketing efficiency, develop new forms of organization that transform and include, and solve succession, since this generation of producers does not ensure that their children can continue with these jobs. It is difficult to think of an evolution following the current trends of the leading countries (mechanization, specialization, intense use of inputs), without analyzing how the convergence of new technologies can generate a transformative leap. How to produce in an agricultural system where producers cannot find those who succeed them. Perhaps robotization and precision agriculture can solve this deficit by reversing the idea that micro plots cannot be efficient. And the inefficiencies in the commercial, logistics and financing systems can perhaps be limited or improved by the use of the blockchain, fintech, IoT and AI.
Family farming could be sustainable in Ethiopia and in other parts of the world if we thought of it as structured on 21st century technology platforms and integrated into larger-scale agriculture. Perhaps this new system will again attract young people to rural life, with new jobs, a higher quality of life and time for personal development. The discussion can continue on how to make the transformation, what to transform, who will lead, in how long, the role of the private and public sectors. Leadership should design and guide the trend; society can then influence the speed of change.
Obviously we are in a hinge moment: an agriculture plagued by climate change, with greater restrictions on the impact on the environment, with lower prices, with challenges in the sustainability of production systems, in succession, since children prefer the urban life, food security and the fight against poverty.
Public and private investment in rural Africa has been aimed at improving things as they have been for centuries; the results have been poor and of little impact, with some specific successful cases, but far from the required structural transformations. Perhaps it is time to think about investments for that purpose. The technological and human development frontier should reach Africa along with the most developed countries. Africa should cease to be the place where what is ending or is no longer used is disseminated.
Alemayehu, who guided my steps during the trip, explains: "The transport of the salt is done with donkeys and camels; the trucks could do it, but they will take the work of dozens of people. In the Danakil depression temperatures reach 50 ° C. Similar situations are reproduced when I see the farmers with their ox-drawn plows, the women who grind the grains with their hands, those who transport granite blocks on foot and dozens of activities that are still carried out without mechanizing and without using the most common technologies.
The debate on the future of employment occupies wide spaces: how to create employment in a world where technology displaces it? Because there are new jobs being created. In agricultural countries like Ethiopia, the challenge is further increased by the number of people living in rural areas. Does the transformation of employment necessarily imply mega-migration? Would those who defend the world go back to these old systems, would they be willing to do it or is it just a conceptual debate? Is it the desire of the peasants to continue doing things this way? Do you know the options, with their costs and benefits? Slavery today is making people unable to freely choose what work to do. The liberation of people is a path that must be built by creating options, facilitating access to them and stimulating the flow of knowledge. As in other times, suffering comes from an inadequate preparation of society for transformations. Are the state and its governments preparing it? Or do they just maintain, sometimes out of genuine fear of transformation, sometimes out of ignorance, systems that make people more dependent?
The challenge is how to face the risks. Ethiopian entrepreneurs who enthusiastically lead the "the New Ethiopia" project say: "We see bright young Ethiopians, with big dreams and hearts, working together across ethnicity and gender, building a New Ethiopia." Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abye Ahmed was honored with the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to resolve the conflict with Eritrea. But it is not only because of this that it is important: the prime minister represents a new government coalition, the son of Father Oromo and mother Amhara, trying to end centuries of confrontations and lead society towards a more democratic culture. His noble work is not without obstacles. Free opinion, without ties, is seen in society as destabilizing, and the struggles between ethnic groups are useful to the sectors that try to reach or maintain power.
Ethiopia, a country of unique culture and history, faces this new century with new challenges in addition to the exporting urgency: how to create a democratic society and a market economy that is inclusive and takes into account the particularities of Ethiopian culture and society? How to transform the productive system from medieval agriculture to productive ecosystems of the 21st century, based on the new technological convergence and respect for a way of life that permeates every corner of the geography: how to make sustainable family farming? How to avoid the new forms of colonialism, slavery and dependency, giving rise to a sovereign nation, integrated into the world from its culture and its contribution to the best life of humanity?
Lessons learned in other geographies, where the transformations worked with even greater challenges, can be a good reference if they manage to adapt to the local culture. What happens in Ethiopia encourages us to reflect on what is happening in other parts of the world, our Argentina among them. The times to come after this "coronacrisis" will surely accelerate many of the trends, creating new opportunities and challenges.