Livelihoods and Food Security in the Small Urban Centers of Ethiopia: The Case of Durame, Wolenchiti, and Debre Sina Towns

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Addis Ababa University


Food insecurity has generally been associated with rural communities, whereas the number of people living in urban areas is deemed to be growing constantly and so is the number of the urban poor. In addition, the recent sharp rise in food prices suggests that poor urban households would be forced to experience an ever-widening food gaps. However, there is little empirical evidence that quantifies the prevalence of urban food insecurity and how people living in urban areas are coping with the sustained high food prices. This study therefore aims to address this gap by investigating the food security situation in the small urban areas of Ethiopia. This thesis investigates the current livelihoods and food security as well as vulnerability situation of households living in Durame, Debre Sina and Wolenchiti towns of Ethiopia. In doing so, the study employs a mixed methods approach, whereby both qualitative and quantitative data are collected from the subjects of the study. The qualitative data is gathered using focus group discussions, case study and key-informant interviews while quantitative data is collected using a structured questionnaire administered to three hundred households randomly selected from the poor communities of the three small towns stated above. Food security was defined using the Household Food Insecurity Access Scale criteria. It is found that the poor have limited access to financial capital and characterized by low human capital. They are also vulnerable to insufficient water supply and over-crowded housing conditions. The study findings indicate that the lack of stable income, especially from wage employment, has formed uncertainty about the survival of households. As a result, poor people rely on a wide variety of strategies to eke out a bare existence and to cope with their income and food insecurity. The price of foods was rising and simultaneously the households’ purchasing power was eroded due to lower incomes and seasonal fluctuations in employment situation. It is found that households in the lower income group spent a great proportion of their income on food. The common coping strategies used by households against high food price were shifting to lower quality food or less expensive food types and reduction in the quantity of meals. The study found high prevalence of food insecurity; 77 % of the households were food insecure, with 48 % being moderately or severely food insecure. Factors associated with food security include level of income, source of livelihood, household size, and educational status of household heads. Households with higher food insecurity scores tend to have lower food consumption patterns. The research highlights that residents in the poor areas of the studied small towns generally eat monotonous food, with little concern for quality. The analysis of the data on the contextual factors influencing people’s consumption patterns by using a political ecology approach reveals that various interacting factors, including the political-economic, socio-cultural and ecological factors that influence the decision around which foodstuff households consume and around food consumption patterns within the studied small towns. Overall, the urban poor as investigated in this study, experience the high level of poverty and the subsequent high prevalence of food insecurity; the situation worsening during summer (kiremt) season in the perception of the respondent, causing frequent use of consumption based coping strategies. Effective response to addressing vulnerability to food insecurity among urban households should focus on adopting an urban food security strategy with a safety net program on stabilizing the food market and on creating opportunities that could improve the livelihood and purchasing power of urban households



Geography and Environmental Studies