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Ethio-Irish Cooperation

Ethiopia in north east Africa has a population of over 94 million people and is roughly 15 times the size of Ireland. Much of the country is vulnerable to erratic rainfall, leading to chronic food insecurity in many parts of the country. Despite this, Ethiopia has made great strides to reduce poverty and promote growth. We work with the Ethiopian government, UN agencies and a range of non-governmental organisations to ensure poor rural households are protected and have resources to cope better in times of food shortages and that mothers and children live healthier lives.

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Ethiopia at a Glance

Population 94.1 million
Proportion of population living on less than $1.25 a day 27.6%
Ranking on UN Development Index 173 out of 187
Partner Country since 1994

Map of Ethiopia

Ireland and Ethiopia

We opened our Embassy in Ethiopia in 1994 when we established our official aid programme, Irish Aid. Since then, Irish Aid has worked with a variety of partner organisations including government institutions, UN agencies, civil society organisations, international research institutions and aid agencies to deliver on our development objectives.

We have set out our objectives in our Ethiopia Country Strategy Paper 2014-2018, which is based on our commitment to reducing poverty for the most vulnerable people and communities in Ethiopia and is in line with Ireland’s international development policy and the Ethiopian Government’s development plan, the Growth and Transformation Plan (TGP) 2011-2015.

As well as providing assistance through our bilateral aid programme, we support the work of local and international aid agencies and missionary organisations in Ethiopia through our civil society funding schemes.

We are also working to strengthen trade relations between Ireland and Ethiopia and we support a number of research and learning partnerships between higher education institutions in Ireland and Ethiopia through the Programme for Strategic Co-operation.



Ethiopia is almost unique in Africa because, apart from a five-year occupation by Italy during the Mussolini years, it has never been colonised. Under Emperor Haile Selassie, Ethiopia was a feudal empire until 1974, when a military junta took power.

Two decades have passed since the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) took power and embarked on transforming Ethiopia into a more developed, democratic and egalitarian society. This task remains a work in progress.

The Ethiopian Government strongly emphasises economic growth, while retaining a very strong commitment and focus on human development and poverty reduction. It aims to to transform Ethiopia into a middle income country by 2025, eradicating poverty while promoting equality and equity.

Ethiopia plays an important role in regional politics, mediating, for instance, between the parties in South Sudan. It also plays an active role in Somalia both in terms of political dialogue and military support of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Relations with Eritrea remain tense.‎


Ethiopia is now sub-Saharan Africa’s fifth biggest economy. Macro-economic performance has remained strong over the last decade recording annual GDP growth rates of over 7% per year since 2008. Continued rapid economic expansion is possible but it will need careful management. Oil, if discovered, would be a significant development.

Industry accounts for only 9% of the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which is significantly lower than other sub-Saharan African countries, where the average is 32%. There have been some positive developments in attracting flower and horticulture businesses but this employment is low waged, low skilled and may have hidden environmental costs.

In recent years, there have also been increased agricultural exports (coffee, oil seeds, horticulture and khat). Overall, agricultural production has increased but sustained growth in agricultural output is not assured. Ethiopia is still dependent on commercial food imports and food assistance.

Productivity is also constrained by land quality, the size of individual holdings and limited availability of inputs such as seed and fertiliser. Some 85% of Ethiopia’s population live in rural areas and the millions who depend on smallholder farming for their livelihoods are vulnerable to erratic seasonal rainfall, soil erosion, insecurity of tenure and high population growth. The northern region of Tigray is especially vulnerable to land degradation. Inefficiency of domestic markets and inadequate transport infrastructure also hinders distribution.

Watershed rehabilitation is a core part of Irish Aid’s approach. Hillsides are now greener and groundwater levels have risen so that farmers are able to build ponds and wells and invest in small scale irrigation. Photo: Irish Aid.


Ethiopia is ranked 173 out of 187 on the United Nations’ Human Development Index (Ireland is currently ranked eleventh). Huge progress has been made in recent years in economic growth and human development, and while the food security situation remains fragile in places and the population continues to increase, there has been no repeat of the famine of 1984-5, when up to one million people lost their lives. Life expectancy in Ethiopia has increased from 56 to 59.7 over the past few years, and, of a total population of more than 94 million, some 25 million people live below the national poverty line. However, the proportion of people living on less than $1.25 a day has decreased from 46% in 2000 to 27.6% in 2011/2012.

While poverty rates are improving overall, the severity of poverty being experienced in some rural areas is intensifying, relative to urban areas. And while the rate of population growth is slowing, it remains high at over 2% or two million additional people per year. Ethiopia is expected to have a population of close to 120 million in 2025, the year it aims to attain middle income status. The health sector has recorded some impressive developments in recent years, with mortality rates for children under five decreasing from 123 per 1,000 live briths in 2005 to to 68 In 2013 (achieving MDG 5). However, the lack of progress on maternal mortality is a critical concern for the Government and for development partners. Rates remain amongst the worst in the world (673/100,000 in 2005 and 676/100,000 in 2011). Just 34% of Ethiopian women receive some antenatal care from a skilled provider, although this is up from 28% in 2005.

The Ethiopian Government recognises that there is a need to addresses gender-related health issues as these undermine efforts elsewhere to improve child health and nutrition, productivity and economic growth in general.

Ethiopia still faces challenges such as recurring food insecurity. A very significant number of the population remains food insecure. Between 10 and 12 million Ethiopians are likely to need support to meet their basic food requirements in any given year and 44% of the population consume less than their daily calorie requirements. Currently, 44% of children under the age of five are stunted, 27% of Ethiopian women are too thin and 17% are anaemic.

For crisis-prone communities, erratic rains, continuing food price inflation (at 47.5% in February 2012), high fuel prices and related volatile inflation are amongst some of the factors that contribute to extreme vulnerability.

And Ethiopia is particularly vulnerable to climate change, especially variations in rainfall patterns. It is also vulnerable to drought and other natural disasters such as floods, heavy rains, frost and heat waves.

The humanitarian response system in Ethiopia is relatively robust and, in 2011, was attributed with averting major loss of life. However, there are concerns around whether the humanitarian response system can sustain its performance into the future as it is coping with increasing frequency, cost, variety and geographic spread of humanitarian needs within its borders.

Ethiopian woman selling local produce

Our Work

Irish Aid’s 2014-2018 country programme supports the Ethiopian Government’s Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP 2011-2015). The aim of the programme is to facilitate the implementation of the country’s growth and poverty reduction efforts so that the poor benefit from, and contribute to, equitable economic, social and environmental development. The programme has been designed to contribute to one outcome, focused on household resilience, and the following two objectives:

  1. To improve the abilities of poor rural households’ to respond and adapt to the effects of climate change and other shocks
  2. To improve the nutrition and health of poor rural women and children

Through our programme, we work with a variety of partners including government, UN agencies, international research institutions and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) across the whole territory of Ethiopia, but at regional level there is a concentration in Tigray and the Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s Region (SNNPR).

PSNP programme participants constructing hillside terraces as part of the public works programme of the PSNP. Photo: Irish Aid.

Helping the poorest households feed and support their families

Food insecurity continues to be a challenge for Ethiopia. Ireland provides some of the most vulnerable households in Ethiopia, who would otherwise need food aid through emergency channels, with predictable cash or food support in return for vital work on projects such as land rehabilitation.

The Productive Safety Net Programme is one of the largest social safety net programmes currently operating in Africa and it is making a significant contribution. Over seven and half million people benefitted from the programme in 2013.

Our support is focused on some of the most vulnerable households, especially those headed by women, so that they can cope better with shocks like failing rains or rising food prices. And, in this way, they can avoid resorting to short-term coping mechanisms like selling off their livestock.

We also work with organisations to improve farmer capacity and credit provision, as well as to develop food production capacities, value chains and alternative livelihood opportunities (on and off farm).

All this is done with a view to supporting people to become self-sufficient and graduate from the Productive Safety Net Programme. We work with a number of partners to help us implement this programme, including Farm Africa and SoS Sahel.

Making social services available with the participation of the rural poor

Ireland supports the Ethiopia Social Accountability Programme II (ESAP II), which seeks to ensure full accountability in the delivery of basic services at local level in areas such as health, education and HIV and AIDS services. To date the resources provided throught this programme have benefited 49 CSOs and their 61 partners in 223 woredas. As a result significant improvements have been reported in access to water, better maternal health facilities, additional classrooms, tuition for children in need and separate toilet facilities for girls in schools in rural and urban areas throughout the country. We support civil society and local communities’ input into the national government programmes and also the advancement of good government through engagement with local government service providers.

Ireland also funds the multi-donor Civil Society Support Programme which supports 328 CSOs across all regions to contribute to national development, poverty reduction and the advancement of good governance. With the assistance of NGOs, communities are now involved in identifying the needs of their own areas and making proposals for improvements. Decisions on priorities are made in consultation between local authorities and communities and take account of the needs of women and men and the most marginalised groups.

Giving communities a say is not only helping improve the quality of services they receive, it is also empowering communities to hold their local government authorities to account for the essential health and education services they require

Local market in Tigray. Photo: Irish Aid.

Improving the health and nutrition of women and children

We are assisting the Ethiopian Ministry of Health at national and regional levels in their efforts to improve people’s health. In particular, we prioritise funding to maternal and child health including accelerated training of midwives, the prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV and community mobilisation. Essential drugs, vaccines and insecticide-treated bednets are now more widely available in the fight against diseases. Irish Aid’s most significant contribution to the sector is through the Health Millennium Development Goal Performance Fund (MDG PF). In 2013, €4 million was provided.

We also have a strong approach to improving nutrition. We are supporting health extension workers to roll out community based platforms for nutrition education and promotion; micronutrient supplementation and de-worming including the provision of folic acid; and promoting breastfeeding, dietary diversity and complementary feeding. In addition we are working with partners to encourage fortification of staple foods in particular iodization and to promote optimal feeding practices and address moderate and acute malnutrition.

Ms Shefena Kasay, a farmer in Hawzien, Tigray region. Shefena’s farm has been changed immensely by Irish Aid supported projects. Photo: Irish Aid.

How we spend our budget

In 2013, our bilateral allocation was €27.2 million (see Summary of Partner Country Expenditure by Sector – Irish Aid Annual Report 2013-Annex 10). Our new five year strategy which covers the period 2014-2018 will largely maintain this annual budget figure, subject to the availability of resources.


Ethiopia’s progress

At a national level, Ethiopia has made significant progress in the following areas:

  • The proportion of people living on less than $1.25 a day decreased from 55.6% in 2000 to 27.6% in 2012.
  • Almost 7 million food insecure households benefited from food and cash support in 2013.
  • Under-five mortality rates declined by 44% between 2005 and 2013.
  • The proportion of households with access to iodised salt has increased from 15.45% in 2011 to 80% in 2013, an important step in reducing iodine deficiencies.

How we have helped

Irish Aid has played its part in the progress made by Ethiopia, among other things:

  • We supported a programme which helped 3,818 families to grow nutritious sweet potato, as well as ensuring 5,400 children benefited from sweet potato in their school meals.
  • Through our operational research technology programmes over 175 tonnes of improved crop varieties were distributed to 10,254 poor farmers in 2013 and a total of 284 improved breeds of rams, 2,116 chickens and more than 200 beehives were distributed to poor and/or landless women and unemployed youth.
  • With Irish Aid funding, 2.4 metric tonnes of potassium iodate (for salt iodisation) was supplied to the Ministry of Health.
  • Irish Aid’s contribution to the humanitarian sector through the OCHA managed Humanitarian Response Fund (HRF) has contributed to addressing acute and severe malnutrition for 86,039 individuals.
  • In 2013, Irish Aid supported over 130 NGOs to deliver projects to improve health, education, nutrition, agriculture and social inclusion.

2013 Expenditure by Sector

Job Opportunities

There are currently no positions vacant at the Embassy. 

Read more

For Further Information on Irish Aid work in Ethiopia read our Country Strategy Paper 2014-2018.