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Ethiopia in north east Africa has a population of over 80 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.‌

Ethiopia at a glance


86.5 million

Proportion of population living on less than $1.25 a day:


Ranking on UN Human Development Index:

173 out of 187

Partner Country since:


A large political map of Ethiopia

Ireland and Ethiopia

We opened our Embassy in Ethiopia in 1994 when we established our official aid programme. Since then, Irish Aid has worked with a variety of partner organisations including government institutions, UN agencies, international research institutions and aid agencies to deliver on our aid 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 the Ethiopian Government’s new 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 improve 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


The Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) have been in power since 1974 and, since that time, have embarked on transforming Ethiopia into a more developed, democratic and egalitarian society. This task remains a work in progress.

The Ethiopian Government places a clear emphasis on economic growth, while retaining the strong focus on human development seen in the previous development plan. The new plan aims to transform Ethiopia into a middle income country in the next 12 years, eradicating poverty while promoting equality and equity.

Ethiopia plays an important role in regional politics, mediating, for instance, between the parties in Sudan and 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.‎

Agriculture accounts for 46% of GDP and 85% of total employment.  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 aid.

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.


Ethiopia has been one of the fastest-growing, non-oil economies in Africa in recent years with growth averaging 8-10% annually. Continued rapid economic expansion is possible but it will need careful management. Oil, if discovered, would be a significant development.

Industry accounts for 13.6% 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.

Market in Tigray, Ethiopia 2011


Ethiopia is ranked 173 out of 187 on the United Nations’ Human Development Index (Ireland is currently ranked seventh). The country continues to be associated in international opinion with the devastating famine of 1984/85 when over one million people died. In the last ten years, however, very significant progress has been made in economic growth and human development with the support of development assistance.

Life expectancy in Ethiopia is 56 years, and, of a total population of more than 80 million, over 30 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 39% in 2011.

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 so high that Ethiopia’s population could double by 2030.

The health sector has recorded some impressive developments in recent years, with mortality rates for children under five decreasing by 28% between 2005 and 2010. 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 675/100,000 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 concerns 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 having to cope with increasing frequency, cost, variety and geographic spread of humanitarian needs within Ethiopia’s borders.

In Ethiopia, Irish Aid supports the implementation of the Government’s new development plan with a focus on health, hunger and governance. There is also a concentration on two regions of the country: Tigray and the Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s Region (SNNPR). We work with a variety of partners including government, UN agencies, international research institutions and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to implement programmes.  

An Ethiopian farmer with his crop

Helping the poorest households feed and support their families

Food insecurity continues to be a challenge for Ethiopia. The Government’s Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP), one of the key programmes supported by 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.

This 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 2011.

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 the Women’s Association of Tigray and Farm Africa on the Rural Women’s Economic Empowerment Programme.

An ethiopian farmer with her herd

Making social services available with the participation of the rural poor

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.

With the support of NGOs, communities are now centrally 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

An Ethiopian woman at a religious ceremony

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 support improvements in the health of mothers and children, including the prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV. Essential drugs, vaccines and insecticide-treated bednets are now more widely available in the fight against diseases.   

In Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s Region (SNNPR), we have a particular focus on supporting the capacities of health professionals, especially midwives.

As part of our approach to improving nutrition we are supporting organisations such as the International Potato Centre (CIP) in their work to increase access to a more nutritionally-diverse food supply.

How we spend our budget

A new five year strategy for 2014-2018 has been developed and spending will be in the region of €26 million per year, subject to the availability of budget. We spent just over €26 million in support of our development programmes in 2012 (see Summary of Partner Country Expenditure by Sector – Irish Aid Annual Report 2012, Annex 10). 

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 39% in 2012.
  • Between July 2011 and July 2012, essential food and cash support was provided to a total of 6.9 million food insecure households.  
  • Infant mortality declined by 38.7% between 2000 and 2011. 
  • Almost 80% of all salt produced in Ethiopia in 2012 was iodised at source, an important step in reducing iodine deficiencies.

How we have helped

Irish Aid has played its part in the progress made by Ethiopia:

  • So far, we have provided 69,175 kg of improved crop varieties and 189 breeds of livestock to over 7,000 smallholder farmers.
  • In 2012, Irish Aid supported 87 NGOs which work in a variety of fields from health to agriculture and water supply to disability and social inclusion.

 Graph illustrating Irish Aid expenditure by sector in Ethiopia, 2012