food / travel

From Wheat To Pasta: A Very Italian Solution To Ethiopian Poverty

Spaghetti produced from the wheat of local farms is served in the restaurants of Ethiopia, which discovered pasta during Italian colonial rule but only now are developing an entire economy around it.

Future Ethiopian pasta
Future Ethiopian pasta
Emanuele Bompan

OROMIA — Here's the vision: Ethiopia is on its way to becoming one of the world's major producers of spaghetti and other types of pasta, helping the country pull itself out of long entrenched hunger and poverty.

Rescuing a country with pasta? Only the Italians could come up with such an idea! Indeed, the "Agricultural Chains in Oromia” project is the brainchild of Tiberio Chiari, technical director for the Italian Foreign Ministry's agriculture development arm (IAO). The goal is to turn locally and often individually grown durum wheat into a vast source for the final production of everything from bucatini to ziti.

"In order to create the supply chain, we must take care of every detail, connecting producers to traders and farmers to businessmen," Chiari says.

The Ali Valley is situated in Oromia, one of Ethiopia's largest regions and home to some 27 million people. Here, the only sound is often the golden sea of wheat swaying under the blue sky of the Bale plateau, one of the highest in Africa. Gamine Amin, 30, sows and harvests everything by hand in a region where industrial agriculture is virtually non-existant.

Amin's plot of land is no more than 2.5 acres, which is true for some 95% of Ethiopian agriculture today. And yet, the soil in this area is perfect for grain, with lots of nutrients and plenty of water. Staring at this blessed valley, which is more reminiscent of Tuscany than most parts of Africa, it's difficult to believe that Ethiopia has suffered such terrible famines.

The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia is already a key supplier of coffee beans, sugarcane and cotton. Nevertheless, its food security is based largely on the supply of two staple products: a simple cereal used to produce the injera, (standard soft bread), and grain mostly from soft wheat.

When supply of one of these two strategic reserves drops, hunger is usually not far behind. In recent times, wheat production has most often been put at risk. "The ear of wheat suffers from an epidemic of rust, a fungal disease that has affected most of the crops," explains Genene Gezu, local coordinator of the Italian project.

Chiari is fully aware of the gravity of the situation. "Monocultures are easily exposed to diseases because of the lack of diversity in their genetic makeup. If a plant is affected by rust, all will be potentially exposed."

Colonial roots

This is where the success of the project “Agricultural Chains in Oromia" begins. Selected durum wheat, with a more varied genetic makeup than the tender one, helps to ensure the resilience of crops. This process minimizes the risk of contagion.

There is proof of success in a resilient alternative to rust and how it has learned how to increase yield. For instance, rotating chickpeas and legumes helps to preserve a rich soil and high seed quality.

Still, the simple improvement of the product and the study of its varieties wasn't enough. It's necessary to involve the whole pasta industry in order to increase the output value, bringing benefit to local producers.

"Until recent times Ethiopia imported a large amount of grain from Turkey," explains Fabio Melloni, director of the technical office of the Italian aid group in Addis Ababa. “The country is experiencing a real cultural boom for pasta, a tradition inherited from the short and unsuccessful Italian colony."

Pasta is easy to find in Addis Ababa, the capital, and consumption is spreading to smaller cities. It is served with tomato sauce or meat, as well as with typical dishes such as doro wot (chicken with berbere sauce) and tibs (meat and vegetables).

Food fair

Thanks to the project, 15,000 tons of grain (up from just 500 at the end of 2012) are produced in Ethiopia today, mostly driven by the private sector.

In December, over 1,000 people gathered at the Hilton Hotel in Addis Ababa to attend the event "Wheat, Flour & Pasta," which brought together food entrepreneurs from all over the country. The goal was to promote the development of the wheat industry and to taste the dishes prepared by Addis Ababa chefs.

"Today there are about 15 companies who want to use whole wheat flour for pasta production in Ethiopia," Chiari says. "We believe this will help wheat production continue to improve. This project is a source of inspiration. The market will do the rest."

Is there a new model for development tucked into this Italian project? "Today it makes little sense to do one-off projects," Chiari says. "Just think about the size of this country, the third biggest in Africa, with 94 million inhabitants. We need to work on the overall know-how and strategic direction of the country, promoting the supply chain as an integrated system. Working on the whole value chain can lift people out from the spiral of poverty."

One plate of pasta at a time.

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Queen Elizabeth II with UK PM Boris Johnson at a reception at Windsor Castle yesterday

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Hej!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where chaos hits Syria, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro is accused of crimes against humanity and a social media giant plans to rebrand itself. For Spanish daily La Razon, reporter Paco Rodríguez takes us to the devastated town of Belchite, where visitors are reporting paranormal phenomenons.



• Syrian violence erupts: Army shelling on residential areas of the rebel-held region of northwestern Syria killed 13 people, with school children among the victims. The attack occurred shortly after a bombing killed at least 14 military personnel in Damascus. In central Syria, a blast inside an ammunition depot kills five soldiers.

• Renewed Ethiopia air raids on capital of embattled Tigray region: Ethiopian federal government forces have launched its second air strike this week on the capital of the northern Tigray. The air raids mark a sharp escalation in the near-year-old conflict between the government forces and the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) that killed thousands and displaced over 2 million people.

• Bolsonaro accused of crimes against humanity: A leaked draft government report concludes that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro should be charged with crimes against humanity, forging documents and incitement to crime, following his handling of the country's COVID-19 pandemic. The report blames Bolsonaro's administration for more than half of Brazil's 600,000 coronavirus deaths.

• Kidnappers in Haiti demand $17 million to free a missionary group: A Haitian gang that kidnapped 17 members of a Christian aid group, including five children, demanded $1million ransom per person. Most of those being held are Americans; one is Canadian.

• Putin bows out of COP26 in Glasgow: Russian President Vladimir Putin will not fly to Glasgow to attend the COP26 climate summit. A setback for host Britain's hopes of getting support from major powers for a more radical plan to tackle climate change.

• Queen Elizabeth II cancels trip over health concerns: The 95-year-old British monarch has cancelled a visit to Northern Ireland after she was advised by her doctors to rest for the next few days. Buckingham Palace assured the queen, who attended public events yesterday, was "in good spirits."

• A new name for Facebook? According to a report by The Verge website, Mark Zuckerberg's social media giant is planning on changing the company's name next week, to reflect its focus on building the "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet.


"Oil price rise causes earthquake," titles Portuguese daily Jornal I as surging demand coupled with supply shortage have driven oil prices to seven-year highs at more than $80 per barrel.



For the first time women judges have been appointed to Egypt's State Council, one of the country's main judicial bodies. The council's chief judge, Mohammed Hossam el-Din, welcomed the 98 new judges in a celebratory event in Cairo. Since its inception in 1946, the State Council has been exclusively male and until now actively rejected female applicants.


Spanish civil war town now a paranormal attraction

Ghosts from Spain's murderous 1930s civil war are said to roam the ruins of Belchite outside Zaragoza. Tourists are intrigued and can book a special visit to the town, reports Paco Rodríguez in Madrid-based daily La Razon.

🏚️ Between August 24 and September 6, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, more than 5,000 people died in 14 days of intense fighting in Belchite in north-eastern Spain, and the town was flattened. The fighting began on the outskirts and ended in house-to-house fighting. Almost half the town's 3,100 residents died in the struggle. The war annihilated centuries of village history. The town was never rebuilt, though a Pueblo Nuevo (or new town) was built by the old one.

😱 Belchite became an open-air museum of the horror of the civil war of 1936-39, which left 300,000 dead and wounds that have yet to heal or, for some today, mustn't. For many locals, the battle of Belchite has yet to end, judging by reports of paranormal incidents. Some insist they have heard the screams of falling soldiers, while others say the Count of Belchite wanders the streets, unable to find a resting place after his corpse was exhumed.

🎟️ Ordinary visitors have encountered unusual situations. Currently, you can only visit Belchite at set times every day, with prior booking. More daring visitors can also visit at 10 p.m. on weekends. Your ticket does not include a guaranteed paranormal experience, but many visitors insist strange things have happened to them. These include sudden changes of temperature or the strange feeling of being observed from a street corner or a window. Furthermore, such phenomena increase as evening falls, as if night brought the devastated town to life.

➡️


We still cling to the past because back then we had security, which is the main thing that's missing in Libya today.

— Fethi al-Ahmar, an engineer living in the Libyan desert town Bani Walid, told AFP, as the country today marks the 10-year anniversary of the death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The leader who had reigned for 42 years over Libya was toppled in a revolt inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings and later killed by rebels. Some hope the presidential elections set in December can help the country turn the page on a decade of chaos and instability.


Iran to offer Master's and PhD in morality enforcement

Iran will create new "master's and doctorate" programs to train state morality agents checking on people's public conduct and attire, according to several Persian-language news sources.

Mehran Samadi, a senior official of the Headquarters to Enjoin Virtues and Proscribe Vices (Amr-e be ma'ruf va nahy az monkar) said "anyone who wants to enjoin virtues must have the knowledge," the London-based broadcaster Iran International reported, citing reports from Iran.

The morality patrols, in force since the 1979 revolution, tend to focus mostly on young people and women, particularly the public appearance for the latter. Loose headscarves will send women straight to a police station, often in humiliating conditions. Five years ago, the regime announced a new force of some 7,000 additional agents checking on women's hijabs and other standards of dress and behavior.

Last week, for example, Tehran police revealed that they had "disciplined" agents who had been filmed forcefully shoving a girl into a van. Such incidents may increase under the new, conservative president, Ibrahim Raisi.

Speaking about the new academic discipline, Samadi said morals go "much further than headscarves and modesty," and those earning graduate degrees would teach agents "what the priorities are."

Iran's Islamic regime, under the guidance of Shia jurists, continuously fine tunes notions of "proper" conduct — and calibrates its own, interventionist authority. More recently the traffic police chief said women were not allowed to ride motorbikes, and "would be stopped," Prague-based Radio Farda reported.

Days before, a cleric in the holy city of Qom in central Iran insisted that people must be vaccinated by a medic of the same sex "as often as possible," and if not, there should be no pictures of mixed-sex vaccinations.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

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