Ethiopia Food Crisis: Meet the tiny breakfast grain that is helping to save lives

30 June 2016

Ethiopia hunger crisis farmers take food

Ethiopia Food Crisis: Farmers wait patiently at a food distribution in Mekele (Credit: Louise Norton)

Today more than 10 million women, men and children in Ethiopia are struggling with severe hunger caused by drought. This very real hunger crisis has left many vulnerable families dangerously malnourished.

Food shortages and ‘food insecurity’ – an inability to get enough good, nutritious food – are having an extreme impact on the most vulnerable families. These are being caused by drought, high food prices at the market and low prices for malnourished cattle.

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Food that grows in a drought

The staple crops people in Ethiopia farm are wheat, sorghum and barley. This is because they can survive hunger crises such as this one in a difficult climate providing a good, healthy food with very little input.

We’re familiar with wheat in England and Wales as we use it to make bread. Sorghum is also a grain and one of the most widely grown in the world. We don’t see it much in the UK, but it is fast becoming the go-to supergrain for the health conscious, much like quinoa has done. In drought-prone countries like Ethiopia, a crop like sorghum that is hardy and can survive dry weather, is invaluable.

Barley beats hunger

Barley is a key component of the Ethiopian diet. We think of barley as the powerhouse behind our breakfast cereals and beer, but in many countries around the world – such as Ethiopia – it keeps people alive and healthy.

That is why your money is helping to buy barley seeds for hungry families in Ethiopia. The seeds will grow with very little water and will yield enough to feed families there in a very short space of time.

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Ethiopia drought: Six reasons why barley is a world beater

Here are six things you should know about this incredible little grain that has been a staple in working diets across the world:

1. Barley is the little steak in the field

Barley has more protein than wheat, sorghum or maize, so it can play a big part in fighting malnutrition.

2. Barley keeps you fuller for longer

This filling grain helps people to stay less hungry.

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3. Ethiopia is a super market of barley

More varieties of barley are grown in Ethiopia than any other area of comparable size, which is huge – Ethiopia is over four times the size of the UK.

Watch these updates from Ethiopia to hear more about CAFOD's seed distribution:

4. Barley was grown on the shore of the Sea of Galilee

In settlements dating back 23,000 years, barley was grown on the shore of the great sea in what is now Israel.

5. Russell Crowe loves barley…possibly

Okay, it’s not strictly true that the Hollywood star loves barley, but Roman gladiators were called Hordearii, or ‘Barley Men’. The reason being: they would eat barley because they believed barley gave them greater strength and stamina than other men. Perhaps, when Russell was training for ‘Gladiator’, he devoured bowls-full to get the requisite lion-taming physique.

6. Barley pays the bills

This supergrain was so important that up until the 16th century, it was used as a currency in some parts of the world.

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