The Pattern of Food Intake, Household Expenditures for a Rural Ethiopia

Situation Report on Region 2 (Afar National Regional State)




The pattern of food intake and essential expenditures for a household in rural Ethiopia

by Michael Fritsche, Field Officer

UNDP Emergencies Unit for Ethiopia

The object of this desk study is to describe consumption patterns in rural households in Ethiopia. Normally, relief assistance is provided in a manner concerned with the physical survival of people, meaning that first priority is given to ensuring minimum required calorie intake as well as medical support.

Besides food there are a lot of other basic needs a household faces. People have to live somewhere, have to buy clothes and meet social obligations. This fact is sometimes forgotten when dealing with aid. To enlighten the structures of essential expenditures in rural Ethiopia the following questions are of interest:

* What is the percentage of different food items consumed by each rural Ethiopian ? Does this pattern vary according to the purchasing power of people?

* What are the other essential expenditures that a person/household faces? How does the pattern of these expenditures change with the different purchasing power?

* What is the ratio between food expenditures and other essential expenditures?

Equipped with this information it may be possible to figure out at what level of purchasing power a household could subsist without being extremely vulnerable to the effects of minor changes in income.

Data used in this study

The main source of this study is data obtained over the period of one year by the Central Statistical Authority[1]of Ethiopia. During this period, data was collected from household all over rural Ethiopia through conducting personal interviews. Each household was visited once every quarter of the year, spending a period of one month to obtain a broad spectrum of information.

Unfortunately the data is almost 15 years old and therefore the reliability of the figures for present day analysis cannot be completely relied upon. On the other hand, there has probably not been a big change in the habits of people in rural Ethiopia over the past years; relative figures can therefore still be relevant sources of information.

Another problem detected with this data is the fact that the survey covers the entire rural Ethiopia, where food intake patterns vary from region to region. In these areas cultural habits and per capita income is also different. Therefore, this desk study can only provide an overall general impression regarding consumption patterns in rural Ethiopia.

Percentages of different food intakes

The information obtained on the quantities of various food commodities consumed by households shows that rural Ethiopians depend primarily on cereals. Cereals together with Kocho (Ensete) and vegetables contribute 85 percent of the total food intake per person, per day.

Table 1: Percentages of different food intake (by weight) in rural Ethiopia

Commodity                % of       Commodity          % of       
                        intake                        gram        
Cereals                 54          Spices            1.1         
Kocho                   17.5        Meat              0.8         
Vegetables              14.5        Fruits            0.4         
Pulses unmilled         3.9         Oil seeds         0.15        
Dairy products          3.2         Fish              0.5         
Pulses milled and       1.7         others2           2.2         

The following table shows how food intake percentages change among different income groups. As the data in this study was collected between 1981and 1982 it is not possible to evalauate income groups classes by amount but rather by "high", "medium" and "low income".[3]

"High income" represents the average of the seven highest income groups mentioned in the report issued by the Central Statistic Authority. "Medium income" refers to an average of the eight medium income groups, and "low income" stands for the average of the seven lowest income classes.

Table 2: Percentage of food intake by different level of income

                    Low Income      Medium Income    High Income     
    Commodity       in % of gram    in % of gram     in % of gram    
                    intake          intake           intake          
     Cereals        33.1            54.3             71.2            
      Kocho         29.5            17.3             6.2             
    Vegetables      26.2            14.6             8.7             
 Pulses unmilled    3.1             3.6              3.2             
  Dairy products    2.0             3.8              3.8             
 Pulses milled /    1.0             1.8              2.8             
      Spices        0.8             1.2              1.3             
       Meat         0.4             0.9              0.7             
      Fruits        0.1             0.4              0.3             
     Oilseeds       0.2             0.1              0.1             
       Fish         0.4             0.1              0.1             
      Others        3.3             1.9              1.6             
      Total         100             100              100             

In all three income groups cereals, Kocho and vegetables contribute 85 percent of the daily intake.[4] With raising income people seem to substitude Kocho and vegetables with cereals. Kocho and vegetables cover 55% of the daily intake in the low income group, whereas theses commodities go down to 15 % in the high income group.

The intake of cereals more than doubles from low to high income. This corresponds with the common knowledge that Kocho is the food of the poor.

The pattern of protein rich food intake also changes with different purchasing power. In the low income group dairy products, meat and fish contribute 2.8 % of the daily diet, in the medium income group they account for 4.8 % and in the high income group 4.6%.

Surprising is the intake pattern in different income groups of unmilled pulses, meat and fruits. The intake of these commodities does not seem to follow any one particular pattern. The reason for this may be the fact that figures in Table 2 are relative, whereas absolute figures would show an increase of consumption from the medium to high income groups.

The consumption of meat increase from low to high income groups, and even doubles; the total, however, remains under one percent of the daily diet. This shows that meat is still a luxury item for the relatively higher income groups; in this regard the expression high income is slightly misleading.

Essential Expenditures besides food

Table 3: Expenditures as percentage of non-food items

Item                     in % of     Item                    in % of     
                         non-food                            non-food    
                         cons.                               cons.       
Clothing and footwear       12.4     Services5                  11.4     
Housing 6                   31.1     Other consumption          8.4      
Household equipment8        2.7      Household                   18      
                                     non-consumption exp.9               
Household operations10      1.1      Drinks and                 14.9     

The most important part of non-food expenditures is housing; almost one third is spent on household requirements. Among the expenditures for housing the biggest is spent on energy (90%), and the remaining 10% on rent and water.

An indicator of household vulnerability may be "household non-consumption expenditures". It covers almost one fifth of the non food expenditures. According to the report of the Central Statistical Authority the households which spent more than their income over the time of the survey was 36.4 per cent. Moreover, it seems that loans are an important part of the rural economy and are often utilised. If theses depts are mainly seasonal (as a coping strategy) or regular can not be concluded from the survey.

The expenditure for drinks and stimulants seem to be rather high, even more than that on clothing and footwear. However, taking in account how important coffee and tella are for social life, especially when people are helping out on the farm or to build a house (self-help groups like wonfel, debo and jigi,) the percentage is not that astonishing anymore.

The following table gives a breakdown of the non-food expenditures by different income classes.

Table 4: Percentage of non-food expenditures by different income classes

                    Low Income        Medium Income     High Income      
Clothing and              9.2         11.74             17.93            
Housing                   42.9        35.51             24.6             
Household                 1.6         2.51              4.2              
Household                 1.7         1.0               1.42             
Services                 13.36        12.5              6                
Other consumption         3.53        8.5               9.3              
Non-consumption           9.1         13.85             23.2             
Drinks an                 18.6        14.25             13.28            

Households with higher income tend to spend more on clothes, whereas the expenditures for housing (mainly energy) effects their budget a lot less in comparison to the medium and low income classes.

Drinks and stimulants remain a main expense of all the income classes; this is again an indicator of the social relevance of these expenditures.

Table 5 shows the ratio between food and non-food expenditures. This ratio does not vary a lot among different income classes. Conventional wisdom would suggest that with a higher income the percentage of expenditure for food would decline. An answer might be that the higher income groups consume more food and subsidize cheaper with more expensive food.

Table 5: Ratio between food and non-food expenditures

               Average       Low Income     Medium Income  High Income    
Food               57.8      57.7           59.2           54.3           
Non food           42.2      42.3           40.8           45.2           
Total              100       100            100            100            


It is assumed that the per capita food intake of 1,900 calories a day is sufficient for the long term sustenance of a population with light physical activity living in a warm climate.[12] In Ethiopia the recommended level of energy intake has been increased to 2,000 Kcal per person per day (according to the Government's relief distribution plan). This adjustment is mainly due to the fact that the average Ethiopian beneficiary has a higher physical activity (i.e. agricultural work) and lives in a colder climate. In order to reach this 2,000 calories a day, a person needs between 550 and 600 gram of cereal equivalents. (Over a one year period sufficient calorie intake of cereal equivalents is covered with 210 kgs of cereals per person.) According to Table 5 a household covers its food need with 60% of the income regardless of the purchasing power. Considering a medium price for a quintal of cereals (100 Birr/ Qunital),[13] a household has to generate an extra income of 140 Birr per household member, per year in order to cover the essential non food expenditures.


The designations employed and the presentation of material in this document do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever of the UN concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries. Information in this report has been obtained from specialised UN agencies and NGO reports. Reference is made to other sources of information as necessary.

17 May, 1996

UN-EUE Tel.: (251) (1) 51-10-28/29

PO Box 5580, Fax: (251) (1) 51-12-92

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Editor: Ali B. Dinar, (