1. Background Information

Ethiopia, a landlocked country, is situated in the Horn of Africa. (See Image- 000: Map of Ethiopia.) It is bordered by Eritrea in the north, Sudan to the west, Kenya to the south, Somalia to the east and Djibouti to the northeast. Its size is 1 100 000 km2, which implies that Ethiopia is the 27th country of the world by size. In the early 1970s its population was estimated at 24 million inhabitants. The 2007 population census recorded that the Ethiopian population had increased in that year to 85 million inhabitants. The capital of Ethiopia is Addis Ababa.

Ethiopia is one of the oldest countries in the world and Africa’s second most populous country. The oldest hominid remains of the world were found in Ethiopia and have been dated at approximately 3 million years ago.

Jumping to historical times, there is evidence of a Semitic speaking people in Ethiopia and Eritrea at least as early as 2000 BC. Amharic the official Ethiopian language belongs to the Semitic language group. Some historians assume that the country was settled round 1100 BC by Sabaean people arriving from present day Yemen and Ge’ez, the ancient Semitic language of Ethiopia is assumed to be derived from the old Sabaean language. However, other historians assume that the first Ethiopian civilization had a true African origin.

Ethiopian dynastic history began with the reign of Emperor Menelik 1 in 1000 BC and continued via the Aksumite Empire from the 4th century AD till the 20th century. The last emperor was Haile Selassie I, who was removed from power in 1974. Today the Amharic form 27% and the culturally related Tigray form 6% of the Ethiopian population. However, due to their important role during Ethiopia’s history, they are considered the most dominating and influential population groups, which explains why Ethiopian’s national language is Amharic.
Initially the country only covered the northern part of present day Ethiopia, but since the 19th century Ethiopia has gradually expanded in the south to the borders of today.
The Europeans considered Ethiopia, during the last two thousand years, as the mysterious country of Prester John, a saint and a king. Several European countries invaded Ethiopia during the 19th and 20th century. In 1868 a British army made an expedition into Ethiopia to free European prisoners from the emperor Tewodros. Italy, which had planned to conquer the country in the 1890s, was badly defeated during the battle of Adwa in 1896 by the Ethiopian army under Emperor Menelik II. Ethiopia was brutally occupied by Benito Mussolini’s Italy from 1936 to 1941, ending with the liberation by British forces in 1941.

Ethiopia was the second earliest country to adopt Christianity during the fourth century AD, after Armenia. Christianity was in 316 AD introduced to Ethiopia by Meropius, a Christian philosopher from Tyre, in present day Lebanon. Some years later St Frumentius of Tyre also called Abba Selama-Father of Peace, converted King Ezana from the Aksum kingdom. Since then the Amharic and Tigray populations of Ethiopia have been Orthodox Christians under the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, which is related to the Coptic Church from Egypt. Actually, till 1950 the Ethiopian patriarch, or Abuna, was sent by the patriarch from Alexandria, Egypt. Today about 65% of all Ethiopians are Christians, among which over 80% of the Amharic and Tigray population. The rock churches of Lalibela and other locations contain beautiful rock paintings, dating from the 12th century and are well known.

Since 640 AD there has been a considerable Islam minority in Ethiopia. Today about 35% of the population is considered to be Muslim. Harar, located in the Ogaden, is the holy Muslim town of Ethiopia.

The Oromo, the Sidamo and other Cushitic speaking people, who originally lived in Kenya, have migrated to Ethiopia since the 16th century. These Cushitic speaking people gradually occupied the southern half of the country. Today the Oromo form the largest cultural group of Ethiopia with 35 % of the population.

Ethiopia is one of the world’s genetic centers for agricultural crops:
According to today’s generally accepted theory of the Russian biologist Vavilov, all agricultural crops were first cultivated and selected in one of the world’s genetic centers, from where these crops were gradually spread to other parts of the world. According to this theory, one finds in the genetic center of a specific crop, the largest genetic variation between the different landraces of this particular species. Ethiopia is an important genetic centre which contributed the following important agricultural crops to the world:

  • Coffee- Coffee Arabica. See images: Images: 160-163,179
  • Teff- Eragrotis tef. Teff is the main Ethiopian cereal crop used for baking of a flat type of bread, which is called injera and is therewith the main staple food of the Ethiopians. Teff is a very healthy food: high in protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, copper and aluminum.Images:140-141,341-344,410-411,465-467
  • Noug-Guizotia abessynia, an oil crop which produces 50 % of the Ethiopian vegetable oil needs Images:154-156
  • Sorghum-sorghum bicolor, a cereal crop, particularly grown in South Ethiopia. Images=146-151
  • Sesame-Sesanum indica, an oil crop. Though the main sesame genetic center is found in India, it is assumed that Ethiopia is the secondary genetic center for this crop. Images =152-153
  • Ensete ventricosa- False Banana. Ethiopia is also a secondary genetic center for this crop. Flour is made from the pseudostem and corns of Ensete, which are being fermented for several weeks and used for making a type of flat bread.Image=480