Last July, as we were in the process of working through our home study and dossier paperwork, I heard about a PBS program about an Ethiopian woman who was trying to build Ethiopia’s first commodities exchange. I recorded the program and it has been just sitting in our DVR queue ever since then, losing priority to our favorite shows. Every once in a while, I think, Hmm, we should really watch that some time, but for whatever reason, we just haven’t watched it.
But finally, last night, 367 days after we recorded it, Craig and I sat down and watched the program. I’m so glad that we did! It was really interesting on a number of levels. First, it was great to see Ethiopian people, see images of Ethiopian markets and office buildings, learn about the important grains and exports (coffee, of course, but did you know that sesame seeds are a new big export crop in Ethiopia?), and hear some of the language (I assume Amharic, but it could have been any number of dialects, I suppose) spoken. But I also learned so much. I was surprised to learn, for example, that during the terrible famine of 1984, when 1 million Ethiopians starved to death in the northern part of the country, that areas in the south actually had a surplus of food. But there was no system set up to move food from one place to another. How terrible, and how shocking. And I was also educated a bit about how commodities are exchanged in the developed world, and how Ethiopian farmers had no centralized process or governing body to turn to with their crops. It was also fantastic to see an intelligent, strong, beautiful woman leading this cause in a developing nation.
Eleni Gabre-Madhin is a woman with a dream. The charismatic Ethiopian economist wants to end hunger in her famine-plagued country. But rather than relying on foreign aid or new agricultural technology, she has a truly radical plan. She has designed the nation’s first commodities exchange, which she hopes will revolutionize an ancient market system whose inefficiencies have been partly responsible for the country’s persistent food shortages.
In April 2008 and after more than a decade of planning, the starting bell rang on the trading floor for the first time. Gabre-Madhin has been running frantically ever since. She attempts to maintain the machinery that keeps her country fed while facing powerful special interests, antiquated farming practices, poor infrastructure, and an unpredictable climate. Not to mention a global economic crisis.
WIDE ANGLE travels to East Africa for The Market Maker, hosted by anchor Aaron Brown, to tell the dramatic, intimate story of a woman on a mission – and a world of trouble standing in her way.
I definitely recommend this program to anyone interested in learning more about Ethiopia and its commodities and economy. The entire episode (which is about 53 minutes long) is available here and multiple clips are available on the site I linked to above. I suppose PBS might also show re-runs of this program. Let’s see if I can figure out how to embed the promo for the episode here (if not, I guess it will show up as a link):