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Ethiopia: Diversifying the Rural Economy. An Assessment of the Investment Climate for Small and Informal Enterprises

Loening, Josef and Mikael Imru, Laketch (2009): Ethiopia: Diversifying the Rural Economy. An Assessment of the Investment Climate for Small and Informal Enterprises. Published in: World Bank Economic Sector Work , Vol. 49564-, (6 October 2009)

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The Rural Investment Climate Assessment (ICA) is one of the first studies of small and informal firms in rural and semi-urban areas in Ethiopia. Little was known about the nature and size distribution of small, rural firms, the constraints they face when trying to expand or even to survive, the significance of their impact on the broader rural economy, and the policies, reforms and public investments that could spur investment by rural non-farm enterprises. One quarter of all households in rural Ethiopia own and operate a small enterprise. For these households, the income they earn from the business contributes about 40 percent of their total household income, indicating that the nonfarm sector in rural areas is significantly larger than was previously thought. The Rural ICA finds that participation on small and informal enterprise in rural areas contributes to achieving growth and food security as well as in reducing poverty and inequality. Among the recommendations of the Rural ICA is a call for the development of rural market towns. Small, fragmented markets are the major constraint to business performance and growth. In small market towns demand is higher, transaction costs are lower, competition is stronger, and there are more incentives to invest. Although, overall, nonfarm enterprise productivity and profits are low, enterprises in rural towns are as productive as informal small enterprises in urban areas - and about 50 percent more productive than enterprises in remote rural areas.

As the Ethiopian economy develops, with higher productivity and better performance in agriculture, the nonfarm sector will also grow and become increasingly important as an alternative employer of labor and source of livelihood in rural areas. This suggests the policy priority should not be 'either agriculture or the nonfarm sector' but a balanced approach.

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