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Supporting policy with scientific evidence

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Publication | 2021

Fasting, food and farming: Value chains and food taboos in Ethiopia

The impact of food taboos–often because of religion–is understudied. In Ethiopia, religious fasting by Orthodox Christians is assumed to be an important impediment for the sustainable development of a competitive dairy sector and desired higher milk consumption, especially by children. However, evidence is limited. Relying on unique data, we shed light on three major issues. First, we observe that the average annual number of fasting days that Orthodox adults are effectively adhering to is 140, less than commonly cited averages. Using this as an estimate for extrapolation, fasting is estimated to reduce annual dairy consumption by approximately 12 percent nationally. Second, farms adapt to declining milk demand during fasting by increased processing of milk into storable products–fasting contributes to larger price swings for these products. We further note continued sales of milk by non-remote farmers and reduced production–by adjusting lactation times for dairy animals–for remote farmers. Third, fasting is mostly associated with increased milk consumption by the children of dairy farmers, seemingly because of excess milk availability during fasting periods. Our results suggest that fasting habits are not a major explanation for the observed poor performance of Ethiopia’s dairy sector nor low milk consumption by children. To reduce the impact of fasting on the dairy sector in Ethiopia further, investment is called for in improved milk processing, storage, and infrastructure facilities.