Teff is a staple grain produced in Ethiopia. It’s the seed of a grass native to Ethiopia (lovegrass). Teff is high in protein and calcium…and it’s gluten-free. In Ethiopia, it is used to make a flatbread called injera. Teff is growing in popularity, in a way that’s somewhat reminiscent of what occurred with quinoa.
Ethiopia has banned the export of teff in its raw or flour form. But exports of baked goods incorporating teff – including injera – are on the rise; the flatbread is flown to Washington, D.C., Sweden, Germany and Norway. The UK’s National Health Service is using it for some patients who have gluten intolerance. The growing excitement about teff is creating new opportunities for businesses, and for the millions of farmers who produce the staple crop.
There are some major issues, however. Teff doesn’t have a good yield rate, and not much money has been invested in research. The crop’s current production rates can’t keep up with the nation’s population growth (let alone export demand), which is driving prices up, and putting injera and other teff products out of the reach of many Ethiopians.
How will Ethiopia balance the opportunity to improve its economy by exporting teff with a need to keep a staple foodstuff affordable and accessible for Ethiopians?
Ms. Sirak-Kebede says this situation creates a dilemma because “teff is Ethiopia’s backbone”. She adds: “A shortage of teff would be like asking an Ethiopian not to breathe”.