THE RAINS are coming now in Ethiopia but since drought was never the major cause of famine, they are unlikely on their own to lead to plenty. The real problem lies in civil strife in the countryside and in the junta's Soviet-type farming policies. These twin disruptions have been focused in the north, where the prospects remain grim. In the south, less afflicted by violence and the junta's heavy-handedness, conditions are better. This is the critical point to bear in mind as Ethiopia and its would-be rescuers turn from a necessary preoccupation with relief to at least the beginnings of an effort to rebuild.
It is true that many things still need to be done to improve the distribution of relief. The government has to unclog the ports and to release army trucks for food transport -- and to be denounced for its continuing reluctance to let relief missions enter rebel-held areas of Ethiopia. But the main requirement is to recognize the emerging priority of enabling the country to grow more of its own food. This should need no demonstrating. It is the only way.
For years, especially in the north, both the Ethiopian armed forces and their assorted challengers have ravaged the countryside, either forcibly recruiting peasants to take part in military campaigns or treating them and their fields as the enemy. Meanwhile, the government by enforced collectivization, price manipulation and other administrative means destroyed the country's agriculture.
If the country is to feed itself, all of this must be reversed. The fighting in the countryside must stop, and the political rigging must stop. The farmers must be left alone to grow their crops. They will have problems of seed, fertilizer, credit, transport and the like, but these are the sort of problems the farmers have traditionally solved. They do not need a big state apparatus or foreign network. They never had these things, and they grew a lot of food.
There is no wand to be waved to make Ethiopia's officials and rebels leave the farmers alone. The two groups -- especially the government, which has the first responsibility to care for the people it claims are its citizens -- have long since shown they are ready to put a quest for power ahead of considerations of human life. But they, all of them, need to be made accountable for their policies. They need to be held to a standard of responsibility. Nothing heroic or technical, nothing beyond their resources, is being demanded of them. They should just be expected to get out of the farmers' way.