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ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Ethiopia may not need any food aid within five years thanks to an ambitious development plan that targets a heady average economic growth of 14.9 percent over the period, its prime minister said on Wednesday.
The Horn of Africa nation is still one of the world's poorest countries, with nearly 10 percent of the population relying on emergency food aid last year.
But the government has posted high economic growth figures over the past five years, averaging about 11 percent, although the opposition says they are inflated to attract investment.
"In the future, we will feed ourselves and we will be able to manage our own forms of social security," Prime Minister Meles Zenawi told reporters. "I don't think that is impossible. I think it's quite achievable over the next five years."
Ethiopia is one of the world's biggest recipients of foreign aid, receiving $3.3 billion worth of help in 2008, according to the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.
The country's new five-year plan predicts a "base-case" scenario of 11 percent average growth and a "high-case scenario" of 14.9 percent average growth.
Ethiopia hopes to exploit growing business ties with China, India and Turkey and is also trying to attract visitors from those countries to boost its largely untapped tourism sector.
China has this year invested in road building, hydropower and windfarm projects in the impoverished nation, including almost $1 billion in two dam projects.
Ethiopia says the agricultural output upon which the country's economy overwhelmingly relies will be doubled by 2015 by encouraging investment and large-scale farming. Ethiopia is Africa's biggest coffee exporter and the world's fourth largest exporter of sesame.
"I think that this is a very ambitious plan but at the very least the base-case scenario is doable," Meles said. "The high-case scenario is not unimaginable."
The Ethiopian government predicts growth of about 10 percent for 2010/2011. The International Monetary Fund says the economy will grow by 7 percent.
Ethiopia's economic climate is watched by foreign investors interested in commodity exports and its potential oil and gas reserves.
The country is one of Africa's largest potential markets -- with a population of about 80 million -- and most of its people have no telephones or bank accounts.
Meles, who was returned to power for five more years in a disputed May election victory, has ruled out privatising the banking and telecommunications sectors despite pressure from Western donors to do so.
The former rebel told Reuters in an interview on election day that improving Ethiopia's energy supply and expanding its industries would be his priorities for the next five years, after which he would retire.
The plan, called "Growth and Transformation", also predicts a huge expansion of infrastructure, with the country's power production set to increase from 2,000MW to 10,000MW and the construction of 2,395 km of railway lines.
Ethiopia plans to spend $12 billion over 25 years on realising its ambition of become a power exporter on a continent where shortages are common and cost industry dear.