Farmers in the province of Wällo, Ethiopia, have suffered grievous famine twice during the last thirty years, once in 1973 and again in 1984-85. Their vulnerability to famine can be seen in the context of debates on economic development and the environment. This paper argues that the situation of the farmers in Wällo is best understood from the point of view of non-development. Following a brief summary of the history of Wällo, the paper explores the economic resources of the farmers and their relationship to a succession of national states, particularly with the Därg, which ruled Ethiopia between 1974 and 1991. It argues that certain Därg policies undermined the farmers’ capacity to cope with famine. It further argues that, given appropriate economic measures, farming in Wällo could be a much more viable proposition than is normally believed. One aspect of this argument is renewed appreciation of the farmers’ role in preserving the environment and in innovating agronomic practices.