Eritrea Food Security Warning, August 2005

Widespread food insecurity still grips Eritrea; but conditions are set to improve

Widespread food insecurity still grips Eritrea. Cereal prices continue to rise and malnutrition rates remain high. Currently, 1.3 - 1.4 million beneficiaries are receiving food assistance, and available food stocks as of the end of June will meet their needs through the end of October. Though agricultural production will again be limited by labor and inputs shortages, the agricultural season has started with favorable rains.

So far, the kremti rains (June September) have performed well in all the kremti rain-dependent areas, and agricultural activities are progressing well. The azmera rains (March May) were also good in Debub and Maekel zones, allowing for pasture regeneration and long cycle crop planting. According to the Water Requirement Satisfaction Index (WRSI) analysis, depicted in Figure 1, sorghum has received adequate moisture so far this season in Gash-Barka, where the majority of the country's sorghum is grown. These good rains must continue through September to ensure good yields. Around 300,000 hectares of land have been sown so far throughout the country. However, a shortage of agricultural inputs such as seeds and fertilizers could limit production if not immediately addressed. Moreover, as has been the case in recent years, labor shortages continue to hamper efforts to maximize agricultural production.

Figure 1. Water Requirement Satisfaction index (WRSI) , 11-20 July 2005

Source: USGS, Graphics: FEWS NET

The long dry period that followed the last year's poor kremti rain from September to May resulted in a significant deterioration of pastures, even along the riverine areas of Setit, the traditional dry season grazing areas of nomadic pastoralists. More than 40,000 animals have reportedly died in the zone as a result of lack of water and pasture. Recent rains have improved pasture and water conditions for nomadic pastoralists, though full recovery will take time.

Cereal prices continue to be high in all major markets. Compared to the same time last year, June market prices for white sorghum increased by 25 percent in Asmara, 91 percent in Keren and 62 percent in Mendefera. Considering that wages remain unchanged and civil servant salaries are still based on pre-1998 living standards, these high prices translate into direct losses in access to food for urban and semi-urban populations. Poorer rural households now also depend on purchase to meet their household food needs.

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