Eritrea: Seeds and tools provide a lifeline

Eritrea is facing critical food shortages. With funding from Oxfam Unwrapped - Oxfam's Christmas gift catalogue - we are providing families in the worst affected areas with seeds, fertiliser and ploughs to enable them to plant their crops.

"No doubt, my farm will be ploughed now. I got what is necessary for me. What only remains is my part to start ploughing," exclaimed Rezan Abraha happily.

Rezan Abraha, 36, is a mother of four from Areza in Debub. Her husband joined the military in 1999 and since then she has taken full responsibility for the family.

She is typical of many families in the Areza area where 50 per cent of households are female headed.

This is partly due to the impact of the war and the ongoing conscription of young males and females aged between 18-40 years for military and national service.

Living off the land

Like most others in the area, her family depends on agricultural production for their survival. "My main source of food is the harvest I get from 0.75 hectares of land. However, since 2000 there has been no good harvest at all," Rezan explains.

For the past five years, the cumulative effects of recurrent drought, in addition to border tensions and possible conflicts, have seriously affected people's access to food.

Now, Eritrea is not only facing critical food shortages to feed about 2.3 million people but there is also a seed deficit of 11,000 metric tonnes.

Oxfam's response

In response to the shortage of seeds, we are distributing emergency agricultural aid to 5301 households in Mai Mine and Areza in Debub.

Each family receives a plough, a 50 kg bag of fertiliser and a voucher worth 400 Nakfa to purchase appropriate seeds.

Seed fairs

Seeds are distributed through a seed fair system injecting much-needed cash into the strangled local economy.

"Normally my family keeps seeds for the next rain season but this year as in the previous year there was not any harvest at all for the family. I was very anxious on how I was going to get good and adequate seeds to plant.

"Now because of the voucher I received from Oxfam, I bought sorghum, taff, barley and cowpeas and I am very happy to get all the varieties I wanted." Rezina reported.


"My plough is very old and I cannot afford one now. Thanks to God and you [Oxfam] that you came at the right time," she added while smiling.

Fortunately for Rezina she has a pair of oxen to help her plough the field. While some households do not have their own pair of oxen, the tradition support system is still strong and people are able to share oxen.

Improving water sources

In addition, Oxfam has just completed a 100 000m3 capacity earth dam to improve the water situation in the village. Plans are underway to introduce small-scale irrigation farming in the area and planting of trees around the dam.