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FEWS Bulletin Jul 1999: Eastern Africa and the Horn

Deteriorating Food Security in the Horn of Africa

Poor rainfall over large areas of the Horn of Africa, combined with civil insecurity of an increasingly regional nature, has led to deteriorating food security throughout much of Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya (figure 1). Poor rainfall throughout the region resulted in significant and, in some cases, extreme crop losses—Ethiopia is facing a near total failure in its belg (secondary) season, Somalia’s gu (main) season crop production is expected to be poor and Kenya is experiencing well below average long-rains production in several marginal agricultural areas. Grazing conditions are also deteriorating, affecting the area’s pastoralists, many of whom suffered from a serious drought earlier in the year. The regional nature of the drought will limit traditional dry season livestock migration routes, such as those from northern Kenya into southern Ethiopia and from Somalia into the Haud area of eastern Ethiopia.

The effects of drought are being exacerbated by displacement of populations and restriction of food aid and refugee flows caused in varying degrees by the conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea, as well as tension, unrest and raiding along various other borders. The Kenyan Government has closed the border with Somalia, restricting the ongoing stream of refugees who are fleeing from fighting and drought. Over 200,000 Somali and Kenyan refugees will further stretch Ethiopia’s tight food aid resources, and more refugees are likely.

On a more positive note, the fear of heavy crop and pasture losses from the African armyworm has receded throughout the Greater Horn of Africa due to climatic factors, the timing of the infestation in the crop cycle and limited but effective control efforts. Livestock prices have appreciated in areas influenced by the export trade, after the lifting of the Saudi ban on livestock imports. Higher livestock prices, combined with an expected post-harvest dip in grain prices, should temporarily improve terms of trade for vulnerable pastoralists. However, the respite will be short-lived because livestock prices will likely decline as animal conditions deteriorate through the dry season until the next rainy season in October/November, and grain prices will undoubtedly rise in response to national grain shortfalls in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya.

Food aid needs could increase dramatically in the second half of the year, but a significant improvement in security will be necessary for an adequate response to occur.


Millions of people are currently food insecure in Ethiopia. Extreme food insecurity plagues belg (secondary)-producing areas of Ethiopia’s northern highlands. The effect of the belg failure has been intensified by coming on the heels of a lower-than-expected 1998 meher (primary) season production, drought in pastoral areas earlier in the year and population displacement from the conflict with Eritrea. Many households in the northern belg-producing area, particularly in and around North Wello Zone, have registered complete crop losses (figure 1).

Alarming food insecurity conditions are not limited to North Wello Zone and surrounding belg areas. In June, FEWS participated in assessments of East Harergue Zone of Oromiya Region and Afar Region, which revealed extreme food insecurity in East Harergue and less serious conditions in Afar. Furthermore, pastoral areas in eastern and southern Ethiopia, which are still recovering from recent experiences with considerable drought-induced food and water insecurity, are experiencing below-normal precipitation. Terms of trade for herders are low, and animal conditions in some areas will suffer if rains do not pick up, which in turn would result in further declines in livestock prices.

With deteriorating food insecurity continuing in multiple locations throughout Ethiopia, the Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Commission (DPPC) once again revised upward its estimate of people in need of food aid—from 4.6 million in May to 5.3 million as of the end of June. The total estimated food aid need stands at about 425,000 MT for June to December 1999. According to DPPC records, this is the highest level of need since 1994. Food aid contributions at the end of June totaled 205,780 MT, leaving a shortfall of approximately half of the need. The Emergency Food Security Reserve (EFSR) stock currently fluctuates between 80,000 and 100,000 MT, depending on incoming contributions and withdrawals.

Because of the poor belg rainfall, the upcoming meher production is not expected to be good even if meher rains are normal. Many farmers plant long-cycle maize and sorghum during the belg and then harvest the crops after the meher. This year, however, because of the poor belg rains’ delaying planting opportunities, many farmers have switched to planting teff—a fast-maturing, but lower-yielding, crop. While some crop damage from armyworms is expected, timely control efforts by the Government, as well as rains that killed the larvae in some locations, have contained the outbreak to date.


The 1999 gu (main) rains have ended in southern Somalia. Rainfall throughout the season was unusually patchy and was interrupted by long dry periods in most areas. Below-normal rainfall has adversely affected crop production and food security in most rainfed areas of southern Somalia, particularly for poor agro-pastoralists in Bay, Bakool and parts of Gedo Regions who had been hard hit by previous crop failures (figure 1). Additionally, below-normal rainfall levels in the Ethiopian highlands that feed the Juba and Shabelle River Basins have led to low river water levels, threatening irrigated crops.
The 1999 gu harvest will begin in August. Crops in some rainfed areas may still benefit from the hagay (light coastal showers in southern Somalia) and from the karan (seasonal rains in Somaliland). Depending on water availability, off-season crop production could continue through October. An escalation in factional fighting in some of the most agriculturally productive Regions of southern Somalia has disrupted crop and livestock production and forced many to flee their homes and farms in Bay and Gedo Regions, and particularly from Kismayo town.

In response to early warnings provided by the Somalia Food Security Assessment Unit (FSAU), the Somalia Aid Coordination Body (SACB) has issued an emergency appeal for central and southern Somalia for the period July to December 1999. FSAU estimates that some 1.5 million people are at risk, including 300,000 displaced people. The actual number of people requiring food assistance will be estimated following an assessment of the 1999 gu harvest in August. The SACB has requested almost $17.5 million from donors, of which over 70 percent is for food aid.

Large quantities of newly printed Somali shillings have been flooding currency markets since April, causing high price inflation of both imported commodities (fuel and food items) and locally produced staple foods. The value of the Somalia shilling against the US dollar has dropped sharply, and still more currency is expected to be released on the market. This is likely to have an escalating effect on food insecurity, particularly for the urban poor—many of whom can no longer afford their daily food needs.

Food aid deliveries in June were hampered in Bay, Bakool, Gedo and Lower Shabelle Regions due to security concerns. However, by the end of the month, deliveries had resumed in most areas.


Harvesting of the long-rains season crop has begun around Lake Victoria and will continue through November in the other long-rains districts. Erratic June rainfall has reduced yields in the high-production Rift Valley Districts, leading the Ministry of Agriculture to reduce its overall harvest forecast to 1.83 million MT, 15 percent below the 1991-97 average. Poor production expectations are increasing maize prices (figure 2) in all major markets; current Nairobi prices are now 40 percent above the 5-year (1994-98) June average. The Government has not yet finalized arrangements, including a waiver of duties, for the estimated 180,000 MT of commercial maize imports that should moderate prices prior to the main harvest in September.

As anticipated, erratic rains in the marginal agricultural areas of Eastern Province resulted in a poor harvest. The Ministry of Agriculture estimates that 10 percent of households, or 300,000 persons, will be food insecure between now and the next harvest in February 2000. In May and June, German Technical Assistance (GTZ) targeted 20,000 beneficiaries in Mwingi District through food-for-work activities and plans to expand the program in July. Other districts in Eastern Province are mainly dependent on the Government for relief distributions.

Pastoral conditions have continued to worsen, leading to deterioration of livestock body condition. Restricted supplies of pasture and water in the northern and eastern pastoral areas of Kenya and in the rangelands of southern Ethiopia and Somalia have increased regional competition for resources and limited options for seasonal migration (figure 1). Moreover, with grain prices increasing while livestock prices are generally declining, the livestock-to-grain terms of trade are now approaching the low levels seen during the 1997 drought.

The Arid Lands Resource Management Program reports a dramatic and rapid worsening of nutritional status in the pastoral districts: global malnutrition rates in Mandera District (North Eastern Province) were 57 percent in June compared to the already high rate of 39 percent in May. A feeding program in Mandera town, opened by Médecins sans Frontières-Spain in late June, admitted 90 children for therapeutic feeding and 240 children for supplementary feeding during the first week of their program. Catholic Relief Services has also established a supplementary feeding program in Tana River District (Coast Province) and has funds to distribute 1,300 MT of relief food before September.

The Government has doubled its allocation of relief food to the pastoral, agropastoral and marginal agricultural areas to 8,000 MT of maize per month. Despite the increase, poor targeting of relief to households with greatest needs in the pastoral and marginal agricultural areas limits its effectiveness. Well-targeted interventions, especially mitigation activities in the pastoral districts, are required to avert escalating food insecurity. Planning has begun for a series of joint Government/donor/NGO assessments to identify the most severely affected locations and appropriate interventions.


The unimodal areas of central Tanzania are facing another year of food insecurity and probable relief interventions, as the current harvest is well below average (see Special Report). A preliminary report of the Government/FEWS/WFP/NGO joint assessment mission identifies heavy production losses in the central Regions of Dodoma, Singida, Shinyanga and Tabora due to erratic rain. Likewise, Ruvuma Region in the southern highlands experienced a decline in total food production of 21 percent (figure 3).

Crop losses in the central Regions are particularly significant because this is the area’s third consecutive poor harvest (1996/97, 1997/98, and 1998/99). As a result of high levels of poverty and limited coping capacity, WFP and the Government have been providing intermittent food relief to these Regions since early 1998. Given the current poor harvest, a continuation of this effort is required. The main hunger gap will occur during the first quarter of next year, after household stocks from the current harvest have been exhausted. WFP is still completing distributions to vulnerable populations in Shinyanga, Tabora and Arusha Regions. These deliveries are expected to abate, at least temporarily, as the incoming harvest improves food availability and access across the country. On-going assessments conducted by Save the Children Fund-UK in Dodoma, Singida and Arusha Regions will help to determine the location, composition and duration of assistance required.

Food prices in most markets have started to decline with the increasing availability of maize from the on-going harvests. Because of an earlier shortage of maize, food prices had been unusually high since November 1998. Between May and June of this year, wholesale prices of all main commodities declined, and the national average price of maize dropped by 12 percent. However, the national average maize price is still 36 percent higher than the June 1998 price. Similarly, maize prices in reference markets of the central Region are 28 to 68 percent higher. The current annual inflation rate is 10 percent, suggesting that food costs are still higher than normal for this time of year.

Southern Sudan

The 1999 agricultural season is progressing well across southern Sudan. Participants at a June workshop organized by the Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Association (SRRA) noted the marked improvement of the 1999 agricultural season over last year when farming activities were limited by input shortages, civil unrest and a hunger-weakened labor force. This year, the effects of a dry spell in the first half of June were generally alleviated when rains resumed in late June. However, localized delays occurred in planting, and some crops and pastures suffered losses. A few locations—including north Bor and Twic Counties (Jonglei and Bahr-el-Ghazal Regions, respectively)—await sufficient rains to complete planting. Abnormally dry conditions in Kapoeta County (Eastern Equatoria Region) have prompted herders to move cattle into greener hills. The armyworm infestation first noted in late April abated in most locations by mid-June. Substantial losses of germinating crops were reported in Rumbek and Bor Counties, but the affected fields have been replanted.

Assuming relative peace continues to prevail, the cereal crop harvest from late July through September will facilitate a scaling down of food relief operations. Nevertheless, broad relief distributions are still justified during the hunger gap period that, according to the SRRA database office, will be extended a few weeks due to late planting this year. Even if the harvest is good, substantial assistance may be required at least through the next year’s harvest (July-September 2000) in Western Upper Nile and parts of Bahr-el-Ghazal Regions. In Western Upper Nile, inter-factional fighting around the oil fields of Bentiu during the growing season caused large-scale displacement of households internally and into neighboring Regions of Bahr-el-Ghazal, Lakes and Jonglei. Relief distributions have been minimal as insecurity has prevented any assessments of needs. Additionally, Aweil East and Aweil West Counties (Bahr el Ghazal), where malnutrition rates are high and an influx of returnees from northern Sudan continues, will require food aid throughout 1999.

In June, the WFP southern sector delivered just under 6,000 MT of food to 750,000 beneficiaries, achieving two-thirds of monthly targets. The most significant shortfall was in Upper Nile where only 214 MT of the planned 1,600 MT could be delivered.


Total agricultural production for Rwanda’s 1999 B season (February-June) is 2.46 million MT, based on preliminary estimates from a joint Government/FAO/WFP/FEWS crop production and food needs assessment mission. This is an 11 percent increase over 1998 B season production (figure 4). For the first time since the war, this season’s production has reached the pre-war 1990 reference year level of 2.42 million MT.

These good results are mainly due to a 37 percent increase over 1998 B production (about 123,000 MT) in the northwest Prefectures of Gisenyi and Ruhengeri where improved security allowed farmers to cultivate. Nationwide, production of root crops (cassava and sweet potatoes) and bananas is expected to be slightly better than in recent seasons. However, poorly timed rainfall depressed yields for maize, wheat and climbing varieties of beans, which endured moisture stress at key grain-filling stages of development. The effects of the erratic rainfall are most acute in the east where Nasho Zone in Kagera Valley (Kibungo Prefecture) is facing its second poor harvest in a year, after a poor 1999 A season.

The official food balance computations and assessments of needs are expected in late July. Staple food prices declined in June, following seasonal patterns. Farmers across the country have turned their energies to cultivating season C crops in the marais (seasonal wetlands), but these crops constitute only a minor share (10 percent) of annual production.

WFP’s cereal shortage eased in July as commodities arrived from regional ports. However, the European Union (EU) decided in mid-June to terminate funding of its very sizeable share (nearly half) of WFP/Rwanda’s food aid program. The effect of the EU decision on food security will be attenuated by the impressive production gain in the northwest. Since mid-1998, the northwest was receiving nearly half of all food aid allocated to Rwanda.


Dry weather persisted across the southern half of Uganda from April through June. In the western and southwestern Districts, the dry spell brought a premature end to the first season and a near total failure of the major crops (maize, beans, bananas and coffee). In the central Districts, variable rainfall led to yields that differed locally but were overall about average. In the Lake Victoria Basin and eastern Districts, where the nearly mature crops were sustained by residual moisture during the dry spell, harvests should be near average. In the northeastern and northern Districts, the dry spell started in late May and was broken by well-distributed rains in the latter part of June. District officials and NGOs report some crop damage from poor rains and armyworms in these areas but are hopeful that the recent rains may still benefit late-planted crops. Pasture conditions are poor in the Districts of Mbarara (southwest) and Moroto and Kotido (northeast).
A more detailed evaluation of production losses and food security conditions will be available in August, following joint field missions in mid-July by the Government, NGOs and UN agencies to the worst hit regions of the country. Presently, households have sufficient food access from the incoming harvests and from markets, which are well supplied by neighboring districts and last year’s harvest.

Food aid supplies for Uganda’s 420,000 internally displaced persons are low due to limited donor response to the UN combined appeal issued in December 1998. WFP is struggling to meet the needs of the 120,000 recently displaced in Bundibugyo District by drawing on supplies for the northern program, which is only about 40 percent sourced. Even after reducing rations in the northern Districts (Gulu and Kitgum), WFP estimates it can meet only one-third of food aid needs in Bundibugyo from May to August. Current nutrition levels of displaced persons in Bundibugyo were found to be adequate in a July assessment conducted by Action Against Hunger-USA, but they may deteriorate if food aid quantities do not increase soon. Unless security improves immediately, the displaced in Bundibugyo are unlikely to return home before the second growing season starts in August. The ongoing field missions are likely to call for increased food aid both in Bundibugyo and in areas hardest hit by the recent crop failures.