FEWS Eritrea Food Security Update 15 Jun 2003

Situation Report
Originally published



The food insecurity situation in Eritrea remains critical but stable. Recent nutritional studies carried out by MoH/Concern World wide in zoba Anseba indicated 19.9 percent Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM). A similar study carried out by DIA/MoH in zoba Southern and Northern Red Sea indicated 14.3 and 17.9 percent Global Malnutrition in urban and rural areas respectively. It is, therefore, recommended to increase the number of targeted beneficiaries to improve the general food security situation in the studied areas. The study also indicated that malnutrition is a chronic problem requiring a broader set of interventions to address the root causes. The price of cereals has stabilized and the terms of trade for livestock keepers are improving.

The current food pipeline is assured into August. However, given the critical need to protect food aid deliveries in the 'hungry period' before the next harvest in November, it is critical to continue expediting food aid deliveries.

The azmera rains have been patchy and generally below average. Consequently the planting and germination of long-cycle crops during April and May has been affected. However, the determining question from a food security perspective will be the performance of the Kremti rains between June and August.

Seed bed preparation for the main season crops is underway mainly in zoba Debub, Maekel, and parts of Anseba and Gash barka. In order to assist framers seed requirement, Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) supported by UN agencies, NGOs and other donors is in the process of supplying free seeds. Out of the estimated requirement of 16,240 MT of seed, approximately 8,171 MT has been pledged or supplied.

As the azmera season was not adequate enough to enrich the aquifer and improving the pasture, shortage of water continued to be a problem for livestock and other human use.


The azmera rains, which normally fall between March and May, have been below normal this year. This has affected land cultivation and the planting of long-cycle crops. There has been limited regeneration of pasture and browse. Consequently most of the livestock which migrated to the eastern escarpments from the surrounding highland areas have not yet returned.


The azmera rains continued to be light and patchy in the month of May. As shown in Figure 1, some unusually heavy showers occurred in the southern parts of Gash Barka zoba, bordering Ethiopia, during the last dekad of May. Other scattered and light showers occurred in Debub, Anseba, Maekel and the north-western parts of Northern Red Sea zoba. Compared to the long term average (Figure 1), current rainfall appeared to be variable. Parts of South-western low lands received considerably more rainfall than expected, while in other areas the rainfall was light and somewhat below average.


Overall the azmera rains were not considered highly favorable for land preparation and the planting of long -- cycle crops. These crops are usually planted in the highland areas (zoba Maekel, Debub, and parts of zoba Anseba and Gash Barka) during the azmera rains and develop with the following kremti rains.

Field observation by FEWS NET representatives in some parts of zoba Maekel and Debub revealed that field preparation for the main season (kremti) crops is continuing. Most of the potentially cultivable land has been prepared for the coming rain, which is expected to start in mid-June and continue through August.

Dry planted long cycle crops might recover and perform well if the June rains start well. Short cycle crops are also planted at the onset of the main rainy season.

The Ministry of Agriculture, in collaboration with UN agencies, NGOs and other donors, are supporting the distribution of seeds to farmers. The MoA estimates the total seed requirement for Eritrea at 16,247 MT. According to the Food Security Sectoral Working Group meeting report of May 2003, FAO, NGOs and other donors have pledged approximately 5,308 MT of seed so far. The Ministry of Agriculture also intervened through its Emergency and Recovery Programme (ERP) to provide 2,863 MT of seed. Moreover, an estimated 3,250 of seed is estimated to be available from the farmers' own resources. This still leaves a calculated gap of approximately 4,826 MT. Potentially there is still time to organize additional distributions of seeds before the opportunity to plan short season crops is over.

The azmera rains are also important for the regeneration of pasture and browse. From the vegetative cover map of the third dekad of May (Figure 2) it is clear that vegetation is fairly normal for this time of the year in most parts of the country. Although the Eastern escarpments normally benefited from winter (bahri) rain, from the map we can see the vegetation situation in the escarpment is below normal.

As usual during the winter dry season, livestock from the neighboring highland areas migrated to the eastern escarpment in search of better pasture and grazing this year. Some of the livestock have remained for an atypically long period and not yet returned to the highland areas, as the pasture conditions in these areas remains poor.

Based on the FEWS NET representative's field observations in parts of zoba Debub, the body condition of livestock is mixed. Most animals are in poor condition, and milking cows are especially weak. The limited milk production is being saved for the calves. However, the plough oxen have been maintained in fair condition.

There is, reportedly, a severe shortage of water and poor pasture conditions in the south-western lowlands. As livestock from this area cannot migrate to the eastern escarpment, their condition will remain of particular concern until significant rains occur.

Figure 2: Vegetative Cover (NDVI), 21st -- 31st May 2003 Difference from Normal

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