FEWS Eritrea Food Security Update: 24 Feb 2002

Response begins but significant needs remain


The response to the food aid appeal of the government has begun, but Eritrea continues to face a situation of heightened food insecurity. As of February 7, The Eritrean Relief and Rehabilitation Commission (ERREC) reported the total food aid pledges and commitments at 112,360 MT. This represents 23.6 percent of the total humanitarian food aid request (476,000 MT) and 39 percent of the appeal for the drought affected population (290,000 MT). Supplementary food for therapeutic feeding is also urgently required

FAO/WFP estimates that agricultural production in 2002 is the lowest since 1991 and 60 percent below the ten year average. For poor households, this reduction has meant that, whereas crops normally take these households from October/November to March/April, this year the harvest will have barely lasted until January -- in most cases, it will already have run out. Middle income households are also severely affected, and the poor harvest has led to reports of high livestock sales. Both poor and middle income households have dwindling assets left to sell. It is predicted that these two groups will get by into February through a combination of eating their harvest (and seeds), selling off remaining livestock and pursuing what marginal labor opportunities exist in the main trading centers.

Recent nutritional assessments point to the severity of the deterioration in coping strategies as children begin to weaken. More nutritional assessments are being planned to update the nutritional status information. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the overall situation continues to deteriorate as the remnants of the harvest are consumed. The coming months will see a rapid deterioration in the overall situation unless adequate food and non-food aid resources are mobilized. Livestock interventions are critical at this stage.

With the meager harvest and the poor condition of animals, the peak period of need is likely to be from March to October 2003. Yet the prospects for a good harvest in 2003 are dependent on adequate labor, seed stocks and water, among other things. The next significant harvest is not expected until November 2003. It is essential to immediately begin preparing for the next harvest by purchasing seeds and other inputs before the azmera or spring rains begin in March.


Rainfall in January was reported to be average to above average. Satellite imagery shows an increase in forage, which will likely attract herds of stressed animals from other areas. Consequently, a risk of over-grazing exists. The National Food Information System (NFIS) reports that the winter rainy season for the eastern escarpment and Red Sea plains and coastal area was compromised due to the very late start of the rains in late December. The result is an almost complete crop failure in that area of the Northern Red Sea Zone. There will be some recharging of aquifers but it is anticipated that the overall water supply will continue to fall to dangerous levels. Already many communities are reported to be trekking an average of 3 to 5 hours to collect water.

Price Dynamics

Price monitoring becomes very important at this stage of a crisis. As the harvest is depleted, cereal prices begin to rise. At the same time, livestock prices fall as owners try to sell their weakened stock. Forage is already reported to be in short supply. Many traditional dry season grazing areas are inaccessible due to insecurity and the border closures with both Ethiopia and Sudan. The Government estimates shortfall of 3.7 million MT of fodder amounting to 29 percent of overall need.

Sorghum prices, which have been above the long term average all year, are showing a dramatic rise (see Figure 1 Error! Reference source not found.). At the same time the price of both goats and oxen is declining. Anecdotal reports indicate that these negative terms of trade get worse the further you travel from the market centers. This is having a ruinous impact on those households that depend on livestock.

The price of oxen for sale in Asmara market is declining rapidly, falling from 4,000 to 2,000 Nakfa per oxen between November and December 2002 (see Figure 2 below). This is especially significant for highland households who are dependent on oxen to plough their fields. These households will only contemplate selling their chief productive asset if they think they will not be able to feed the animal until the next harvest. It suggests that they are beginning to sell their oxen in order to get what they can before prices decline further.1 It will also have serious repercussions for the next harvest.

The Ministry of Agriculture has reported a sharp rise in the reports of animal deaths. While this is difficult to measure in terms of the impact on the overall livestock population, it is not difficult to make assumptions about the potential impact at household level. According to a joint OCHA/MoA presentation to donors in Geneva in January, the average price of livestock has fallen 30 percent due to distress sales, while local grain prices have increased 100 percent in the past 4 months.

Table 1: Response to the Government's Emergency Appeal
vulnerable Groups at the End of 2001 and 2002 and Targeted Groups in 2003
Internally Displaced Eritreans
Returned Eritrean Refugees
Returned Internally Displaced Eritrean
Foreign Refugees in Eritrea
Eritreans expelled from other countries
Soldiers to be demobilized
Urban vulnerable
Source: UN consolidated Appeal for Eritrea for 2003, pp. 4, 8, (adjusted for soldiers to be demobilized in 2003)

Food Aid

The Government's appeal and the UN's Consolidated Appeal, released on November 19, estimate the drought-affected population at 1.4 million out of a total population of 3.34 million. An additional 910,000 people are targeted for assistance, comprising internally displaced people (IDPs), returnees, soldiers to be demobilized and vulnerable urban residents. The GSE appealed for 476,000 MT of food aid for 2003, of which 290,000 MT is for the drought-affected population.

As of February 7, The Eritrean Relief and Rehabilitation Commission (ERREC) reported the total food aid pledges and commitments at 112,360 MT. This represents 23.6 percent of the total humanitarian food aid request (476,000 MT) and 39 percent of the appeal for the drought affected population (290,000 MT). Supplementary food for therapeutic feeding is also urgently required.

The Government of Eritrea (GSE) continues to contribute from its own resources to alleviate the situation. Government staff is expected to implement the food aid distribution programs. This activity carries with it a high opportunity cost, as it takes staff away from their other regular duties. The GSE is also procuring food from its own resources to stabilize market prices through the Eritrean Grain Board, an important intervention at this time. The GSE has reported the purchase of 80,000 MT to date.

Serious concerns remain for the population at risk as existing food aid pledges will take time to resource and transport to Eritrea. A potential conflict in Iraq will increase insurance costs and may disrupt shipping in the Red Sea. Even now, current food aid distributions are running at reduced rations of 60 percent of normal.

The response by the donor community is also being affected by world cereal availability and competing emergencies across Africa and Asia. The FAO reports2 that global cereal output in 2002 declined 3.3 percent from the previous year. Given the expected expansion in cereal utilization in 2003, world cereal stocks for crop years ending in 2003 could plunge to their lowest levels since the early 1970s. The FEWS NET Regional office for the Horn estimates that total food aid requirements for Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan and Somalia could total 2.0 -- 2.8 million MT in 2003. Worldwide, the total needs could reach 7 million MT, which is a huge 60 percent increase over 2002.

Non-Food Aid

The multi-agency Food Security Sub-group of the Drought Task Force issued an appeal for non-food resources in conjunction with the November food aid appeal. The appeal contained project components for assistance in seeds, fertilizer, tools, animal feed, veterinary services and water supply. Out of the total appeal of US$ 36 million, there are confirmed pledges of US$ 3.9 million (9.2 percent).

Action Required

  • Food Aid: Increased donations are urgently needed to meet immediate food needs. This must now include supplementary and therapeutic feeding programs. The existing school feeding programs should be stepped up as much as feasibly possible.

  • Livestock interventions: These are vital to alleviate the deteriorating terms of trade for livestock dependent households. Livestock interventions will put cash into the hands of these households to help prevent decimating their means of income as livestock prices plummet and grain prices continue to climb. The focus should now be on emergency destocking programs that can quickly be implemented in rural areas.

  • Preparation for next Harvest: Urgent action is required to prepare for the upcoming harvest with an immediate need for seed purchase. Seeds and other inputs are needed by March.


1 This conclusion must be verified by field visits. It may be that the price has dropped due to the deteriorating condition of the animals or an overall drop in demand.

2 FAO Food Outlook -- February 2003