Ethiopia: Report on a Rapid Assessment Mission 31 May - 7Jun 2000

North Omo Zone, Derashe and Konso Special Weredas of Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Region
by Dechassa Lemessa, UN-Emergencies Unit for Ethiopia

I. Introduction and background

This field assessment mission was carried out 31 May - 7 June 2000, in North Omo Zone (Humbo, Sodo Zuria and Boloso Sore weredas), and Derashe and Konso Special Weredas of the Southern Nations and Nationalities Peoples Region (SNNPR). The objective was to assess the implication of the delayed belg rains on food security, monitor ongoing humanitarian assistance and explore the level of preparation ahead of the up-coming meher planting season.

Local officials, Regional DPPB, Zonal and Wereda Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Committee members, NGOs working in the visited weredas and farmers were contacted. Furthermore, crop fields were visited in different agro-ecological zones of the respective weredas.

Generally, the areas visited are considered to be chronically food insecure and since the last three to four years have been receiving relief food assistance. Challenges such as drought and erratic rains, population pressure, severe soil erosion, pests and diseases (human, livestock and crops) are among the major factors contributing to the current crisis.

Belg crops contribute some 60-70% of the annual food production in North Omo Zone. In Derashe and Konso Special Weredas the contribution of belg harvest is estimated to be 55% and 70%, respectively.

II. Situation Update

(a) North Omo Zone

The food security problem in North Omo Zone is complex for the following main reasons: (a) growing population pressure; (b) an extensive depletion of enset (false banana), an important food crop, due to bacterial wilt and drought, and (c) depletion of sweet potato and other root crops due to drought and sweet potato butterfly infestations.

The availability of enset can make the difference between survival and death in the densely populated Wolayta area of North Omo. The long-term viability of this key crop, however, is threatened by the effects of recurrent drought and the spread of bacterial wilt, a disease which is difficult to control once the crop is infected. Normally, enset needs about 8 years to fully mature and be ready for consumption. This necessitates continuous replacement of the plants whenever mature stands are harvested (harvest requires complete destruction of the plant). Young enset suckers, however, are very vulnerable to water stress and recent droughts have led to a gradual reduction of existing mature plant stands. In this way, the number of enset plants has dwindled through time and it is now rare to find well-established enset plantations. It has become common to observe consumption of immature enset plants in most households in Wolayta.

Weather Situation

North Omo Zone received no rain from last October until mid-April this year. Sapie rains (light showers in October/November) which are essential for the planting of root crops, replenishment of ground water, pasture regeneration and land preparation for belg crops were very poor last year. This year's belg rains, which normally commence in February, were delayed by almost 3 months. This had a significant impact on land preparation, pasture and draught animals. Rains received before mid-April were inadequate and unevenly distributed. However, from 22 April until mid-May there were heavy rains which resulted in floods in localized areas of Humbo Wereda. A halt to the rains from May 24 to 3 June in North Omo Zone, has impeded ploughing in preparation for the planting of meher season crops.

Crop Production

Due to the poor sapie rains last year, root crops like sweet potato, taro and young enset failed. Furthermore, land preparation for this year's belg and long cycle crops (maize and sorghum) was not adequate. Perennial crops like coffee and citrus were stressed due to the extended dry spell. Though recovering as a result of recent rains, no harvest can be expected from coffee this year. During this mission some level of moisture stress was manifested on crops, especially in the lowlands where there is more evapo-transpiration and lighter soils (sandy soils) with poor moisture retention capacity.

Belg planted crops (maize, sorghum and haricot bean) were sown late in mid-April rather than in mid-February and March. As a result, crops will be subjected to various opportunistic insect pests and diseases, and occupy lands needed for the later planting of long duration crops, mainly maize. Furthermore, unable to double or relay plant teff and haricot bean, farmers face a significant reduction in annual production. As teff (including the straw) is mostly used as a cash crop, this will also reduce access to cash. Late planted haricot bean will be ready for green consumption in June rather than in May, as is normally the case, and maize will only be ready (green cob) in August instead of June/July.

In Boloso Sore and Sodo Zuria weredas farmers planted belg crops using seed purchased with the proceeds from the sale of grasses, fuel wood, etc. Farmers who had paid their debts (accrued from the use of fertilizer and other farm inputs) were able to obtain improved seeds and chemical fertilizers on credit basis from the government agricultural extension package programme. Nevertheless, they could not apply Urea, a normally valuable nitrogenous fertilizer, due to the lack of soil moisture. For maximum yield it is recommended to use the fertilizer at knee-height stage of the crop and this should be accompanied by adequate soil moisture for effective percolation and absorption of the nutrient.

In the lowlands of Boloso Sore Wereda maize and haricot bean were at flowering stage at the time of this mission. Any cessation of rains at this critical stage of the crops could result in a significantly reduced yield.

Normally, in North Omo Zone meher crops would be planted in June/July. This year, land preparation has been impeded by the interruption of rains and farmers complained that it was difficult to plough because the land was too dry and hard for their oxen which were in poor physical condition. Moreover, there was a shortage of seeds for meher crops like teff, barley, wheat, chickpea and haricot bean. Except in Humbo Wereda, where an assessment of seed requirements was on-going (World Vision Ethiopia was ready to cover costs of seeds and planting materials for sweet potato), the needs in the other weredas had not been determined.

The shortage of sweet potato cuttings for June/July planting particularly in North Omo Zone was an issue repeatedly raised by farmers, local officials and NGOs working in the area. The availability of cuttings was positive and confirmed only for Humbo where sweet potato was being grown by irrigation and World Vision was prepared to buy the material for distribution to the needy farmers. For other weredas of the zone it might be difficult to find adequate amount of planting materials.

Livestock Situation

The physical condition of cattle in most parts of the zone was still poor, as pasture grasses were just germinating and too short to be grazed by the animals. No unusual or uncontrolled disease outbreak was reported. Nevertheless, endemic diseases like trypanosomiasis and foot-and-mouth were increasing in Boloso Sore wereda in particular. Farmers generally find drugs unaffordable and their animals are not being treated. On the other hand, the availability of water and pasture has improved due to the rains received in the belg season.

Market Situation

Local prices remain high for crops but have declined for livestock, largely due to their poor physical condition.

Health and Nutrition

There have been no serious outbreaks of human diseases. However, malaria was widespread in Boloso Sore and Humbo weredas though wereda health authorities were taking measures to contain the disease.

Cases of serious malnutrition were observed. Following a recent Nutritional Survey, WVE anticipates a further deterioration in the situation in Humbo and Sodo Zuria weredas. According to information available, there were 6,000, 7,000 and 22,000 children under-five needing assistance in Humbo, Sodo Zuria and Boloso Sore weredas, respectively. But there was a shortage of supplementary food particularly in Boloso Sore wereda where there is no NGO currently undertaking emergency oriented interventions. In this wereda 40 MT of Faffa was distributed (allocated by DPPC) in April but no stock were left for distribution in May despite the increase in number of needy children.

Relief food distribution

The number of vulnerable people identified by the Government as in need of relief assistance in the January Appeal was 433,406. According to the Zone DPP Committee, however, the number of people needing assistance has risen significantly, a matter that has been relayed by the regional authorities to the Federal DPPC.

The main factor contributing to the crisis has been the inadequate and delayed distribution of food (usually by one month) which has led to the depletion of productive assets thus increasing levels of destitution in the community. The traditional reliance of food insecure families on better-off households has increased the burden on the whole community, gradually increasing their vulnerability as well. Likewise, the re-distribution of rations within the community is also reducing the nutritional impact of relief food. Also not to be overlooked is the distance food recipients need to walk in order to collect rations (in Kamba wereda, for example, people walk 6 hours to collect their rations). The distance often forces people to sell a portion of their ration in order to pay for the hire of pack animals, as well as to pay for food and drink purchased while waiting for distributions to take place. The amount of food delivered was far below the amount that should have been allocated and consequently the level of need has been progressively building. According to the Zonal DPP Committee, out of 4,900 MT of cereal that should have been sent to the zone in January and February this year, only 46% was received and distributed. This was the highest allocation received by the zone. Furthermore, according to the DPP Committee from March to May out of 2,234 MT allocated only 41% was delivered and distributed.

(b) Konso and Derashe Special Weredas

Weather condition

In Konso and Derashe areas the belg rains that should have started in mid- February began mid-April, roughly a three months delay. Whatever rains were received before this were too little to be of any meaningful benefit to farmers. At the end of April, however, there were heavy rains, which led to destruction of crops, terraces and roads in Derashe. As is the case for most parts of the country, May is normally a dry month in Konso and Derashe. No rain was received from 24 May to 6 June in either wereda. In the western-south lowlands of Konso - in Awasso, Gera and Gewada - the situation was drier still with no rain reported for the whole of May and crops, particularly maize and haricot bean, were wilting while even the more hardy sorghum was showing signs of moisture stress.

Farmers feared a continuation of the dry spell could have serious implications for the harvest later in the year. For better production farmers in Konso and Derashe need favourable rains until the end of July.

Crop Production

FARM Africa provided seed for the belg planting (maize, haricot bean, sorghum and teff). A total of 16,724 households benefited from this assistance. In Derashe wereda, however, no seed distribution was effected and only the few farmers with resources of their own were able to purchase their seed on the open market. At the time of this mission haricot bean, maize and sorghum were at different phenological growth stages, planted at different times in order to avert risk. Those at flowering stage were suffering some moisture stress due to the cessation of rains from May 24 to 6 June. If the rain resumes and situation remains favourable notrnamgreen harvest of haricot bean, maize and sorghum will be ready at the end of June, mid-July and in August, respectively. Meanwhile, if the rain continues teff will be ready early in July.

On the other hand, infestations of maize and sorghum by an insect pest, maize webworm (Marasmia trapezalis), was observed in 7 peasant associations (as of May) in the depression between Derashe and Konso on the Arba Minch-Konso road. The pest removes the chlorophyll pigment from leaves gradually reducing plant density per unit area. Though experts from the Awassa Plant Health Clinic were surveying the outbreak, no control measures had been taken at the time of this mission.

Despite the rains in April and May coffee plants have not fully recovered from moisture stress suffered earlier and the crop look poor in both Konso and Derashe.

The probability of a successful harvest from ratooned sorghum depends greatly on the satisfactory performance of the belg rains which help the rootstock become established ahead of the hagaya harvest in December. The already mentioned disruption of rain has threatened prospects of a good ratoon harvest in both weredas.

Livestock Situation

No serious disease outbreak was reported in either weredas. However, trypanosomiasis remains a serious challenge in lowland areas largely because farmers cannot afford to have their animals treated. The physical condition of livestock was not satisfactory because the availability of pasture was inadequate due to the ungrazeable height (too short to be grazed) and shortage of grazing lands. Hence, farmers were using weeds, unsuccessful crop stands and branches/leaves of trees for feeding their animals, which will not adequately fulfil the feed requirement of the animals.

Health and Nutrition

There have been no serious disease outbreaks reported from either wereda but fearing a seasonal upsurge in malaria insecticides (DDT and Malathion emulsifiable concentrate formulations) were being sprayed by the Wereda Health Office and a number of patients were receiving treatment in Konso. At the same time, official in Derashe officials feared an outbreak of malaria.

Regarding human nutrition, admission rates to therapeutic feeding centres operated by EECMY and MSF/Holland have increased. For example, the admission of severely malnourished under-five children to the EECMY therapeutic feeding centre in Konso was 77, 52, 34 and 70 in the months of February, March, April and up to 6 May, respectively. There has been a similar increase in admission rates to the Rehabilitation Centre of MSF/Holland (Karate town of Konso) up to the first week of June. This could be attributed to the re-sharing of rations among the community members, inadequate food distribution and the time gap between distribution rounds. Understandably, in order to reach as many victims as possible (due to resources constraint and capacity reasons) the wereda DPP committee changes the labourers/farmers participating in the EGS/Food for Work activities every 15 days rather than making a household work continuously.

In Derashe Special Wereda supplementary food was being distributed to 2,974 children under-five and 1,781 pregnant and lactating mothers.

Relief food distribution

Out of 30,214 people identified as requiring food assistance, 21,328 were receiving free food rations in Derashe Special Wereda, while the remaining people were participating in Food-for-Work whenever food was available. Nevertheless, as in other weredas visited, the allocation was considered by officials to be inadequate in terms of both amount and timing.

For April the official beneficiary number was 42,000. Wereda officials, however, considered needs to be even higher, partly as a result of the persistent shortfall in delivered relief food.

In Konso Special Wereda a total of 31,416 households (143,000 people) were being assisted through Employment Generation Schemes (EGS) managed by FARM Africa with 6,291 people receiving free food distribution. The remaining balance out of 156,000 people (the total needy population) identified took part in food for workl activities through wereda office of agriculture using food grain provided by WFP. Due to current circumstances and provided additional donor support can be secured, FARM expects to continue its operations through until the end of September.

To supplement relief assistance people in Konso and Derashe were reported to be collecting and using wild foods.

III. Conclusion and Recommendations

Generally, in North Omo Zone, Derashe and Konso Special Weredas the belg harvest will be delayed by up to three months. Relief food distributions should therefore, be continued until September to carry beneficiaries through to the main harvest and to supplement the anticipated meager harvest of 'green' maize in June/July.

The precarious nutritional situation demands that full rations be allocated and that deliveries be made on time.

Prepositioning of relief food to remote weredas like Kamba, Zala Ubamale and Dita Dara Malo is essential before the main season rains make access difficult.

Provision of seeds, mainly chickpea and haricot bean for the September planting season and cuttings of sweet potato for June/July planting is a priority intervention to help farmers recover their production.


The designations employed and the presentation of material in this document do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever of the UN concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries.

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