Ethiopia - South Omo: Pocket areas requiring food aid, overall situation necessitates close monitoring into 2003

DPPC/WFP/UN-EUE Multi Agency Food Security & Agricultural
Assessment Mission

Assessment Mission: 1 to 6 October2002

By Benoit Raymakers, UN-Emergencies Unit for Ethiopia1

1. Introduction and Background

Reports of food assistance needs in lowland areas of South Omo zone of the Southern Nations Nationalities People's Region (SNNPR) prompted a multi-agency assessment mission to better establish food aid requirements. Inter-clan conflict, reports of population movements to Kenya, and reported reduction of rainfall had induced the South Omo zonal authorities to request food assistance for a total of 65,545 beneficiaries (26,850 for Kuraz Woreda, 19,951 for Hamer Bena Woreda, 5,677 for Sala Mago Woreda, and 13,067 for Bako Gazer Woreda). In addition, 14,000 persons from Bena Tsamai Woreda were to be closely monitored.

The mission included Mr. Asfaw Gebresselassie, Senior Field Supervisor EWD/DPPC (Early Warning Department/Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Commission), Mr. Getenet Ameha, Senior Pastoral Market Expert EWD/DPPC, Dr. Assefa Haymanot, WFP Field Monitor, and Mr. Benoit Raymakers, Field Consultant for UN-EUE. After discussions held with the zonal authorities in Jinka, the mission travelled to Kuraz, Hamer Bena, and Bako Gazer Woredas, 3 of the 5 Woredas of the South Omo zone. While travelling through, the mission also took the opportunity to gather information regarding the food security situation in Konso Special Woreda.

2. Mission Results

2.1 Konso Special Woreda experienced a substantial main long cycle cereal crop failure

Konso Special Woreda benefits of two agricultural growth cycles. The 1st is during the short rainy season from February to August and the 2nd is during the long and main rainy season from August to December. Each cycle is usually responsible for about 20% and 80% of the annual production respectively, growing mainly sorghum but also maize, teff, barley, finger millet, and haricot beans. This year during the main season, delayed, erratic and small amounts of rains coupled with no rainfall during the flowering stage of the growth period have caused a crop failure of about 70%. Where fields in midlands and along the Konso-Weyto road have provided better results, more remote fields in and lowland areas have failed to produce. Out of an estimated total coverage of 53,000 hectares expected to produce 35,900 MT, only about 20,000 hectares have produced about 13,300 MT. To bridge this shortfall traders have started bringing cereals from neighbouring woredas, such as Burji Special Woreda, that benefited of better long cycle cereal production. Although no malnutrition incidence was reported, the vulnerability level remains high with protein food necessary to avoid the deterioration of the nutrition status.

Konso area lacks coping mechanisms, food aid representing the main additional support mechanism. Out of 1,695 MT of food aid scheduled, already 1,459 MT were delivered at the time of the visit. The woreda also received 464,241 ETB from SNNPRS Regional DPPC for the purchase of seeds for people who grow crops during the second planting period and failed to produce during the first period. This funding has enabled the purchase of 57,3 MT of teff (100 kg per 16 households), 114 MT of haricot beans (100 kg per 8 households) and 11 MT of chickpeas seeds (100 kg per 8 households). Meher prospects are still unknown. September only experienced little rain. Better rainfall in October and extension into November will be necessary to ensure an adequate meher production.

The lack of rain also affected pasture regeneration and water availability in the ponds. Both aspects are resulting in declining livestock condition leading to loss of value and even worse livestock for cereal trade/bartering circumstances.

2.2 Pastoralists from South Omo will only partially produce cereal supplement from recession agriculture

In South Omo, as the bulk of the potentially affected population is living in lowlands, the mission concentrated mainly on this livestock dependent areas of the zone. The additional resources people use to supplement their diet and income is drawn from recession agriculture, fishing, hunting or honey production. The consumption of wild food is also common practice, but here two tendencies can be observed. The mission was able to observe the 'edapala' (sweet fruit from a cactus, eventually Opuntia spp. species) being marketed and consumed because the people enjoy its taste, not because of lack of food intake possibilities. However, the consumption of famine type wild foods such as various types of seeds, weeds, leaves, tubular or roots were not observed.2

In the vicinity of Omorati in Kuraz Woreda, before the Omo river flows into Lake Turkana, it splits up as to form a vast very fertile delta area (as large as 15 by 30 km) that is used by the local pastoral population to practice recession agriculture after the flooding period of the main rainy season. In 2001, the extensive rains the highlands of the southern half of Ethiopia, produced big floods from the Omo river leading to well above normal sorghum production, sorghum that nearly one year later is still partially filling the grain stores of the communities. However this year, the very poor rains of 2002 in Ethiopia have not provided water to enable extensive floods in the Omo delta area. Therefore, although no statistical estimates are yet available, the proceeds of the recession agriculture for 2002 are expected to be well below average. Observation and testimonies indicate that sorghum production could be as low as in 1999.

Table 1: Estimated recession agriculture production in Omo river delta for the last 6 years (mainly sorghum harvested)

Surface in Hectares
Estimate Production in Quintals

(Source: Kuraz Woreda Dept. of Agriculture)

In other locations of Kuraz woreda, other communities are also practicing recession agriculture along non-perennial rivers. Although parts of the approximately 10,000 people of various clans and enlarged families living in the Bubua area3 cultivate sorghum along the Kaski river4, they still suffer from chronic cereal shortage. However, the participants of the mission who already visited the area previously, noted an increase in land cultivation along the Kaski river and the shores of Lake Turkana. This year, planting was early since the March-April belg rains ensured flooding, and possibilities of recession agriculture were offered. Whereas harvesting was supposed to start in November, this year the communities already started harvesting in September. This harvesting will continue till December. The communities do also supplement their diet with fish caught from Lake Turkana. Also, parts of the population sometimes move across the border into Kenya in search of pasture or to try to get food assistance, which is occasionally provided through Food for the Hungry (FHA) in north Kenya, Turkana area.

However, solidarity and harmonious relations do not exist very much among those primitive communities, the smallest issue providing reasons for conflict. These inter-clan feuds reduce bartering opportunities. In Bubua area limited exchanges are nevertheless ongoing between people who cultivate and those who do not cultivate. However, the terms of trade are very much in favour of the cultivators, one pregnant goat being exchanged for 10 kg of sorghum.

The approximately 10,000 persons living in the six kebeles in the Kibish area5 in Kuraz woreda are also used to practice recession agriculture along the non-perennial Kibish river. This does not prevent chronic cereal shortages among the indigenous population, even during years of flooding. To make matters worse, for the last two years, the Kibish river did not flood failing to provide the local population with the much needed sorghum they use to supplement their diet. Therefore, during the last 12 months people of Kibish have been bartering livestock against cereals with Omorati inhabitants. But the lack of flooding also limited good pasture areas coverage. This induced the local population to take their livestock 20 km into Kenya during last August. But resource conflict ensued with Turkana groups, who killed 12 persons of the Kibish community in a Kenyan market. The cowboys of the Kibish community were forced to seek other pasture areas as far as the Tirgat Mountains and Naita area in South Sudan (about 100km to the west). The women and children stayed behind in their areas of origin without access to livestock derivative products such as milk and blood, their main subsistence foods. The conflict with the Turkanas also limits the bartering opportunities the people of Kibish enjoy in the Kenyan border towns. Bartering livestock for non-food goods such as blankets or soap, which they later trade within Ethiopia, is a common trade practice.

In the most southern part of South Omo, livestock enjoys pasture along the shores of Lake Turkana, and the animals were found to be in good condition. The normal veterinary problems were reported such as Tripanosomiasis, Lamp Skin Disease, CCPP and Anthrax. Vaccination against Lamp Skin Disease and anthrax was done recently in the area. As for human health, no abnormal problems were reported. Malaria and diarrhoea are present but no malnutrition incidence was reported or witnessed. At the contrary, the mission noted the playfulness and vivacity of the children.

2.3 Although the 14 kebeles of Hamer Bena woreda require close monitoring, the livelihood in their possession cover their present needs

The 14 kebeles in the mainly pastoral community of the southern area of Hamer Bena Woreda (around Turmi town) also practice recession agriculture in a very limited scale. Depending on the amount and availability of water from mountain runoff and along the Kaski river, valley bottoms are used to produce sorghum. This year, intensive rain showers in May made the Kaski river flood out of its riverbed destroying 300 hectares of agricultural land. However, much more land has been cultivated and it is by far not the totality of the crop production that was destroyed by those floods.

Good rains also provided for good pasture. It is reported that during the period January to May 2002, 736 mm of rain fell in Alduba site Hamer Bena woreda, as compared to an average of 475 mm for the same period. More seasonal rains are anticipated in October and November, prognosticating improving pastures for the months to come. The woreda administration indicated that in the area for which they requested food assistance, 40% of the population possesses more than 50 heads of livestock per family, such herd size representing a high capital in those areas. The Turmi area also benefits of bartering and market exchange from cereal production from the Omorati and the Erboret area (plain of fields in direction of Weyto/Birale that benefits from water runoff from the surrounding mountains in Hamer Woreda). The people also produce honey to generate income.

2.4 Additional information concerning Sala Mago and Bako Gazer woredas

Both Sala Mago and Bako Gazer woredas have the majority of their population living in the highland and midland areas with minority numbers in lowlands. For what concerns the lowland areas, the zonal authorities have requested food aid for 5,677 beneficiaries for 9 kebeles in Sala Mago woreda and 13,067 beneficiaries for 12 kebeles in Bako Gazer woreda near Gongode (nort-west of Weyto). Both groups of beneficiaries are mainly living in the lowland areas and do not benefit of rain fed agriculture production. Some fields exist irrigated by water run off from surrounding mountains and hills, or by flooding of the Weyto river. But these occasional crops remain insufficient to cover the limited cereal requirements of the local population. This minor shortfall in their food basket is therefore being supplemented by food brought from midland crop producing areas that are then marketed against livestock. Furthermore, the use of famine wild-food plants, common practice in the area in times of food insecurity, was not reported. Also, honey production is part of their coping mechanisms and provides additional income.

In the midland areas of both woredas, the onset of this year's belg and the meher rains were late, creating a dry spell of about 2 months between both seasons. Nevertheless, the long cycle maize is expected to produce good yields since rainfall was present during the all-important flowering stage of the growth cycle. Also, short cycle haricot beans, barley and wheat, that were planted in June are at a flowering stage. Rain showers were observed during the mission and yield prospects are good. Both long and short cycle crops are to be harvested in November-December. However, the use of agricultural inputs has drastically reduced from 300 sites last year to 40 sites this year for Bako Gazer Woreda. This combined with the use of 2nd generation hybrid seeds will at some stage negatively influence the total crop production. The market prices for maize are up from 20 ETB to between 45 and 50 ETB/100kg, which is still well below market price averages around the country and can be interpreted as to the present sufficiency of maize in the area. Teff prices are up from 125 to 225 ETB/100kg and wheat prices are up from 100 to 180 ETB/100kg. An average size goat costs 70 to 80 ETB, while an ox sells for 800 to 900 ETB. Livestock is in good condition, and water and pasture are available.

2.5 A good example for an emergency to development continuum project: the Omorati Integrated Pastoral Development Project

When considering activities to build local capacity, and elaborate adequate recovery or development projects with limited resources, the Omorati Integrated Pastoral Development Project, in Kuraz woreda, provides a good example. Started 3 years back with government funding, the project went on to plant 3.5 hectares as trial agriculture and demonstration land cultivating mainly fodder, but also cereals and vegetables. The fields being irrigated by water pumped from the Omo river, residual pumping capacity was used to irrigate an additional 14 hectares. 140 households were provided with the opportunity to cultivate 20 by 50 meter, or 1/10 of a hectare, plots. Benefiting from a very rich top-soil reaching as deep as 30 meters, being provided with free land, water and technical assistance, and assisted in purchasing seeds collectively, pastoral people get to farm fodder, teff and other more valuable cash crops such as onions or carrots. The whole project is being supervised by the Department of Agriculture representative, Ato Getahan, who, through his dedication, technical knowledge, ownership for the project, and capacity to mobilize the local communities, has demonstrated that such small to mid-size integrated irrigation schemes can function. Furthermore, other line ministries are also involved through providing additional education and primary health sessions, improving the community's capacity. Funding for an additional 2 years has been secured, after which the SNNPRS regional government authorities plan to expand the project to 100 hectares of irrigated land.

3. Conclusions and recommendations

The majority of the lowland pastoral communities in South Omo zone mainly depend on livestock rearing and bartering grain for their livelihood. To a lesser extend they also depend on recessional agriculture, primitive hunting and fishing activities (Omo river and lake Turkana), honey production and the consumption of wild foods during stress but also during food sufficiency periods. The area has tremendous livestock potential, particularly for small ruminants. Goats are reared for their milk and are also used as a cash or grain income source even though the terms of trade are largely disfavouring livestock producers.

This mission was preceded by missions led by the DPPC regional and zonal offices. However, these findings are concluding for the situation to be less dramatic as previously reported. Reports obtained in August and early September are not up to date any longer since the harvesting of sorghum through recession agriculture already started, earlier than the normal annual trend, and that seasonal rains have been regenerating pastures. Therefore, previous assessments should be revised.

The mission found that the request for food aid for 65,545 beneficiaries of South Omo made by the zonal authorities was exaggerated. Whereas the request for food aid to around 10,000 beneficiaries of Bubua area as well as the 10,000 beneficiaries of the Kibish area can be partially or fully understood, assistance to other areas is vastly amplified. For both Bubua and Kibish, the lack of recession agriculture during the last years, the inter-clan conflict both locally as with the Turkana, the cowboys being forced to seek pasture for livestock far from the areas of origin, the separation of women and children from the herds resulting in their lack of access to the livestock products they usually consume, warrants for food assistance to be provided as to avoid further deterioration of the situation. However, assistance for beneficiaries for the 10-delta area Kebeles in the vicinity of Omorati as well as the food aid requested for the South of Hamer woreda is at this stage hard to understand. Cereal availability combined with relative local wealth, good pasture and strong livestock herds does not warrant bringing food aid into the area. Only very well targeted assistance for those individuals having lost their fields (300 hectares) in the vicinity of Turmi could possibly be considered. Otherwise the evolution of the situation should remain being closely monitored.

As for the expectations for 2003, the mission found that due to the queasy inexistence of floods in the delta and the Kibish river, and the reduced amount of recession agriculture as well as the effects of destructing floods in the Kaski river, the 2002 sorghum recession agriculture production will be very limited. This will impact on cereal availability in the southern lowland areas of South Omo overall at some point during the first half of 2003. The period will have to be re-assessed during the pre-harvest assessment in November/ December, and close monitoring of the area thus remains necessary. Alertness towards any deterioration of the food security situation and assessing the upcoming recessional agriculture harvests will evaluate the impact brought about by the current rains.

It should also be noted that in an area prone to inter-clan conflicts food aid could represent further reasons to intensify feuds. Therefore, extreme caution should be used in the exercise of food distributions as to not further negatively affect the already precarious relations existing between the various clans.

Lastly, projects that are similar in situation and limited in size and where community organization into cooperatives has demonstrated success such as the Omorati Integrated Pastoral Development Project, in Kuraz woreda, should be further extended to areas that can carry similar initiatives. This project should therefore be thoroughly evaluated to ensure that lessons learned are applied to similar projects.


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.

15 October 2002

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Glossary of important meteorological and seasonal terms used for Ethiopian highland areas

Meteorological Drought Defined

Drought is a period of insufficient water initiated by reduced precipitation. The impacts of drought on crops and society are critical but not easily quantified. The result is that "drought" does not have a universal definition. "Meteorological drought" is defined as a sustained period of deficient precipitation with a low frequency of occurrence. While crops may be damaged by lack of precipitation and high temperatures in just a few days, such short periods are not considered to be meteorological droughts. A three-month period is defined by the American Meteorological Society to be the shortest period that can be defined as a drought. (Source: The American Meteorological Society)

Ethiopia's 'Keremt' or 'Meher' Rains Defined

Since Ethiopia and Eritrea are in the tropics, physical conditions and variations in altitude have resulted in a great diversity of climate, soil, and vegetation. Rainfall is seasonal, varying in amount, space, and time. There is a long and heavy summer rain, normally called the big rain or keremt, which falls from June-September. It is followed by the baga hot, dry period from October through February (see below for definition). In some areas there are short and moderate spring rains in March and April known as the little rains or belg. These rainy periods correspond to Ethiopia's primary and secondary agricultural seasons, known as the meher and belg. (Source: FEWS)

Ethiopia's 'Belg' Rains Defined

In spring, a strong cyclonic centre develops over Ethiopia and Sudan. Winds from the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean highs are drawn towards this centre and blow across central and southern Ethiopia. These moist, easterly and south-easterly winds produce the main rain in south-eastern Ethiopia and the little spring rains to the east central part of the north-western highlands. The little rains of the highlands are known as belg rains, referring to the second most important sowing season of the region. (Source: FEWS)

Ethiopia's 'Baga' Season Defined

Since Ethiopia is in the tropics, physical conditions and variations in altitude have resulted in a great diversity of climate, soil, and vegetation. Rainfall is seasonal, varying in amount, space, and time. There is a long and heavy summer rain, normally called the big rain or keremt, which falls from June-September. It is followed by the baga hot, dry period from October through February. In some areas there are short and moderate spring rains in March and April known as the little rains or belg. These rainy periods correspond to Ethiopia's primary and secondary agricultural seasons, known as the meher and belg. (Source: FEWS)


1 With contributions from Asfaw Gebreselassie and Getenet Ameha (DPPC) and Dr. Assefa Haymanot (WFP).

2 Guinand,Y. & Lemessa,D., (2000) A practical field guide to wild-food plants in Ethiopia, UN-EUE, Addis Ababa.

3 Bubua is located 30 km east of Omorati and is comprised of Bubua, Naykeya, Eriker, Acholoch, Doshie, Fejej, Hudo and Lokoro kebeles.

4 The Kaski is a non-perennial river fed by runoff waters from mountains in the north of South Omo zone and floods regularly enabling recession agriculture.

5 Kibish is located 70 km west of Omorati along the Kenyan border and includescomprises Natikar, Locmigang, Charie, Lotmen, Lokorlem and Kajamayken kebeles.