Ethiopia

Ethiopian government bank helps 500,000 drought-hit farmers

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Addis Ababa (dpa) - Some 500,000 farmers in drought-affected areas of the South Ethiopia Regional State are to benefit from 69 million birr (8.04 million dollars) in loans from the government-owned Commercial bank of Ethiopia (CBE), local press reports said Tuesday.

The credit would be used to buy 40,000 metric tons of fertilisers and some 5,000 metric tons of seeds, the Amharic language daily Addis Zemen said.

Twenty-seven million birr (about 3.15 million dollars) was being provided immediately to help during the current "belg'' or small-rains season (February through mid-May).

The rest would be given at the onset of the main rainy season June through September, according to Lakew Teshome, CBE Vice-President of Operations for branch offices in South Ethiopia Region.

Farmers who would benefit had already been identified from the worst affected parts of the region, according to Simayehu Tadesse, crop production and conservation team leader with the Regional Agriculture and natural Resources Bureau.

South Ethiopia Region, one of the two of the country's evergreen and fertile regions that had escaped previous drought hardships, had been hit by the failures of the "belg'' rains twice in the immediate past and also suffered from inadequate rains during the 2002 main rainy season.

Over 11 million Ethiopians are on emergency food aid, and the number had been anticipated to increase to about 15 million when the main rainy season begins in June.

The World Food Programme in Ethiopia and the government relief agency had said that by the end of February nearly 60 per cent of the country's food grain needs for the entire year had been pledged, plus about 25 per cent of enriched food needs for the malnourished.

The country's needs for 2003 had been put earlier at about 1.45 million metric tons of food grain and about 125,000 metric tons of enriched food. dpa gh sc

AP-NY-03-04-03 0627EST

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