Harvesting of the main 1999 "meher" season crops was completed late last year. An FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission in November/December forecast the cereals and pulses output of the 1999 meher season at 10.7 million tonnes, some 6 percent below the previous year's outturn but 22 percent higher than the poor year of 1997. Compared with last year, most of the reduction in production has come from a lower planted area (down by 4 percent), although the mean yield of all cereals and pulses has also fallen, by 2 percent. The most important factors affecting areas planted and yields were the poor belg rains, the late start of the meher rains and, in the unimodal areas of the west, the late start to the rains for long-season crops.
The dry belg season in much of the country (but specially in the north) left livestock in poor condition and in reduced numbers. The availability and performance of plough oxen were significantly reduced and land preparation suffered. The delayed main rains led to late cultivation and planting and, in some areas, long-cycle stalk crops (especially sorghum) could not be planted. In most areas there was a switch from long to short cycle crops (both to short season stalk crops and to small grains). Cultivation, planting and weeding of different crops were concentrated into a short time period and the effectiveness of these operations was poorer than usual. The reduction in production from last year is most severe in Tigray (35 percent decline) but the southern region (SNNPR) is also forecast to be down, by 12 percent. In terms of individual cereals, the greatest reduction is the 26 percent fall in sorghum production, with maize down 13 percent and barley slightly down on last year.
Furthermore, due to an on-going drought in the Somali region, where some areas have had three consecutive years of little or no rainfall, the food supply situation is critical with severe livestock losses and people migrating out of the region in search of water and food.
With a below-average belg crop of about 250 000 tonnes anticipated for 2000 (due to continued shortages of oxen and possibly of seed), the Mission estimates the national import requirement to be 764 000 tonnes - significantly above last year's level. A net relief food aid requirement in 2000 of almost 652 000 tonnes is estimated to support 7.8 million people affected by severe food shortages resulting from droughts, waterlogging and other weather related hazards. In addition to the relief needs caused by natural disasters, food aid will also be needed for IDPs coming from the border areas with Eritrea, who have been unable to plant their land and have lost income-earning opportunities.
The UN country team has recently launched an appeal for US$ 190 million to avert another major humanitarian crisis in the country. Total pledges by mid-February amounted to 275 000 tonnes of which 57 000 tonnes have been delivered.