FAO/WFP crop and food assessment mission to Ethiopia


Mission Highlights

  • Poor belg rains and a late start to the main rains have resulted in poor land preparation, late planting, a reduction in planted area and heavy weed infestations. But the main rains were mostly heavy, well-distributed and continued into October, benefiting late sown crops.
  • Some recovery of the main (meher) crop from earlier expectations occurred but not in the north nor in parts of the south and east.
  • National cereal and pulse production is forecast at 10.72 million tonnes, 6 percent down from last year.
  • Food security will be very polarised in 2000. Most surplus-producing areas have had a productive year, whilst production in the deficit areas will be significantly down on last year. Marketing and transport will be critical issues in 2000.
  • Cereal import requirement for 2000 is estimated at 764 000 tonnes, which is expected to be mostly covered by food aid.
  • Locally purchased grain should be feasible for around 200 000 tonnes of food aid.
  • A follow-up mission is recommended for April 2000 to assess the belg crop and to finalize the meher estimates for 1999.

The FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission for 1999 was conducted in two parts, with two different time frames and two counterpart agencies. The findings of both assessments are combined into this one Special Report. The first and larger exercise was that carried out by WFP/Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Commission (DPPC) between 6 November and 31 December. This involved 20 teams (comprising staff of DPPC, WFP and other donors) visiting all the zones in the country and a high proportion of the food deficit woredas. The aim was to assess both the chronic and current vulnerability of local populations to food insecurity, and to quantify the amounts of food aid required during the year 2000. The analysis of the results of this survey was completed by early January 2000. The second part of the Mission was a crop survey conducted by FAO with assistance from MoA during the period of 18 to 30 November 1999. Its remit was to finalize the main season cereal and pulse production estimates for 1998 and to prepare production forecasts for 1999. The forecasts were developed at zonal level and aggregated to give a national picture of cereal and pulse availability for 2000, together with an estimate of national import requirements. The FAO/MoA team reported its preliminary findings to Government and donors on 6-7 December 1999.

The crop assessment team, comprising international and local consultants, assisted by MoA agronomists, visited all the zones except Gambella and Benshangul and most of the special woredas during a 12-day period, using six separate teams. They consulted with regional bureaux and all the MoA zonal offices to obtain post-harvest estimates of 1998 meher production and MoA's pre-harvest forecasts for 1999. In addition to the crop statistics, information was obtained from the zonal MoA offices on the 1999 growing conditions, input supplies, the stage of harvesting, cereal stocks and recent movements in grain prices. The teams then inspected crops in different parts of each zone and engaged in discussions with farmers and traders. Vegetation and rainfall satellite images (NDVI and CCD) were also used in the field to indicate rainfall and growth patterns in 1999 compared with previous years. Using all this information, the teams amended the MoA pre-harvest forecasts at zonal level and developed their own independent yield forecasts and applied them to the planted area data recorded by MoA. The preliminary forecasts of each individual team were then analysed by the whole mission and final adjustments made. Thus, the Mission has produced a dataset which contains, for each zone and special woreda, the forecast area and production for each cereal, and pulses, for the 1999 meher crop, plus a 3-year time series of actuals: from 1996 to 1998. All these data are based on MoA statistics.

Comparing the aggregated post-harvest production data for 1998 with last year's mission report indicates that the Mission's forecasts were 2.6 percent higher, in terms of total cereal and pulse production in the meher season. Actual production (on the MoA-based time series) was 11.39 million tonnes for last year's meher. For the 1999 meher season, the Mission forecasts a harvest of 10.72 million tonnes of cereals and pulses, some 6 percent below last year's outturn but 22 percent higher than the poor year of 1997. 1999 is still 9 percent short of the record 1996 year. 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 this year 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). Total areas of sorghum and maize are down on last year by 15 and 8 percent respectively, but wheat, pulses and teff areas are higher by 4.2 and 1 percent. 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 late start to the season, coupled with poorer land preparation, resulted in exceptionally high weed infestations with consequent losses of yield. However, once the main rains came and the crops were planted, the season was relatively favourable in most areas, except the north (Tigray, Wag Hamra and Wollo) and the south (North and South Omo, Konso, Burgi and Borena). The rains were mostly heavy and well-distributed and frequently extended into mid-late October, so benefiting late-sown crops. Although there were reports of waterlogging, floods and hail damage, and critical dry spells in some areas, the meher season was mostly good, and crops recovered, to some extent, from a poor start. The surplus-producing areas, in particular, seem to have done well, whilst the deficit areas in the north, east and south are well below average. Pests and diseases have not been a major factor overall, but weed populations have doubtless taken their toll. More farmers than ever joined MoA's 5-year old extension package scheme, and consumption of fertilizers, improved seed and even herbicides has increased. The harvest is significantly late (by about one month in many areas) but maize harvest is almost complete, sorghum hardly started and teff and wheat harvesting is now underway.

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. Amhara region is 5 percent lower and Oromia is forecast at 1 percent lower than 1998. 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. Production of wheat, teff and pulses are all expected to be higher than last year.

The prices of most cereals are now falling, particularly for maize, which has reached US$75 per tonne in some of the surplus areas of the west. Sorghum is still expensive (US$150 per tonne) as its harvest has hardly started, and wheat prices are coming down in anticipation of good production. Teff is maintaining its premium but prices are generally easing down. In the north and other deficit areas, prices are higher due to transport costs from surplus areas and local shortages. By early December 1999, stocks of cereals were running low, exacerbated by the late harvest. This partly explains the relatively strong prices at this time of the year.

With national production expected to be significantly down on last year, supplies will be inadequate for normal levels of consumption, but there are striking differences between the normal deficit areas which have done badly in 1999 and the surplus areas where crops are good (i.e. Gojam, Arsi, Wollega). The polarization of these two broad areas of Ethiopia, at least in terms of food security, will be more marked in 2000.

With a below-average belg crop 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. This assumes similar per caput consumption levels to last year, similar exports (mainly pulses) and no drawdown of stocks. This increased import requirement is expected to be almost entirely supplied as food aid to support 7.8 million people affected by severe food shortages resulting from droughts, waterlogging and other weather related hazards. This high level of anticipated food aid had been exacerbated by the significant depletion of assets over recent years. Beneficiaries' coping mechanisms are no longer available, including decreases in traditional income-earning opportunities and reduced agricultural output. 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 who have lost cross border trade and labour opportunities due to the conflict.

The Mission suggests that around 200 000 tonnes of food aid could be procured locally, from the surplus-producing areas.


2.1 Macroeconomic situation1/

Ethiopia is classified as one of the poorest economies in the world with a GDP per caput of US$102 in 1998, compared with US$339 for Uganda and US$342 for Kenya. Incomes are highly skewed, with a very small proportion of the population being extremely rich, but with 60 percent of the population below the absolute poverty line. Between one and five million people receive assistance each year from government, international donors and NGOs, mainly to alleviate drought-affected or man-made famines. Current economic policies are aimed at reducing poverty (particularly in the rural sector) and improving access to adequate food.

The economy is highly dependent on agriculture, which, with forestry, accounted for 50 percent of GDP in 1996/97. The industrial sector is small (11 percent of GDP) of which only 4 percent is classified as manufacturing. Services comprised 39 percent of GDP in 1996/97, which includes the growing sectors of transport, building and tourism - all encouraged by recent liberalization measures.

During the period 1981-91, the economy grew at only 1.6 percent annually (the population growth rate was 3 percent), mainly as a result of the poor performance of agriculture resulting from policies which failed to provide adequate incentives to the country's 7 million farmers. However, since 1991, economic growth has improved, partly as a result of higher agricultural output (through more liberalized policies) and partly due to better capacity utilization in industry and improvements in the service sector. From 1994 to 1998 real GDP growth averaged 5 percent per annum.

Inflation has been held in check for the last 5 years and is currently running at 3 percent per annum for consumer prices. The exchange rate has declined from 5.09 birr/US$ in 1994 to 8.20 birr/US$ in late 1999.

There have been major changes in economic policy since 1992 which have aimed at reducing the government's role, encouraging privatization and liberalising markets and exchange rate policies. Despite the undoubted success of the new policies, the economy still faces severe structural and policy-related problems, including chronic food insecurity and persistent poverty for much of the population.

An enhanced structural adjustment facility (ESAF) has been in place until its expiry in October 1999, to facilitate the movement to a market-based economy with liberal private participation. Most donors and domestic investors, however, consider that the pace of reform has been slow and that several policy measures have yet to be fully implemented (e.g. land ownership reform). The conflict with Eritrea is becoming a major factor in the economy as government spending shifts from domestic capital investment to defence spending. The donor community is now phasing down its development assistance and the IMF is unlikely to renew the ESAF until the war appears to be over. Debt relief proposals for Ethiopia are also on hold until the conflict with Eritrea is resolved.

The forecast growth in GDP for 1998/99 of 6.7 percent is therefore unlikely to be achieved due to the distraction of the war effort, reduced donor support, and low international coffee prices (coffee accounts for 65 percent of Ethiopia's exports). The economic performance this year is also strongly influenced by agricultural output. Earlier this year, the belg crop failed in many areas and, although an average meher crop is possible in 1999, the coffee price situation will reduce foreign earnings and increase the trade deficit.

2.2 Population

The Office of the Population and Housing Census Commission of the Central Statistical Authority released the results of the 1994 census in June 1998. According to the report, the population was 53.48 million, comprising 86 percent rural and 14 percent urban, with a mean annual growth rate of 3.09 percent per annum. Extrapolating from this census, the population at July 2000 is projected to be 63.49 million - used by the Mission to estimate food consumption needs in 2000. The geographical breakdown of the country's population is indicated in Table 4.

2.3 Recent performance of the agricultural sector

Crop production has increased considerably, broadly keeping in line with population growth since the early 1990s. This is due to increased fertilizer usage and a slight increase in cultivated area. However, environmental degradation is widespread, caused by cultivation on steep slopes without effective terracing and continuing deforestation of hills for firewood and charcoal for sale. Although progress has been made in protecting some eroded hillsides through closure, much more needs to be done if crop production is to increase to provide sufficient food for the increasing population in the long term.

Whilst crop losses by poorly distributed rainfall, pests and diseases and other causes were still important during 1999, the main cause of poor agricultural performance lies in agricultural policies regarding land tenure, supplies of fertilizers, modern herbicides and other agricultural chemicals, and the low supply of improved seeds.

Under the present system, security of land tenure is far from absolute and redistributions of land are relatively common, with the result that necessary investments of labour and money in land improvements are often not made for fear of reallocation of such improved land holdings to others. Farmers are not allowed to own land and so have little or no personal wealth to use as collateral for loans and have weak incentives for investing in improvements. Soil conservation improvements are rarely carried out on the large areas of communal land due to a lack of personal incentives. Regional governments and some NGOs have persuaded farmers of the benefits of closing of mountain slopes with encouraging results in parts of Oromiya and Tigray. An attempt to provide farmers with improved, though not private, title to highly eroded, formerly common land in North Wollo has been encouraging. Within three years, degraded and bare hillsides and gullied land are now covered with grass and shrub vegetation, which can be selectively and sustainably harvested to provide livestock forage, firewood and in the longer term, building poles. The provincial administration is now extending the idea throughout the zone.

The very small area of many holdings is also a major problem, with families of five people having as little as 0.25 hectare in Delanta woreda in North Wollo. Even given perfect growing conditions, such small farms cannot produce sufficient food for a year and many have to make up the difference by exploiting local forests for firewood and charcoal and cutting grass cover for sale as thatch and fodder. With population growth continuing at about three percent, overcrowding on these very small land areas is bound to increase. Many areas in Tigray and North Wollo are never able to provide sufficient food for a year, forcing heads of households to move to other areas to work as labourers or to cut trees for firewood and charcoal, with serious environmental effects.

The recommended fertilizer package is the same throughout the country at 100 kg of DAP and 50 kg of urea per hectare. Fertilizer usage has increased by 64 percent since 1994 and this has contributed to higher yields in the more favoured areas of the country such as Arsi, parts of Bale, Gojam and Gondar. In Amhara Region, which uses 26 percent of the national supply, fertilizer use increased from 45 000 tonnes in 1994 to 74 000 tonnes in 1999. In the better land areas of Amhara, such as Gojam, fertilizer responses are good and the investment easily pays for itself. Very high crop yields can and are being achieved in Arsi, Gojam, parts of Shoa and Gondar, Wollega, Illubabor where improved farming packages have been implemented.

In areas such as Tigray, Wag Hamra and North Wollo, where water stress is a chronic problem, fertilizer usage has not, and often cannot, produce the desired effect of increasing yields, with the result that farmers accumulate debts which in many cases they cannot repay. The national recommended rate for fertilizer should be reconsidered in such marginal areas. There is also a need for greater flexibility with regard to repayments so that oxen and other vital possessions should not have to be sold to defray credit obligations.

In 1999, the failure of the belg rains in Tigray and North Wollo meant that high yielding, long term crops of maize and sorghum could not be planted. Land cultivation was hampered by the dry conditions and by a shortage of oxen. When the meher rains finally arrived in late June they were extremely heavy and caused considerable waterlogging on shallow soils and on vertisols. It is thought that the applied fertilizer was rapidly leached away during this period, leaving little or no response in the final crop yield.

2.4 Food security and nutrition

The Mission has forecast the overall harvest at 6 percent below that of 1998. Although this is a better result than might have been expected in August-September 1999, it masks very serious food shortages in specific areas including much of Tigray, northern parts of Amhara, east and south Oromiya, Somali, and south east SNNP and in Afar. This will mean that food security and nutrition standards, already precarious, will decline sharply, especially in South and North Omo, the special woreda of Konso, the woredas of Abergele, Atsbi and Hawzien in Tigray and many woredas in Wag Hamra, North and South Wollo, and South Gondar where many thousands of families will be forced to migrate to more favoured areas in search of survival and employment.


3.1 Area planted

Overall, the cropped area was reduced by 3.6 per cent due to the failure of meher rains in lowland areas of Tigray and Wollo, displacement from farms along the war front with Eritrea, and to various other causes such as flooding in Gambella, drought in Somali, South Omo, Eastern and Southern Oromiya and other causes. The failure of the belg rains meant that long season sorghum and maize crops normally planted at the end of the belg rains, were not planted this year in some areas of Tigray, Amhara, Oromiya and elsewhere. As a result, overall areas planted to maize and sorghum were reduced by 8 percent and 15 percent, respectively. Long term stalk crops were replaced by short season sorghum, by teff, wheat and barley.

Lack of oxen is now a serious problem in North Wollo and Wag Hamra, with only 19 percent of farmers in North Wollo having the required pair of oxen. Shortages of oxen were also reported from Gurage and East and West Hararghe zones. This was compounded by lack of planting rains which concentrated cultivation into a short period.

The total planted area for cereals and pulses is estimated at 10 885 400 hectares - the lowest of the last four years. The area planted to pulses increased by 2.1 percent to 1 519 200 hectares, and the wheat area increased by 3.6 percent to 1 658 000 hectares. Teff area is 3 percent above last year and all other cereal areas are lower.

3.2 Rainfall and crop conditions

The absence of belg rains was almost total in Wollo and Tigray and was considerably reduced in East and West Hararghe in Oromiya Region and in North Omo. In Arsi and Bale the 1999 belg production was considerably reduced. Belg crops normally account for around 5-10 percent of overall production, but up to 17 per cent of the annual crop in areas such as North Wollo. The failure of belg rains resulted not only in the loss of potential belg crops, but also prevented the sowing of long season, high yielding crops of maize and sorghum. These high yielding crops were replaced by teff, wheat, barley and lower yielding short term sorghum varieties. Land preparation was also much disrupted by the dry conditions and this led to poor seed beds leading to poor crop establishment and heavy weed growth, with wild oats, various perennial grass weeds and Striga being most important.

In some areas such as North Wollo, forage is so scarce that farmers leave weeds to grow almost to maturity in order to feed livestock, but with disastrous effects on crop yields.

The main meher rains were delayed by one week to six weeks depending on location, but when they began they were of high intensity and caused water-logging of some crops in July and August. The meher rains came to an end earlier than usual in parts of Tigray, North Wollo and Wag Hamra and this prevented crops from reaching their full potential. However, the rains persisted into October over most of the country and good yields of wheat and teff, in particular, were obtained. Late rains which fell in the last week of October, caused losses to teff crops in North Wollo and farmers in Tigray, fearing such rains, harvested teff earlier than at the optimum time, reducing yield potential.

Severe frosts in the highlands of Wollo prevented normal grain fill of barley and wheat crops and hail damage was severe in parts of Tigray and Wag Hamra, where nine hail storms in July, August and October severely damaged crops of peas, beans, teff, wheat and barley.

3.3 Inputs

Supplies of improved seed continue to improve, but much remains to be done. Total national supplies of hybrid maize amounted to 1 450 tonnes, while 4 676 tonnes of open-pollinated maize seed, sufficient to plant 187 000 hectares (11 percent of the total area planted) were sold. Supplies of improved wheat seed amounted to 12 364 tonnes, sufficient only for about five percent of the planted area. The vast majority of farmers still rely on home-saved seed which does not receive a seed dressing, leaving the emerging crop vulnerable to many soil pests and seed-borne diseases, such as Smut, which reduce yield potential considerably, both in current and in future years.

Following a 27 percent increase in fertilizer usage in 1998, a further increase of 2.6 percent was recorded in 1999 to 192 995 tonnes of Diammonium Phosphate (DAP) and 92 828 tonnes of Urea. At the nationally recommended application rates of 100 kg/hectare of DAP and 50 kg/hectare of Urea on cereals, this is sufficient to fertilize approximately 20 percent of the cereal crops grown nationally, assuming it was only applied on cereals. As might be expected from these figures, local fertilizer shortages were reported from various centres throughout the country indicating a need for increased supplies and improvement in the distribution systems at regional level.

The demand for effective herbicides is not being met. The main herbicides in use, 2-4D and MCPA, are in short supply. Modern, wide spectrum herbicides which are safer, control more weeds and are not so timing specific as the hormone herbicides, are unavailable even in the high potential areas where their use could increase yields.

3.4 Pests, Diseases and Weeds

A total of 260 687 hectares of various crops were affected by Army Worm attacks in nine of the eleven regions. Of this a total of 92 749 hectares were sprayed with 113 000 litres of liquid and 54 783 kgs of WP insecticides. A total of 318 138 hectares of grassland was also treated. Crops in Amhara and SNNP Regions were worst affected with 79 000 and 80 000 hectares affected. Other regions affected included Somali (47 437 hectares), Tigray (17 092 hectares) and Oromia (21 042 hectares). A total of 2 014 hectares of crops had to be replanted.

Overall, pest and disease damage in 1999 was less than normal. Sorghum chafer beetles caused considerable crop damage to both sorghum and teff in South Wollo and to a lesser extent in North Wollo. The Wollo bush cricket caused local damage in Wag Hamra and Wollo.

The parasitic weed, Striga, affected yields of sorghum and to a lesser extent, maize, particularly on areas subjected to severe moisture stress. Wild oats was commonly seen in fields of barley, wheat and teff in Tigray and other regions. Grass weeds, particularly perennial couch grass, are becoming increasingly difficult to control, especially in view of the shortage of oxen for ploughing in Wollo, Tigray and other areas.

3.5 Yields

The shorter than average rainy season and the total absence of the belg rains in the north reduced overall national average yields from 1.009 tonnes/hectare to 0.985 tonnes/hectare. The loss of higher yielding long term sorghum and maize crops due to lack of rain in April/May meant that lower yielding sorghum varieties and teff had to be substituted. As a result, maize yields declined from 1.63 to 1.47 tonnes/hectare, while sorghum yields also declined, for the same reason, from 1.02 to 0.91 tonnes/hectare. Wheat yields, on the other hand, increased from 1.20 tonnes/hectare to 1.27 tonnes/hectare due to favourable rains later on in the season. Teff yields were broadly similar to those of the previous year, despite the fact that more short duration teff had to be substituted for higher yielding long season varieties. Fertilizer usage was increased on teff and wheat, but still well below required levels. Barley yields increased slightly from 0.99 to 1.02 tonnes/hectare, though in some highland areas, such as North Wollo, barley yields were severely reduced by frost damage.

Lack of moisture followed by intensive rainstorms in Tigray and North Wollo reduced fertilizer responses in those areas almost to zero. Lowland areas of Tigray, Wag Hamra and North Wollo suffered drought conditions, sometimes preventing any cultivation this year. Yields of crops affected by moisture stress were predictably low.

3.6 Cereal and Pulse Production Forecast.

The Mission estimates (Table 1) that cereal and pulse production will be 9.69 million tonnes and 1.03 million tonnes, respectively, giving a total production of 10.72 million tonnes, compared to the adjusted post-harvest production of 11.39 million tonnes in 1998, a decrease of 0. 67million tonnes, or 5.9 percent. Regional comparisons for the past three years for all cereals and all pulses are shown in Table 2. Some minor discrepencies for 1997/98 between this report and the 1998 Special Report are explained by the use of an improved historical time series in the present report.