Ethiopia Experiences Poor Meher Production as Food Crisis Continues
Food security conditions remain precarious in Ethiopia. According to Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Commission (DPPC) records, the number of people in need of food aid now exceeds that of 1994, which was widely believed to have been the worst year for food security in Ethiopia since the famine of 1984/85.
The 1999 meher (main) season started late with patchy and limited rainfall. As a result, initial plantings failed and many farmers replanted with lower yield, short-cycle crops instead of the usual long-cycle crops (maize and sorghum)—but the late end to the meher season proved favorable for any long-cycle crops that were planted. The overall decrease in long-cycle crop production over much of the country will result in below-average national production. The movement of maize and sorghum from some usually surplus central and western parts of Oromiya Region to the deficit northern and eastern parts of the country will be reduced this year compared to last year, significantly decreasing the general availability of and accessibility to food. Consequently, the populations of eastern, northern and southern Ethiopia who are already food insecure will continue to require outside assistance. Substantial emergency food aid is anticipated well into next year.
The meher season preharvest assessment is currently underway with 20 teams dispatched to all areas of the country during November and December. These teams will review crop production estimates for agricultural areas, evaluate pasture, water and livestock conditions in pastoral areas and conduct food needs assessments. The results will provide input to the Government’s Annual Appeal expected in January 2000. Preliminary results support the projection of a poor harvest for the meher season.
The pastoral rainy season (September to November) in the south and southeast has largely failed this year. Much of the southeastern lowlands had only 2 to 3 rainy days during this season. These rains were inconsequential and did not provide sufficient pasture and water for the ensuing long dry season from December to March, making it difficult, if not impossible, to maintain the lives and productive capacity of the animals. Current food shortages will likely worsen dramatically for pastoralists. Unless appropriate measures are taken before pastures and waters are depleted, large numbers of livestock may perish in the coming months, keeping pastoralist populations of the south and southeast food insecure well into next year.
At the beginning of December, the Government launched an appeal to donors for approximately $60 million in assistance for food-insecure households in the drought-affected northern and eastern districts. Nearly three-quarters of the total appeal is for relief food, comprised of approximately 60,000 MT of cereals and 43,000 MT of pulses, oil and supplementary food to feed 1.7 million people through May 2000. It also includes a request for funds for livestock vaccines, drugs and interventions to improve water availability. The appeal was formulated before the improved short rains arrived in mid-November, and it will be revised based on the distribution of the rains and their impact on food security.
To address the current food needs, the Government has released $3.6 million for the purchase of maize for food relief and has pledged $4 million for additional maize purchases as further relief food needs arise. The December allocation of relief maize for the 35 Districts most affected was for 8,000 MT, with an increase from 540 to 900 MT for Turkana District. The $40,000 allocated by the Arid Lands Resource Management Project (ALRMP) for non-food aid interventions in each of 10 food insecure-districts is being used mainly to improve livestock health and access to water, to repair crucial rural feeder roads and to transport food relief. WFP is expected to release an emergency operation (EMOP) appeal in response to the Government’s appeal during December.
Heavy rainfall in November brought some relief to many of the drought-affected areas of the country and signaled the late start of the short-rains season. Precipitation has been good in most of the short-rains dependent agricultural areas of Central, Eastern and Coast Provinces that have recently been experiencing drought. However, field reports from the food-insecure areas of Mwingi, Makueni and Kitui Districts of Eastern Province indicate that prospects for salvaging a harvest hinge on the tardy short rains lasting through December.
The ALRMP and Drought Preparedness and Intervention Projects have reported that water, pasture and browse conditions for livestock have improved in localized areas of the northern and eastern pastoral areas of the country. However, food needs remain acute in several areas which were dry through November, most notably Turkana District where rates of child malnutrition, already high in June, had reached alarmingly high levels in October (figure 1). Livestock production indicators—herd size, body weight, prices and milk productivity—have declined throughout the pastoral areas. The ALRMP in Wajir District has indicated that livestock mortality rates of small animals grew at the end of November due to an increase in disease normally associated with the onset of rains.
Nominal maize prices in markets in and around the long-rains ‘grain-basket’ districts of Rift Valley Province have continued a downward trend that started with the harvest in June and July. However, prices remain significantly higher than the 1992-97 November average. In contrast, maize prices in markets in pastoral and marginal agricultural districts have been increasing since May. Maize price increases in the pastoral districts are attributable to the absence of adequate transportation and market information infrastructures needed to supply these areas from high-production districts. Increasing maize prices in the marginal agricultural areas are attributed to decreased flows from Tanzania.
Well-distributed rainfall in November and early December has significantly reduced the threat of major crop losses in Umutara, Kibungo, Kigali-Rurale, Gitarama, Butare and Gikongoro Prefectures for the season A 2000. While crops planted in September, before the dry spell, are expected to have very poor yields, many farmers planted or replanted at the end of October, and their crops are developing well. Maize and beans, for example, are already flowering and in the grain-filling stage. If rainfall remains well distributed through December and early January (the end of the cropping season), production of the most affected crops (maize and beans) could be near average in many of the locations that had reported the potential for crop failure in October. In Byumba, Ruhengeri, Gisenyi, Kibuye and Cyangugu Prefectures, the crops did not suffer significant moisture stress during this agricultural season and are expected to have average yields.
Market prices for major staple crops have remained stable since November, even in areas affected by poor rainfall in October, and are not expected to rise further. Excellent production of Irish potatoes in the northwest has brought prices down to near-historic lows. Despite lower production in sweet potatoes and cooking bananas, prices for these commodities remain stable because households are increasingly using Irish potatoes as a substitute commodity.
Although the food supply situation looks much improved over last month, food aid deliveries have begun to food-insecure households identified by the Government/donor rapid assessment in early November. WFP is targeting 44,000 households (approximately 220,000 people) in the worst-affected areas of Umutara, Kibungo and Kigali Rurale Prefectures. The next Government/donor crop assessment will begin in mid-December and will focus on crop production estimates and identify areas of shortages. The results of this effort will determine if food aid to these areas should be continued.
WFP’s food pipeline for Rwanda is currently sufficient to meet ongoing and emergency program needs through March 2000. After March, however, the pipeline will be exhausted, unless donor pledges are made in the interim.
Local authorities, NGOs and UN staff indicate that the food security situation in northeastern Districts of Kotido and Moroto continues to deteriorate. The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) reported in early December that food supply within the Districts is limited and markets remain reliant on the transport of goods from outside. Nominal food prices have risen above historic levels and are expected to continue increasing until the next harvest in August 2000. Large numbers of pastoralists have taken their herds into neighboring Districts where pasture and browse are more abundant and terms of trade are more favorable for purchasing staple foods.
Farming and agropastoral households are the most food insecure at this time, as many lack sufficient cash to purchase food in the market. LWF is considering a market intervention program aimed at stabilizing and lowering market prices through food aid sales and cereal banks. WFP, FAO and Oxfam are currently conducting a food needs assessment in these Districts to assess the overall needs and determine the best response mechanisms. Any relief effort mounted for food-insecure households in these Districts will be based on the results of the assessment mission, which will be finalized in late December.
The Government, WFP and FEWS conducted a third assessment of food needs in southwestern Uganda in late November. The assessment followed earlier ones done by the Government (July) and FEWS and WFP (September). The team found that the current agricultural season is favorable and household food needs could be met through current production. Staple foods are available, even in areas hardest hit by crop loss last season. Pastures have improved, and District veterinary officers reported that animal health and herd sizes are normal.
Food supply in the rest of the country is good, and second-season harvests (December-January) are expected to be average to above average. The most notable increase in production is in Gulu and Kitgum Districts, where NGOs and District officials report a large increase in area cultivated, due to improved civil security, and average to above-average yields are expected for all crops.
WFP has reduced the food ration going to the estimated 112,000 displaced people in Bundibugyo District, following the appearance of large amounts of relief items, including food, for sale in many of the trading centers. WFP has asked local officials to assist in determining the numbers of displaced so that relief food can be better targeted.
An October report on recent food needs assessments conducted by Save the Children Fund (SCF)-UK and the Prime Minister’s Office identified 23 districts in 9 Regions that are likely to face problems of food access between December 1999 and April 2000. The assessment was prompted by a below-average 1999 agricultural production season in several of the central and lake Regions. The report recommends an intervention of about 41,500 MT in food relief for 800,000 people (10 percent of the 9 Regions’ population) between December and April (figure 2). The Government is expected to launch an appeal to the international community to finance the relief program. Once the appeal is made, WFP intends to operate under the current emergency operation extension to use a balance of about 2,600 MT of food while requesting new donations.
A delayed onset of the season and generally poor October to December vuli (short season) rains, particularly in northern Tanzania, will result in a shortened 1999/2000 cropping season unless rains extend beyond the normal end of the season. Production in these bimodal regions, which normally accounts for 15 to 20 percent of total annual national production, is likely to be 20 to 30 percent below the 5-year (1993/94 -1997/98) average. Reports from Arusha, Kilimanjaro and Tanga Regions indicated that less than 30 percent of the normal acreage has been planted, and crops had suffered moisture stress during the first 2 weeks of November. In Morogoro Region, maize and bean crops dry planted in October received sufficient rain to emerge but have since wilted. By contrast, good soil moisture from the November showers in areas bordering Lake Victoria supported the continuation of planting of vuli season crops. Early beans are already maturing in part of Kagera and Mara Regions.
The production season in the unimodal central and western areas has started well following above-normal rainfall in mid-November. However, food-insecure farmers in drought-affected areas of Dodoma, Mara, Mwanza, Shinyanga, Singida and Tabora Regions who normally save seeds for planting in the next season have saved little following 2 consecutive seasons of crop failure. These farmers will need to be supplied by the Government or donors with seed of drought-tolerant varieties.
With the exception of the central and lake regions, markets around the country have a steady supply of cereals, pulses, roots and tubers. The southern highlands Regions of Ruvuma, Iringa, Mbeya and Rukwa have an estimated surplus of between 85,000 and 100,000 MT of maize, pulses and other cereals. A November FEWS assessment in Mbeya and Rukwa Regions estimated a maize surplus of about 70,000 MT for the 2 Regions. The Strategic Grain Reserve (SGR) stock position in November was over 107,500 MT, about one-third higher than average.
The generally good food availability in the country is reflected by the declining food prices in most markets. However, the price of maize and beans in all monitored markets recorded sizable decreases in November compared with last year, and prices generally stabilized at 1997 levels.
Light rains in October and erratic and localized rains through mid-November have been largely insufficient for the establishment of a good deyr (secondary) season crop in most rainfed agricultural areas of southern Somalia. However, reports from both irrigated and recessional agricultural areas indicate that crops there are well established. The Somalia Food Security Assessment Unit (FSAU) and partners will conduct the annual Deyr Season Crop Establishment Assessment in the first half of December.
Fairly good rainfall during the last half of November has provided welcome relief for pastoralists in much of southern Somalia. Pasture conditions are reportedly improving in most areas, and many water catchments are full. Livestock conditions are improving at an opportune time, as traders are already beginning to assemble animals for export to Saudi Arabia for the peak Ramadan/Hajj export period.
The Islamic Courts of Mogadishu, with support from local traders, have expanded their area of operation as far south as Brava District in Lower Shabelle. They have assumed control of the port of Marka and cleared the road between Mogadishu and Lower Shabelle of roadblocks and gunmen. With the first commercial ship unloaded in mid-November, Marka seaport is now open for business, providing employment opportunities for many unskilled laborers. Goods are now moving unimpeded between Marka and Mogadishu.
Despite the Kenyan-Somali border closure, informal cross-border trade of food commodities continues between the 2 countries, albeit in small quantities moving via unconventional routes. Movements of livestock across the Kenyan border appear unaffected by the border closure. Cross-border activities between Somalia and Ethiopia are regular, facing no barriers at present. Staple food prices in central and southern Somalia remain unseasonably high in most markets, although prices seem to be stabilizing. Food prices in Somaliland dropped during November as the relatively good harvest continues in the main crop-producing areas. Prices for export quality livestock continued to rise in most markets.
The United Nations released a Consolidated Inter-Agency Appeal for Somalia for the year 2000, requesting about $50.5 million for humanitarian activities, including $13.8 million (over 27 percent) for food security and protection of livelihoods. Food aid deliveries by WFP and CARE in southern and central Somalia lag behind the FSAU estimates of food aid needs. Although the current stock and pipeline situation appear adequate through early 2000, the recent heavy rains have made some roads impassable, preventing a recent WFP convoy of over 100 trucks from reaching its destination in Bay and Bakool Regions. To date, WFP and CARE have distributed about 30,000 MT of food assistance in Somalia since January 1999. USAID has committed 18,000 MT of food for CARE for the year 2000.
In southern Sudan, the agricultural season is ending as harvesting of second-season crops in Western Equatoria winds down. A substantial cereal surplus will be available in markets of this Region between January and March. Further assessments are required to quantify the amount available for local purchase by WFP and other NGOs for distribution in deficit areas.
Although the current harvest has increased food availability and improved food security in most locations, immediate relief needs remain acute in Western Upper Nile due to continuing civil insecurity. Several thousand internally displaced persons (IDPs) have been identified in the southern part of the region and in neighboring counties of Bahr-el-Ghazal and Lakes Regions. Flight bans continue to restrict access into the most food-insecure locations. Torit, Kapoeta and Aweil West Counties also remain areas of concern due to poor harvests this year and potential civil insecurity.
The final report of the recently concluded WFP Annual Needs Assessment detailing estimates of food needs for the year 2000 is yet to be released. The provisional estimate is for about 53,500 MT of relief food for the southern sector. The official WFP Emergency Operation (EMOP) appeal to donors is expected to be close to this figure. In addition to the WFP program, a number of NGOs, including World Vision International, Lutheran World Federation, Norwegian Peoples Aid and Catholic Relief Services, are formulating proposals for feeding programs. They are expected to request a combined amount of over 30,000 MT of food, both for food-insecure populations in Bahr-el-Ghazal and for the IDP camps in Equatoria. The NGO and WFP appeals need to be fully harmonized to resolve divergences in assessed needs for specific locations and to avoid the risk of double counting due to overlapping areas of operation.
Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS) consortium members met in late October to identify possible food security scenarios in year 2000 that might result in large-scale relief needs. They considered environmental (flood and drought) issues, civil insecurity and other factors such as health emergencies. Using existing knowledge, projections were made to anticipate the possible scope and impact of various factors on food security to inform contingency planning. These scenarios are summarized in figure 3.