A New Threshold of Food Insecurity Looms in Ethiopia
Evidence is mounting that food insecurity in Ethiopia may cross a dangerous and life-threatening threshold before mid-year. Over the past months, difficult food security conditions in much of Tigray and Amhara, belg (secondary season) agricultural areas in Oromiya, and much of the pastoral zones of Somali, Oromiya and SNNP Regions have been well documented. Government and donors have initiated comprehensive emergency food relief actions to address these problems. These operations have been largely successful in providing people with an amount of food sufficient to keep most in their home areas. However, sparse rains, insufficient water and fodder conditions and poor harvests in many parts of the country will increase the number of extremely food insecure in Ethiopia to approximately 8 million people during peak months of 2000, up from 5.8 million in October 1999. Even with the recent about-average meher (main) season grain harvest, which is estimated by the Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Commission (DPPC) and donors at 10.7 million MT, the emergency food aid import requirement for these food-insecure populations may reach as much as 800,000 MT for the year.
Even more worrisome is how rapidly the number of people in need of food aid could increase. The current estimate of food-insecure people, as well as the amount of required imports, is based on a fragile assumption that both of the upcoming 2000 belg and meher and pastoral area rains will reach at least normal levels in the most food-insecure areas.
Poor donor response to the "Bridge Appeal" launched in mid-November 1999 could disrupt the food aid pipeline and cause food security stocks to reach dangerously low levels. According to agreements between the Government and donors, release of these stocks would proceed only as new assistance pledges are received.
Small groups of people moving away from their homes in search of food have been reported around East Harerghe and Wello. Recent DPPC/donor assessments in Gode and Afder Zones in the southwestern part of Somali Region have indicated that an increased level of mortality among children is evident, although not yet documented. They report that animal mortality rates are well above 50 percent, an extremely worrisome sign for pastoral households dependent on their animals for income and food. The next rainy season will not start in these areas until April, so it is likely that livestock losses will continue, even if more food aid can be made available. Local NGOs and Government officials have expressed concern that the situation may get out of control.
The DPPC is currently providing assistance in most of the cited areas. However, replenishment of food aid stocks will be crucial both to maintain aid flows to current recipients and to expand this coverage for up to one million additional people before the start of the next rainy season in March/April. If the Government and donor response to the January DPPC appeal is slow or incomplete, then the country’s food security situation is likely to worsen significantly.
Although food security in some parts of southern Somalia will be enhanced by a favorable deyr (secondary) harvest, close surveillance of food availability and access is warranted in Bakool Region. Some 35,000-50,000 agropastoralists who are dependent on rainfed agricultural production have experienced an almost total deyr crop failure (figure 1). Rainfed sorghum production is estimated at only 60 MT. This is less than 5 percent of last year’s cereal harvest for the Region and less than 3 percent of the post-war average. Additionally, following the misappropriation of 260 MT of food aid by local authorities, WFP has suspended food aid deliveries in Bakool (except for Wajid District) until the food is recovered and distributed to the intended WFP beneficiaries. Other areas where the food security outlook is tenuous include Gedo Region and the Haud area of southeast Somaliland.
Despite the situation in Bakool, a December deyr crop assessment mission led by the Food Security Assessment Unit (FSAU) has estimated that total cereal production in southern Somalia will be about 130,000 MT, almost 40 percent higher than the pre-war average and 85 percent higher than the post-war average. Although irrigated maize production accounts for 63 percent of this total, final production figures remain heavily dependent on growing conditions for rainfed sorghum from now to harvest time, particularly in Bay Region.
Pre-harvest cereal shortages have been reported in most markets in southern Somalia, particularly in rainfed agricultural areas. Consequently, staple food prices, especially of sorghum, remain high in most markets in southern and central Somalia. In Somaliland, however, food prices dropped in December, encouraged by the presence of sufficient cereal stocks in the market. Prices for export livestock continued to rise in most markets throughout Somalia as the hajj approaches in March.
Food aid deliveries during the last quarter of 1999 fell well below estimated needs because of poor security conditions, problems working with local authorities and heavy rains that made roads impassable. In December, food aid distributions to the most food-insecure Regions of Bakool, Gedo and Bay were negligible. Because food aid disbursements have been low in recent months and the deyr season harvest is expected to be good in irrigated areas, food aid stocks are considered adequate for at least the first quarter of 2000. However, unless current donor commitments increase, WFP fears a break in its pipeline from April onward.
Heavy rain during December in most of Kenya’s bimodal crop areas has greatly improved the prospects for the short-rains harvest. The short-rains maize crop is reaching maturity in Western and Nyanza Provinces. However, the Ministry of Agriculture estimates that 50 percent of the crop in Eastern Province, which was planted late, could be lost if rains do not extend later than normal into January. Current estimates are for a short-rains maize harvest of 315,000 MT, compared with the 1992/93-1998/99 average of 410,000 MT. The bean harvest is estimated to be 180,000 MT compared with an average of 300,000 MT. Including long-rains and short-rains harvests, imports from Uganda and Tanzania and carryover stocks, the July 1999 -June 2000 maize production deficit is estimated to be 400,000 MT below consumption requirements. Additional imports through the port of Mombasa could fill this deficit, but traders appear to be waiting for a significant decrease in the current 25 percent duty on maize imports.
Pastures in much of the eastern portion of the country, most notably in Garissa, southern Wajir and Tana River Districts, have benefited significantly from the December rainfall. Livestock body weights and milk production have increased, leading to improvements in food security for pastoralists. However, rainfall in the northern pastoral areas has remained below normal, heightening food insecurity in these areas. Civil insecurity has become one of the key factors impeding the recovery of pastoralists from 2 consecutive seasons of drought. In December, heavy livestock raiding occurred in several areas of Turkana District, with less severe incidents in Garissa and Wajir Districts.
In coordination with the Government, WFP is seeking approval from its headquarters in Rome for a $46 million Emergency Operation (EMOP). The EMOP is currently targeting 1.8 million people in 18 pastoral and marginal agricultural districts to receive some 74,000 MT of maize, beans and cooking oil. It is scheduled to begin in February and run through the end of June. The amount requested for the EMOP may be revised downward to reflect reduced needs arising from improvements in crop prospects following the recent rains. Donors await revisions in the estimate before making definitive commitments. The Government, which in January is distributing an estimated 5,400 MT of maize to the 24 most food-insecure districts, intends to distribute 30,000 MT of maize to complement WFP’s EMOP. Most of the maize is being purchased locally from the recently completed long-rains harvest in the “grain-basket” area of western Kenya. A pilot, community-based, food aid targeting method being implemented in Turkana District by international NGOs and the Government has been largely successful at ensuring that free food reaches households and individuals in greatest need.
The vuli (short season) rains in Tanzania’s bimodal northern and coastal Regions ended poorly. Less than 30 percent of the normal vuli season area was planted, and crop yields were poor due to dry conditions throughout the October-December season. The Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives (MAC) estimates that the vuli season harvest will be 70 to 80 percent below the 5-year average (1993/94 to 1997/98). If correct, this would translate into a 20 to 30 percent reduction in the average, annual food production in these Regions. Harvesting of vuli beans and sweet potatoes in parts of northern Tanzania (Kagera and Mara Regions) is improving household food security, but the dry conditions in December have hurt perennial crop production, especially bananas and coffee.
In the unimodal south-central and western parts of the country, rains began well in November but were poor in December, causing a halt to planting activities in many areas. Based on an analysis made in conjunction with Save the Children Fund (SCF)-UK, an appeal was made by the Prime Minister’s Office for seeds of drought-tolerant crops for food-insecure farmers in 6 of the drought-affected central and Lake Regions (FEWS bulletin, December 1999). In December, FAO coordinated the distribution of 100 MT of sorghum seed to farmers in the Dodoma Region. The remaining Regions are not likely to obtain sufficient seed for this season.
Nationally, the availability of food remains good. Fourth-quarter maize prices in monitored markets were between 6 percent and 46 percent lower than 1 year ago, and at most markets they were below the 1995-98 average (figure 2). The prices of all other major staple foods, with the exception of rice, were also significantly lower than last year. These low prices can be attributed to a variety of factors, including large Government maize imports in mid-1999 for resale in local markets, a maize export ban imposed by the Government and a possible underestimation of production.
Good access to inexpensive food supplies is improving the food security of populations previously identified as food insecure. Therefore, while pockets of severe food insecurity persist in the central and Lake zones, the previous estimate of the population requiring relief should be reassessed. This appears to be the reason the Government has yet to make an appeal to WFP and the donor community for relief food for the 800,000 people identified as food insecure by the October report of the Save the Children Fund (SCF)-UK and the Prime Minister’s Office. However, a WFP school-feeding program began in January in 128 primary schools in Dodoma Region and will be expanded to Arusha and Singida Regions later this year.
Continued well-distributed rainfall in December and early January in Rwanda eased earlier concerns over potential crop losses that arose during an earlier dry spell. Preliminary findings of a joint Government/UN/European Union/FEWS crop assessment conducted mid to late December indicate that the total area cultivated had expanded compared to last year. The assessment team found that production in the 5 Prefectures unaffected by poor rains in October 1999 "Byumba, Ruhengeri, Gisenyi, Kibuye and Cyangugu" was likely to be average to above average. In contrast, the agriculture situation in the southern half of Kigali-Rurale (Bugesera Zone), Gitarama, Butare (Mayaga Zone in particular) and parts of Gikongoro Prefecture is poor, with yields of beans and maize expected to be quite low. In Umutara and Kibungo Prefectures, where fears of total crop loss were voiced in October, beans and maize planted after the dry spell have done well. However, in areas of these Prefectures that remained dry through December, production prospects are poor. The assessment mission is expected to release final national and subnational production estimates at the end of January.
As the 2000 season A harvest gets underway across the country, market prices of staple commodities have begun a sharp seasonal decline. Although the price trend reflects a general improvement in both food availability and food access, many rural households still have poor food access. For example, during season A, reduced opportunities for households that rely on income from farm labor were caused, in part, by pessimism over last season’s poor rainfall performance. With limited wage employment available and low incomes, food market access will become increasingly difficult for many poor rural households. Furthermore, many rural households will sell their season A production earlier than usual to afford market purchases, school and health care fees and other expenses. Although the increased supply of agricultural products will bring market prices down in the short term, many of these households will need to buy staple foods later in the season at what will likely be a much higher price.
With its booming production of Irish potatoes, vegetables (especially cabbage) and beans, Gisenyi and Ruhengeri Prefectures are poised once again to become 2 of the major "breadbaskets" of the country. The rapid agricultural recovery recorded in 1999 in these Prefectures is impressive following the civil insecurity that had plagued this part of the country. However, the recent increase in civil insecurity could compromise this agricultural recovery.
Following a joint WFP/NGO assessment to Kotido and Moroto Districts in December, WFP is making final preparations to provide food relief to an estimated 215,000 people who have insufficient access to food. Households in these Districts require assistance because of last season’s poor harvest, cattle raiding, high market prices and limited alternate sources of income. WFP, while still reviewing programming options, is seriously considering a 3-fold approach: immediately extending the present school-feeding program through the current school holiday and expanding it to children under 5; developing food-for-work projects in the most food-insecure sub-counties; and providing general free-food distribution if the food security situation deteriorates. Follow-on assessments that evaluate changes in food needs and identify geographic areas of highest food insecurity will be conducted by the Government, WFP, NGOs and FEWS and will be used to direct and adjust response initiatives.
Civil insecurity continues to threaten an estimated 112,000 displaced people in Bundibugyo District. Results of a nutritional survey carried out by Médecins sans Frontières-France between September and November 1999 indicate that the levels of moderate and severe acute malnutrition have changed little since March 1999 and remain relatively low. These data suggest that displaced persons in this area have been able to access sufficient food resources despite large-scale displacement and periodically disrupted food aid deliveries caused by civil insecurity.
After a nearly one-year hiatus, rebels have resumed attacks on population centers and road convoys in Gulu and Kitgum Districts. It is uncertain if these attacks will continue despite the Government’s promise of amnesty for rebels who put down their arms. District officials and relief workers have voiced concern that a renewed cycle of violence will erode gains in food security made last year. If attacks continue, food aid deliveries may need to increase to meet the needs of useholds unable to access fields for cultivation and harvesting.
Main-season crop harvests in southern Sudan will be completed by the end of January. The harvests are considered good, except in certain areas where drought or flooding were present, including northern Bahr-el-Ghazal (Aweil, Gogrial and Twic Counties), Jonglei (Phou and Bor), Upper Nile (Liech, Aburoc, Sobat and Latjor) and the eastern half of Eastern Equatoria (Torit and Kapoeta). Substantial grain surpluses are expected in Western Equatoria and may permit local purchases of relief food.
In many of these same areas of poor harvest, and in Bieh (Jonglei), Juba and Yei (Eastern Equatoria) as well, civil insecurity has been the most pressing issue for food security (FEWS bulletin, December 1999). Cropping activities have been limited and, in some cases, harvested grain has been destroyed. Current relief distributions are being hampered or completely stopped by fighting in western Upper Nile, eastern Jonglei and parts of Eastern Equatoria.
A seed and tool distribution exercise is planned before the onset of this year’s main rainy season in mid-March. FAO is expected to assume the coordination role for this effort that has traditionally been undertaken by UNICEF’s Household Food Security Unit. To minimize the consumption of planting seeds that occurred in previous years, plans are being made to synchronize the delivery of seeds and tools coming from UNICEF with WFP’s food distributions.
Nutritional conditions continue to improve in most locations affected by high and extreme food insecurity last year. Médecins sans Frontières-Belgium, which operated the largest numbers of feeding centers, has closed all of them down. Mobile nutritional surveillance teams will continue to identify any change in the status of the populations.
A beneficiary protocol that intends to define humanitarian guarantees for war-affected populations was signed in a December meeting of the Government, the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement (SPLM) and Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS) in Geneva. It provides for the right to receive and retain humanitarian aid and the right not to be forcibly relocated from one’s place of residence. Its practical effect remains to be seen.