Special report: FAO/WFP crop and food supply assessment mission to Ethiopia


  • Mission Highlights

Mission Highlights

- Late, poorly distributed and early cessation of seasonal rains resulted in a decline of grain production in 2002. Reduced use of improved seed and fertilizer also contributed to the decline.

- National cereal and pulse production is forecast at 9.27 million tonnes, about 25 percent and 21 percent down from 2001 and the average of the previous 5 years respectively.

- Cereal import requirement in 2003 is estimated at 2.29 million tonnes of which 328 000 tonnes are anticipated to be imported commercially. Confirmed food aid commitments in the pipeline stand at about 140 000 tonnes, leaving an uncovered gap of about 1.83 million tonnes.

- Some 11.3 million people will need about 1.44 million tonnes of emergency food aid in 2003, including 1.3 million tonnes of cereals and 129 000 tonnes of other food commodities.

- Severely depressed grain prices over the last two years and current price increases have sharply reduced the ability of farmers to purchase both consumer goods and agricultural inputs and increased the default on previous input loans. There is an urgent need to strengthen price stabilization mechanisms to minimize the adverse effects of such price volatility.


An FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission visited Ethiopia from 7 November to 3 December 2002 to estimate the Meher season cereal and pulse production, forecast the 2003 Belg season production, assess the overall food supply situation and estimate grain import requirements including food aid needs for the 2003 marketing year. Accompanied by experts from the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and split into six teams, the Mission visited all regions. Parallel to the crop assessment teams but spread over a longer period, over 20 teams led by the Government's Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Commission (DPPC), and comprising WFP, bilateral donor agencies and NGOs, visited marginal localities and vulnerable zones and districts (woredas) to determine their current and prospective food security situation.

The assessment teams obtained planted area and yield data of all major food crops from woreda, zonal, and regional agricultural bureaux, which were cross-checked against information from farmers, traders, NGO and donor project staff, and remote sensed data from early warning systems. Crop inspections, spot-check crop cutting, market surveys, and livestock condition observations, were conducted en route. Thus, initial yield forecasts were fine-tuned to take into consideration latest and broader information.

The overall agricultural performance in 2002 was poor, primarily due to unfavourable weather conditions. Low producer incentives to invest following two years of highly depressed grain prices also contributed to reduced production. More specifically, despite a reasonable secondary season (Belg) harvest of some 460 000 tonnes of cereal and pulses, a prolonged dry spell of up to six weeks between the end of the Belg rains and beginning of the main season (Meher) rains in some 55 zones and special woredas: (i) disturbed land preparation routines; (ii) delayed sowing dates; (iii) reduced the sowing of heavier yielding, late maturing maize and sorghum crops in favour of short-cycle crops such as teff, wheat, and pulses that were planted later in the season; (iv) and deterred farmers already concerned about low returns, from investing in inputs, which resulted in falls in improved seed and fertilizer use by about 70 percent and 17 percent, respectively.

Further disruption to the Meher season in 31 zones and special woredas though unevenly distributed and lighter than usual rains: (i) necessitated replanting following germination failure and reduced crop densities; and (ii) affected seed-set and grain-fill. Although these negative effects were noted to be most severe in the lowland and other marginal areas of the country, the major cereal producing zones in the central plateau were also affected, seriously reducing grain production in the recognized surplus producing areas by 20-30 percent. Perennial staple and cash crops such as enset and chat have been less affected.

Cereal and pulse production this season was comparatively pest and disease free. Minor outbreaks of Quelea quelea birds and armyworm were effectively controlled by local agricultural bureaux. Non-migratory pest infestation, although present throughout the country, was considered to be mild. Poor rainfall in the eastern and north-eastern pastoral areas reduced available forage and water, increased livestock mortality rates, prompted unseasonal and early migration of herds and flocks, and reduced livestock prices by as much as 50 percent in all affected areas.

Grain prices remained severely depressed till about mid 2002. The decline in prices was largely attributed to above average harvests in the previous two years with little or no effective price stabilization mechanisms. In the latter half of 2002 grain prices began to increase sharply with the expected poor grain production. In October 2002, average prices of maize, wheat, barley and sorghum were respectively 85 percent, 50 percent, 32 percent, and 25 percent higher than at the same time last year. Consumers and producers alike are suffering from such severe price volatility. There is an urgent need for effective price stabilization mechanisms.

Overall, the Mission forecasts total pulse and cereal production at about 9.27 million tonnes, comprising 8.92 million tonnes from the Meher harvest and a predicted 350 000 tonnes from the Belg harvest in 2003. At this level, cereal and pulse production is about 25 percent below last year's Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) post-harvest estimates and 21 percent below the average for the previous five years. As a result, the cereal import requirement in 2003 is estimated at nearly 2.3 million tonnes. With commercial imports forecast at 328 000 tonnes and food aid in pipeline and pledges currently amounting to 140 000 tonnes, there is an uncovered gap of about 1.83 million tonnes.

The most recent DPPC led multi-agency teams which visited 53 zones determined that the lowland river gorges and north-eastern lowland escarpment in Amhara and Tigray, lowland Rift Valley, SNNPR, and the lowland pastoral and agro-pastoral regions of Afar, Oromiya and northern Somali do not have food stocks to last for even 1-2 months. Food needs are expected to grow over the next 6 months peaking in June, with a possible respite for some areas if there are good February-June rains. However, in less than three months, millions of subsistence farmers and pastoralist families will be faced with a desperate food situation. While food difficulties differ from zone to zone, the total number of people in need of emergency assistance is now estimated at about 11.3 million and will need some 1.44 million tonnes of food including 1.3 million tonnes of cereals.

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