- The upcoming agricultural season in Eritrea is unlikely to provide much relief after years of drought and bad harvests. While the seasonal kremti rains are performing below normal in most of the country, lack of seeds, draft animals and other farm implements jeopardises agricultural performance in other parts.
The performance of the kremti rains in July was well below the long-term average in most parts of Eritrea that depend on these rains. At the end of July, however, conditions improved somewhat, giving a small hope for farmers. In August, the vegetation cover in large parts of Eritrea was observed by satellites to be less than the long term average.
Not only the relatively bad kremti rains are a source of concern, however. Farmers in Eritrea's interior regions, which are less dependent on the kremti rains and produce most of the country's grains, are mostly unable to start sowing and planting. After years of drought, farmers lack basic farm implements.
The Eritrean Ministry of Agriculture, supported by various humanitarian organisations, has distributed crop seeds to needy farmers in July and August to secure some agricultural activity. Because good crop growth is dependent most of all on adequate rainfall, timely supply of seeds followed by timely planting is critical.
- The current delay in seed supply could negatively affect agricultural activities by delaying the planting operation, however warns the US agency Famine Early Warning Systems (FEWS) in its Eritrea report released today. "Planting operations are incomplete; most fields have not yet been sown due to either lack of inputs or the poor rainfall performance," FEWS adds.
Due to a lack of draft animals and farm implements, Eritrean farmers tend to depend on tractor rent services provided by the government and private tractor owners. Tractor rent services are however costly and not in great supply. Farmers, after years of drought, are also short on cash to pay for the rental.
- The lack of this crucial input could impede planting activities in some locations where the rainfall is relatively better, the FEWS report warns. "In the long run, dependency on tractor rent services rendered by the government is not sustainable and other alternatives, such as restocking and upgrading the efficiency of traditional animal-drawn farm implements have to be sought," the report adds.
Also for pastoralists, the situation is not promising. In contrast to normal conditions for this time of year, poor vegetation and grazing conditions have been observed in most parts of the kremti dependent areas. The bushes, which are important source of feed for browsing animals are reported to be less green than expected. The re-vegetation of the grasslands has been very sluggish and is expected to have serious implications for the overall performance of livestock and the food security outlook of the pastoral community.
- Food security prospects for the rest of the year are increasingly pessimistic, the FEWS report concludes. "Prospects for domestic production, which normally covers about one-third of domestic requirements, are already looking bleak and will worsen if rains do not pick up in August and September."
Eritrea is already heavily dependent on commercial imports and humanitarian food aid after years of drought. Food aid and imports have however been less than necessary during the last months, and according to the FEWS report, "most farming households have already depleted their food reserves."
With the existing reduced food aid ration size, current Eritrean stock together with expected arrival of around 47,000 tonnes of food aid will "last until the end of December," the report says. Humanitarian agencies were urged to start taking the first steps to assess "food aid interventions for the coming year."
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