- Ethiopia is enjoying a bumper harvest from the 2004 main season, now projected 21 percent above the average for the past five years. While the god harvest reduces food shortages, the years of drought have been so tough that more than 2 million people will still need food aid this year.
According to a joint UN report issued today, estimates for the harvest from Ethiopia's 2004 main season have now been adjusted upwards, being more than 24 percent above the previous year's revised estimate of 11.49 million tonnes. The UN agencies for the first time in many years speak of "a bumper harvest" in Ethiopia.
But the UN report also noted that - despite this strong performance - 2.2 million Ethiopians will need emergency assistance in 2005. In addition, five million people suffering from chronic hunger will receive cash and food transfers under a new safety net programme to start soon.
The joint crop and food supply assessment report released by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) forecasts that cereal and pulse production in Ethiopia will be 14.27 million metric tons. The bumper harvest follows an extended main season rainfall, increased use of fertilizer and improved seeds, especially wheat and maize.
With the harvest coming onto the market, the FAO and WFP report says that "timely marketing and transport of food products will be critical issues in 2005".
- Local purchase of cereals for food assistance programmes is recommended as far as possible, so as to assist domestic markets and farmers, said Henri Josserand, Chief of FAO's Global Information and Early Warning System.
The report voices concern about pastoral areas in eastern and southern Ethiopia where prolonged drought has led to acute water and fodder shortages. "Erratic and poorly distributed rains have also affected some central and northern parts of the country," which also reduced crop yields, it says.
These areas, which already have large numbers of vulnerable people, are expected to face increased food insecurity. The report estimated Ethiopia's emergency food requirements for 2005 at 387,500 metric tons.
This compares with relief food requirements in 2004 of 965 000 metric tons. A total of seven million people needed food assistance in Ethiopia in 2004.
The 2005 humanitarian appeal for Ethiopia requested "support for 2.2 million acutely food-insecure people who will need emergency food assistance, while five million chronically food-insecure people will receive cash and food transfers" that tackles longer-term food security needs.
The introduction of this new programme constitutes a move away from the "traditional" way of managing chronic and predictable food needs, WFP and FAO say. "For the first time in the history of food aid assistance in Ethiopia, there is a different response to the needs of acutely undernourished people as opposed to the chronically hungry," said Georgia Shaver, WFP's Country Director in Ethiopia.
- Emergency food needs are now defined as the requirements of those people affected by acute or unpredictable disasters, which are mainly drought-induced, added Ms Shaver. Ideally, the new programme was to "help families to create and maintain assets and decrease households' vulnerability to shocks and crises in the future."
WFP was to distribute food to affected communities in exchange for their undertaking development activities, such as land rehabilitation and water and soil conservation initiatives.
Agriculture is the main economic activity in Ethiopia, contributing to 45 percent of GDP with some 80 percent of the population earning a living directly or indirectly from agricultural activities. The near total dependence of the agriculture sector on rainfall makes it susceptible to the vagaries of nature and results in high variability of yearly agricultural production.
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