Alongside higher agricultural yields, creeping hunger in Ethiopia challenges food security hopes

5 Feb

by Keffyalew Gebremedhin – The Ethiopia Observatory

It is supposed to be the morrow of adoption by African leaders in Addis Abeba to realizev a vision to end hunger in the region by 2025. It is in the meantime, NBC Tuesday released its hunger news report, video showing perhaps tiny looking children for their ages receiving help, although they did not look shadows of their real selves, as usually children look when they suffer starvation.

Nonetheless, once again there is a sign that hunger seems to be in the air in parts of the country and elsewhere in East Africa. This also is not the right way of putting it, as far as Ethiopia is concerned. In parts of our country, hunger has always been companion for many, especially affecting the poor, the weak and the helpless mostly in southern and eastern Ethiopia.

NBC reported that agriculture is not giving; it also said government grain reserves were already empty in the south; and people were hungry, as it showed arrival of truck loaded with foreign food aid. My misgiving though about the NBC story is that it could have brought out the fact that hunger in parts of Ethiopia has been a permanent reality.

After all, all along close to ten million people in a third of the country’s districts have been chronically dependent on food aid in failed districts – receiving assistance under a mislabeled euphemism known as Productive Safety Net Project (PSNP). PSNP is great relief to the regime, although it keeps on inconveniencing politics and politicians in Ethiopia and their foreign allies, especially turning investors into doubters. Certainly, hunger in Ethiopia is an image, which cannot go side by side with huge profits and its much lauded story of seductive double-digit growths.

If it were up to them, therefore, this time Ethiopian officials would have liked to hear everyone talking about current year’s agricultural yields. There are reports that speak of higher yields, according to state data. Already in December 2013, they estimated output to increase by nine percent, according to the Ethiopian Central Statistical Agency (CSA).

In addition, Prime Minister Hailemariam unwisely exuded in mid-January 2014 an air of confidence – of all things in agriculture – with no concrete data to support his claim. He announced that Ethiopia is soon becoming wheat exporter. I realize that I have repeatedly referred to this wheat gaffe since his announcement on January 18, 2014 – even though I have been aware for years from FAO data that Ethiopia has been the second largest wheat producer in Africa, after South Africa. My skepticism is borne from fear of and allergy for false promises, especially at a time when our politicians are heavily engaged in ensuring nothing interfered with their desire to continue their permanence in power.

For affect’s sakes, however, Ethiopia would go into the motion of another “election” in 2015 for a predetermined outcome – all expenses of their campaigners, including government officials – already being paid by taxpayers. In a practically one party state, election in Ethiopia has never been free – save 2005 the electoral outcome of which was snatched with guns and destruction of lots of lives lost and the nation’s politics and governance having in the direction of becoming nearly frighteningly irreparable.

As to this impending threat of hunger, Ethiopia already has the information from diverse sources – donors, farmers’ cooperatives, extension workers, etc. One thing the regime hates most is such information; it refers to the messengers of such news as holders of the leash; this is in reference to donors and UN agencies. Another ‘I hate you’ of this regime is reserved to non-governmental organizations, which it sees asits mortal enemies, although for affects sakes it accuses them of as self-interested project designers in this situation.

It has no choice however. It has to sit down with all of them and being to squabble with all of them, resisting their estimate of the affected population only to get consensus on lower figure.

Looks of 'green famine' in Wolayta (credit: AFP)

Looks of ‘green famine’ in Wolayta (credit: AFP)

Already in November 2013, the Food Security Outlook Update had hinted about the rough patch from November 2013 to March 2014 in parts of the country.

This has been updated to June 2014; while no outright and significant hunger related deaths and famine are anticipated, continuation of the stress level on the population in parts of the lowland areas of East and West Hararghe Zone in Oromia, the Tekeze River catchment in northern Amhara and southern Tigray, the northeastern highlands in eastern Tigray and Amhara, and a few areas in SNNPR, according to

Similarly, it is reported that in pastoral and agropastoral areas, despite normal to above-normal recent rainy seasons in many areas, recovery of herd sizes and purchasing power would remain slow. Poor households are expected to remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2) in most areas through at least June.

The areas that would be affected most are those which have already experienced below average Kiremt rainfall or other localized hazards such as flooding, resulting in a below average Meher harvest.

Hereunder are details of the stress levels and the scenario in affected parts of the country:

Eastern, marginal, Meher-producing areas:

Most households will likely be able to address their food consumption needs from their own production through March. Due to the improved supply from the new fresh harvest, food prices are anticipated to decline along seasonal patterns from December to March. Households’ purchasing power is expected to increase from income from livestock sales and labor.

Households in most areas will be able to address their minimal food needs without selling off assets and will be Stressed (IPC Phase 2). However, poor and very poor households along the Tekeze River in Eastern Zone in Tigray Region and in the lowlands in East and West Hararghe in Oromia will have difficulty accessing food due to the expected below average Meher production in November/December caused by poor performance of June to September Kiremt rains in these areas.

Areas that are expected to have below average Meher production include the Eastern Zone in Tigray Region, woredas along the Tekeze River in Amhara Region, and the lowlands of East and West Hararghe Zones where households will likely move into Crisis (IPC Phase 3) from January to March as their household stocks are exhausted. The Belg-dominant areas in North and South Wollo Zones of Amhara Region will remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) through March due to poor Belg production in June/July this year.


The total Meher harvest from October to January is likely to be near average. This will likely improve supply on markets and lead to a decline in cereal prices from December to February, following the normal seasonal pattern. Prices would likely start to rise again by March.

Labor opportunities are likely to remain available at normal levels through March, generating income for poor and very poor households. Despite seasonally normal income patterns, households will still be unable to meet essential non-food needs including expenses for health, education, agricultural inputs and tools, and other expenses.

Poor and very poor households are likely to remain Stressed (IPC Phase2) through March despite some pockets of below average Meher production due to localized weather related hazards this year. However, ginger production is expected to be significantly below average due to bacterial wilt infestations in ginger-producing areas in Angacha, Kedida Gamela, Kacha Bira, and Hadero Tunto Woredas. In these areas since ginger sales are a key sources of income, households’ purchasing power will be reduced from December to March when ginger is typically sold. Poor households in these areas are likely to move into Crisis (IPC phase 3) from January through March, lacking much income from ginger sales this year.

Afar and northern Somali Region:

Livestock body conditions and productivity have been stable due to the availability of pasture, browse, and water, thanks to the average to above average and mostly timely June to September Karma/Karan rains. Recent improvements in livestock body conditions and productivity following further, unseasonal rains in early November are expected to improve household food consumption of livestock products and income from livestock sales.

Increased cereal supply from nearby highland areas is expected to stabilize cereal prices from December to February, increasing household purchasing power. Despite these improvements, households will still be unable to address non-food needs as herd sizes remain inadequate. Most households will be meeting food needs but neglecting non-food needs and thus be Stressed (IPC Phase 2) through March.

However, consecutive poor performance of rainy seasons in northeastern Afar and Ayesha Woreda in Sitti (formerly Shinile) Zone in Somali which decreased livestock productivity and reproduction. This further reduced the herd size and the income from livestock sale. Therefore, poor households in these areas will remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3).

Southern and southeastern pastoral and agropastoral areas:

The normal performance of the October to December Deyr/Hagaya rains is expected to continue, which would sustain the recent increases in pasture, browse, and water availability. With these resources, livestock body conditions and productivity can be maintained, increasing the availability of milk and income from livestock sales. Poor households are also expected to receive income from labor, particularly herding labor.

Agropastoral households in lowland areas of Bale, Guji, and Borena Zones will consume their recent harvest or purchase food with income from crop sales from December to March. However, staple food prices will likely remain high near their current levels as imported foods from Somalia are already restricted. Most areas will remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2) through March 2014. However, the March to May Gu rains were less favorable in Cherati, West Imey, Bare, Dolobay, and Dolo Ado Woredas.

These areas are likely to remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) through December, but they will improve to Stressed (IPC Phase 2!) but only due to the presence of humanitarian assistance from January to March following increased milk access and improved livestock body conditions likely to result from the October to December Deyr rains.

Terminologies and their meanings as employed by

    IPC Phase I: This relates to a situation that would not lead to acute food insecurity. This means that household groups do not experience short-term instability; or it is possible that they may experience short-term instability but are able to meet basic food needs, without engaging in disruptive coping strategies.

    IPC Phase 2: In this situation, household group experiences short-term instability. It is also the case where the household’s food consumption is reduced and is minimally adequate, preventing the need to engage in irreversible coping strategies.

    IPC Phase 3: Household group experiences short-term instability. The affected household would have significant food consumption gaps with high or above usual acute malnutrition. It is also possible that a household group is marginally able to meet minimum food needs only with irreversible coping strategies, such as liquidating livelihood assets or diverting expenses from essential non-food items.

    IPC Phase 4:A household group experiences short-term instability; and it is possible that a household group may have extreme food consumption gaps. This would result in very high acute malnutrition or excess mortality. It is also possible that a household may have extreme loss of livelihood assets. This is likely to lead to food consumption gaps.

    IPC Phase 5:Household group experiences short-term instability and also would have near complete lack of food and/or other basic needs. This would make starvation, death, and destitution an inescapable reality.


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