Failed Belg rains worsen Ethiopia’s food insecurity on wider basis; food prices escalate as TPLF stumbles by its lack of appropriate policies or money to feed the nation

3 Jun

By Keffyalew Gebremedhin – The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)

– I –

The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (fews.net) last month warned that the February to April 2015 period was drier than normal in most parts of Ethiopia. The most affected parts of the country extend from Tigray in the north to SNNPR in the south, to Amhara in-between and eastern and central Oromia.

This sad story has already made its ugly signs and impacts felt by many Ethiopian households. Unfortunately, those vulnerable to any shocks, irrespective of their magnitudes easily get crushed. Their pockets cannot adjust to the vagaries of shortages and absences of ordinary goods, mainly food items, subject to the laws of demand and supply and hence the hot pace of prices.

It is a story of Ethiopia losing on average over half of its Belg harvest. The FEWS.net forecast states:

    “Very poor rainfall since February, combined with extremely sporadic rainfall since mid-March, has led to large moisture deficits and very poor ground conditions in Ethiopia, Djibouti and eastern Eritrea. The extended absence of precipitation through the season has likely adversely affected cropping activities for several “Belg” producing areas of Ethiopia.”

In parts of SNNPR, in particular in the lowlands of Sidama, Wolayita, Gamo Gofa, Hadiya, Kambata Tambaro, Gurage, Silte and Halaba Zones, land preparation started late because of the delay of the rains. Those planted late could not grow into foods.

This is a shared story in Afar, parts of Amhara, Tigray and central and eastern Oromia, SNNPR and Somali Region. In Eastern Hararghe of Oromia Zone, the report shows, “eight percent of average planted area has been planted.”

With below-average rain in the previous two seasons and a well-below average rainfall since March, pasture, browse, and water availability is very low in Sitti (formerly Shinile) and Fafan (formerly Jijiga) Zones in Somali Region, observed the early warning report.

After its earlier meeting, the TPLF hydra, aka, the EPRDF Executive Committee meeting subsequent to its six-month appraisal of the nation’s performance told the nation:

    “የሥራ አስፈፃሚ ኮሚቴው ያለፉትን የስድስት ወራት የስራ አፈፃፀም የገመገመ ሲሆን ከመልካም አስተዳደር ጋር በተያያዘ መሠረታዊ ለውጥ በማምጣት የህዝቡን እርካታ ከማረጋገጥ አንፃር ቀጣይ ጥረት የሚጠይቅ መሆኑን በማረጋገጥ በአጠቃላይ ሲታይ አወንታዊ መሻሻል መመዝገቡን አይቷል፡፡ በአንዳንድ ተቋማት የታየውን መሻሻል ለማስፋት ልምዶችን እየቀመሩ የጋራ እውቀት ለማድረግ የተጀመረው ጥረት ተጠናክሮ መቀጠል እንዳለበትም አሳስቧል፡፡

    በኢኮኖሚ መስክ የህዝቡን ተጠቃሚነት ማዕከል በማድረግ እየተደረገ ያለው ጥረት አበረታች መሆኑን የገመገመው ሥራ አስፈፃሚ ኮሚቴው በመስኖ ሥራ የአርሶ አደሩ ተሳትፎና ተጠቃሚነት እድገት የተመዘገበበት እንደሆነ አረጋግጧል፡፡”

Notwithstanding that pretension, sadly the map below shows extent of the present threat of loss of crops and the creeping drought, that for months, possibly years in some areas, would affect many parts of Ethiopia.

This is because the planting season for many crops, including maize, has long past. Some of the crops have already wilted, indicates the early warning system.

With less than half of average agricultural lands prepared in time or where planted crops had wilted, half of the belg harvest is lost. Ordinary Ethiopians in those areas would experience yet another lean season, according to the forecast.

The state of 2015 Belg production in Ethiopia (credit: fews.net)

The state of 2015 Belg agricultural production in Ethiopia (credit: fews.net)


 

– II –

Markers of stressed areas and stressed people

The stressed areas are colored yellow and crisis areas brownish. The color codes could be deceptive. Because of that many parts of the affected regions have been classified by levels of severity and crisis, known as IPCs – followed by numbers 1-5 describing the crisis phase. IPC is the short form for Integrated Food Security Phase Classification.

Linking the IPC phases, one could easily see which part of our country is at what level of crisis.

IPC Phase 1

    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.

In FEWS.net’s assessment most of Segen, the highlands of Gamo Gofa, Wolayita, Hadiya, and Kambata Tambaro in SNNPR would for a while be in Crisis IPC Phase 1.

The reason for this is the help of the stocks from last year’s near average Meher production and transfers from the Productive Safety Nets Program (PSNP). In passing, let me state that, as I have always said and written, without a clear graduation criteria, I consider this to be the only relevant PSNP function in Ethiopia, i.e., to tide the people from lean years to better times.

So far, except the noise we hear from Tigrai about so many poor families becoming rich because of PSNP, it has not been a shared in the nearly 300 chronically food insecure region. It this is fiction. If it were true, the level of destitution in Ethiopia could have have also shown signs of decline.

As far as the SNNPR is concerned, FEWS.net’s assumption is that the population in that area area could manage with cabbage harvests arriving soon. Thus this consideration has put most of the affected in SNNPR at Minimal (IPC Phase 1) for May and June.

This, however, does not mean that there is no concern. There is the possibility of them too moving up the ladder of food inadequacy and desperation (Crisis IPC Phase 2) from July to September, if and when prices of staple food prices increase.

– III –

IPC Phase 2

    IPC Phase 2: represents a situation, wherein 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.

While the ‘Belg-dominiant’ areas of SNNPR and northeastern Amhara are/would be in Crisis IPC Phase 2; they already could manage “only with humanitarian assistance in May and June” only to move into IPC Phase 3 from July to September.

The others that would be in the same situation, according to FEWS.net are:

    *   Northeastern and southern Afar, Harshin Woreda of Fafan (formerly Jijiga) Zone, and Aisha, Meisso, Afedem, Erer, and Shinile Woredas of Sitti (formerly Shinile) Zone: Household food access is expected to further deteriorate until the start of Karan/ Karma rains in July. Poor households will remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) in May and June. With the anticipated improvement of livestock body conditions and likely increased livestock production, poor households will move into Stressed (IPC Phase 2) from July to September.

    *   Northwestern and central Afar Region and the rest of northern Somali Region: Despite the below normal March to May Sugum/Dirac rains, some pasture and browse from earlier seasons has helped and will continue to sustain livestock body conditions, production, and productivity. Following the start of Karan/Karma rains in July, livestock body conditions are expected to improve slightly and productivity to increase. However, continued cereal prices higher than last year will likely keep households Stressed (IPC Phase 2) through September.

    *   Lowlands of Borena, Guji, and South Omo Zones: Despite some increase in pasture and water availability following the late start of Genna rains, livestock body conditions and livestock production has not yet fully recovered. These will likely decline during the June to September dry season. Due to low planted area, far below average maize production is expected in agropastoral areas in July. Most areas will remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2!) but only with the presence of humanitarian assistance through September, but the southern lowlands of Borena will remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) through September due to even lower availability of rangeland resources.

    *   Southeastern pastoral areas: Despite the improvement on livestock body conditions, production and productivity following the normal Gu rains, continued increases in staple food prices and still small herd sizes will continue to limit purchasing power. Therefore, poor households will remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2) through September. However, in some southern parts of Korahe, Afder, and Liben Zones, lower water availability and a low level of camel calving during the June to September Xagaa dry season may reduce livestock production further. In these areas, poor households will be Stressed (IPC Phase2!) but only with the presence of humanitarian assistance from July to September.

    *  The lowlands in East Shewa Zone and some midlands in West Arsi Zone are likely to remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2!) with the continued presence of humanitarian assistance from May to June. However, as more households exhaust their food stocks and agricultural labor demand remains low, poor and very poor households will likely move into Crisis (IPC Phase 3) from July to September.

    *   Lowlands of Gamo Gofa, Wolayita, Hadiya, Kambata Tambaro, Gurage, Halaba, and Sidama in SNNPR: Even the Belg crops that have survived may not mature and be ready to harvest until September. With the lean season extending until then and low agricultural labor demand, households will likely consume less from July to September. These areas are likely to be Stressed (IPC Phase 2!) but only with the continued presence of humanitarian assistance in May and June. However, as staple food prices seasonally increase, these areas will move into Crisis (IPC Phase 3) from July to September.

IPC Phase 3: As shown above, this phase is likely to be reached in the July-September period. In this situation, 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.

Crisis IPC Phase 4 and Phase 5 would not be experienced during this period. For purposes of definition, they mean the following:

    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.

– IV –

What would be the implication of losing Belg agriculture?

Ethiopians engage in agricultural activities twice a year. The main agricultural season is Meher, which covers the long rainy months from June to September.

Belg is the other season, teasingly Ethiopians referring to it as season of temporary crops. It occurs between March and August. It thus is the junior agricultural season. Its products are also known as the Belg production, or Belg Season Crops.

As in every society dependent on agriculture, the two agricultural seasons are, therefore, linked to the amount of rains they provide farmers. Obviously, the more the rain the better for agriculture. Farmers in Ethiopia love and preserve their labor and inputs for the Meher Season.

It thus means that the Ethiopian Central Statistical Agency (CSA) produces two agricultural Sample Surveys: One for the Meher season and the other for Belg.

Given agriculture’s low productivity in Ethiopia and the state of the country’s food insecurity, any loss of crops either because of rain failure or crop damages (diseases, frost or floods, locust, wild animals, birds, hail storms, pests and weeds), the impact is immediate and severe. Every year, as per CSA data, nearly two million farmers suffer crop damages.

To appreciate the importance of Belg agricultural season in Ethiopia, one only need to look to the volume of production and the persons engaged in that livelihood.

In 2012/2013, Ethiopian smallholders cultivated about 1.4 million hectares, compared to 1.5 million in 2013/14, according to CSA. The CSA reports that the yield in the two periods under comparison jumped from 21.9 million quintals to 25.5 million quintals.

About seven million farmers sustain themselves with the Belg agricultural production, the breakdown of their outputs for 2013/14 is shown in the table, below.

Cropland area and production of major belg crops private peasant holdings 201314-(EC 2006) at the national level (Credit: CSA)

Cropland area and production of major belg crops private peasant holdings 201314-(EC 2006) at the national level (Credit: CSA)

In the light of the above, and in a poor country where little is already too much, it goes without saying that the Belg crops could determines who lives and dies of hunger.

Cyclical and almost endemic as drought is for Ethiopia, there have been several dry spells known to Ethiopians. These have afflicted humans, livestock and the environment. Unfortunately, not much has been done to protect the land from further destruction, especially when one notices the pollution from new factories and the political class engaged in trade in cut trees in Western Ethiopia.

While news of the latest round of the drought may not be surprising, however, it is an indication that not only would Ethiopians be haunted by memories of the past. But also the future of our country would continue to be under constant threat from the lack of appropriate policies and capacities for mobilizing the nation to single objective of national development and improved lives.
 

– V –

Absent rains and food inflation punish poor Ethiopians

For many Ethiopian farmers and households, this situation would make a future of handouts in the form of international humanitarian assistance at larger scale inescapable than at present.

The problem is that this present situation comes, at a time when the TPLF regime is terribly cash-strapped and corruption widespread. Therefore, it is in no position to pretend, even for pride’s sake, claiming it could import foods.

It is time that the Man in the Office of the Prime Minister swallowed his words, he meant for political propaganda foolishly claiming last year about this time that Ethiopia had attained food security Status.

Already in October 2013, he was telling the media that Ethiopia is soon to become Africa’s wheat exporter, an indication of what minds are leading the country!

Food inflation since March 2015 has moved up the double-digit column, according to CSA. The agency reported in May, “Almost all the food indices rose in April 2015. Specially; meat, milk, cheese and egg, oils and fats, sugar, vegetables, fruits and spices (specially pepper) rose in the month under review. In addition, there was a 1.5% rise in the index of Bread and cereals which has been declining in the previous periods.”

Since then, The Reporter (Amharic) in its 31 May 2015 issue pointed out that the prices of all food items such as teff, wheat, milk, butter, eggs, fruits and vegetables, sugar, oil, pepper, etc., are shooting up. The response of the financially, policy-wise and financially bankrupt regime is to resort to its old ways of shutting down shops and imprisoning traders.

Aside that, as to the rationale for skyrocketing price of milk in Addis Abeba, the TPLF regime has blamed the current creeping drought, which has deprived cattle feed. What it could say as to the price of Birr 55 for a kilo of lentils, we have not heard what it would latch its excuses on, save its threat to jail.

As it is, even without rain failure, Ethiopia is, according to the latest FAO report, home for 32.1 million undernourished people. It is a third of the nation!
 

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