Category: "Food Shortage"

Ethiopia: Millions of Ethiopians face severe food shortages - IRIN

September 13th, 2012
In this 2009 file photo, Ethiopian farmers collect wheat in their field in Abay, north of Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa. REUTERS/Barry Malone

Changing rainfall boosts number of Ethiopians in need of food aid

By Pawlos Belete

– Millions of Ethiopians face severe food shortages as a result of the failure of crucial seasonal rains, a problem increasingly linked to climate change.

The Ethiopian government announced last month that 3.7 million of its citizens will require humanitarian assistance between August and December of this year, up from 3.2 million in January. The 16 percent increase follows the failure of the Belg rains, which normally fall between February and May and are essential to the country’s secondary harvest.

The lack of rainfall is being blamed on climate change, with experts saying it is leading to erratic rain patterns and disruption to normal seasonal changes.

Mohamed Ahmed, a farmer in his early 40s, is one of the millions dealing with the consequences of the rainfall changes. He feeds his family of seven by farming a one-hectare (2.5 acre) plot inherited from his father in the village of Doba in the east of the country, 325 km (203 miles) from the capital, Addis Ababa.

But Ahmed’s land has declined in productivity over the past two decades, even as the size of his family has grown.

“Last season (Belg) I (could) barely sow,” the farmer said grimly. “The rain came almost a month later than the usual time. It is sometimes heavy and sometimes light. The yield is not impressive at all.”

Agriculture is the backbone of the Ethiopian economy, employing 62 million people (about three-quarters of the population), ensuring more than 85 percent of the country’s export earnings and contributing 43 percent of GDP, official figures show.

Most parts of Ethiopia have two rainy seasons and one dry period. Long heavy rains from mid-June to mid-September, known as kiremt, enable the main crop growing season, Mehir, which leads to a harvest from October to January.

The shorter and more moderate Belg rains are important for short-cycle crops such as wheat, barley, teff, and pulses, which are harvested in June or July, and for long-cycle cereals such as corn, sorghum and millet.


Faced with deepening food insecurity and poverty as a consequence of changing weather conditions, the government has responded by trying to boost agricultural production.

Ethiopia harvested more than 218 million quintals of crops in the most recent Mehir season, surpassing the previous season’s production by 13 million quintals and beating government targets by 3 million quintals, according to the government’s Central Statistical Authority. Produce from smallholder farms grew by 7.4 percent compared to the same season last year.

The increases are due to additional land being put under cultivation, following large-scale resettlement programmes by the government, aimed at relocating farmers to more productive land. The government has not yet produced an official tally of number of people resettled, but unofficial figures give the total as more than 1.5 million over the past five years.

More than 12.8 million hectares (31.6 million acres) of land are now under cultivation in Ethiopia, almost one million hectares (2.5 million acres) or 8 percent more than in the last Mehir season.

Despite the increased yields, production is still less than 90 percent of the amount required to provide sufficient nutrition to all the population, according to a report issued last year by the Ethiopian Economic Association, a nongovernmental organisation.

Throughout the country, prices for staple foods remain relatively high, and with inflation hovering around 20 percent in July, they are not expected to decrease before the next harvest enters the market, experts say.

The failure of the Belg crop is raising fears of a humanitarian crisis among organisations working to provide drought relief in the country.

In July, the World Food Programme (WHP) forecast a significant drop in long-cycle Mehir crops such as maize and sorghum in many lowland and mid-altitude areas of Ethiopia during the next harvest season, following below-average Belg rainfall. The majority of crops produced in Ethiopia are categorized as long-cycle crops, needing at least six months to grow.

In a speech last month, Abdou Dieng, the WFP’s humanitarian food coordinator in Ethiopia, said that the lateness and weakness of the Belg rains had taken a toll on agricultural production in areas of the central highlands, particularly in the regional states of Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s Region, central Oromiya, and eastern Amhara.

Pastoralist areas also have been hard hit and “vulnerability remains high due to the lingering impact of last year’s drought emergency,” Dieng said.

Somali and Oromiya are the regional states most affected by food shortages, together accounting for two-thirds of those seeking relief assistance.

While the Belg harvest accounts for no more than 10 percent of the country’s total annual grain production, it may provide up to 50 percent of the yearly food supply in some highland areas, such as Wollo and Shewa regions, experts say.


The Belg rains are also the main annual rains for the pastoral and agro-pastoral areas of southern and south-eastern Ethiopia, where they supply critical pasture and water for livestock. Even in regions where the rains do not irrigate an extra harvest, they are still crucial for seed-bed preparation for Mehir crops.

The failure of the Belg crop ironically comes at a time of strong economic growth for Ethiopia. Speaking at a national workshop for disaster reduction last year, the state minister of agriculture, Sileshi Getahun, cautioned that the country’s growth rate of 11 percent for the past seven years was vulnerable to changes in the climate.

“While we are proud of this achievement and realize the benefits, we are also aware of how much natural disasters can hinder growth,” Getahun said. “These disasters are becoming more regular and pronounced in terms of frequency, intensity, and coverage due to climate change.”

Pawlos Belete is a journalist based in Addis Ababa.

Ethiopian Village Recognized At Rio+20 For Innovative Hunger Solution

June 21st, 2012
Chairman of the farmers' association in Abraha Atsbeha, Gebremichal Giday (centre), celebrates receiving the 2012 UNDP Equator Award with the WFP's Climate Change and Disaster Risk Reduction team. Copyright:WFP/Marianna Hoffmann

Ethiopian Village Recognized At Rio+20 For Innovative Hunger Solution

Source: World Food Program

After years of hardship, a community in northern Ethiopia has found the route to a sustainable future through an innovative project which has helped to transform degraded hillsides into productive farmland. For its role in the project, the village of Abraha Atsbeha received official recognition at Rio+20 during an awards ceremony hosted by the UN Development Programme.

RIO DE JANEIRO—For the people of Abraha Atsbeha, a village in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia, hunger was once a daily reality. The soil was dry and barren after years of degradation and poor rains could easily lead to failed harvests.

Today, however, the hills around Abraha Atsbeha are green again with fields of coffee, grain and vegetables. Families have a steady of source of income and the means to get through the lean season, even when it rains less than usual.

This remarkable transformation earned Abraha Atsbeha official recognition at Rio+20 for its role in a joint project between WFP and the Ethiopian government to help families manage their land and improve their livelihoods.

The MERET project

The MERET (Managing Environmental Resources to Enable Transition) project in Abraha Atsbeha was among 25 initiatives to be awarded the 2012 Equator Prize by UN Development Programme (UNDP) Administrator Helen Clarke.

The award recognizes outstanding projects working to advance sustainable development solutions for people, nature and resilient communities.

Accepting the award on behalf of his community was chairman of the local famers’ association Gebremichal Giday, a zealous supporter of the project who has been instrumental to its success.

How it works

Through “food-for-work activities” that focus on land rehabilitation and income-generation, MERET aims to increase the long-term food security of poor households.

Communities work hard to combat land degradation and promote the sustainable use of natural resources while also increasing production and household income. Moreover, they are better prepared for future climate shocks in an area prone to frequent droughts.

“I am getting a reasonable income from a field that was previously covered by sand. I have good production from the rain-fed field and the irrigated land and orchard using my [new] shallow well,” said Hiwot Gebre-Tsadkan, a farmer in Abraha Atsbeha.

“All of this is thanks to MERET. The money I was getting enabled me to build a house. I can now send all three of my children to school.”

In Drought-Stricken Ethiopia, a Mother Counts the Days

October 13th, 2011

In Drought-Stricken Ethiopia, a Mother Counts the Days

By Coco McCabe

If only food and water were as plentiful as the stories of hardship and sadness we've heard the last few days as we've crisscrossed the drought-ravaged region of southern Ethiopia, from Yabello to Negele and back. But the story that haunts me the most is the one without an ending, the one told by a mother counting the days since she last saw her husband and son.

Her name is Adi Bonaya and she is 30 years old.

She stands straight and tall as she speaks, gripping the axe hooked over her shoulder, the axe that is now helping her feed her family. Bonaya is participating in an Oxfam cash-for-work program -- a short-term emergency initiative that pays villagers to work on community improvement projects. The money they earn -- 700 birr a month, about enough for a 100-kilogram sack of corn -- allows families to buy the basics they need, especially food.

Stretching out behind her is an expanse of sun burnt earth, bare except for the splintered stumps, stripped of their bark, Bonaya and a crew of workers left behind as they cleared the brush with their axes. Heaped together in a tangle of branches and thorns, the brush has now become a fence too sharp and thick for animals to pass through. The goal is to give the land inside a chance to recover and become productive once more.

The grasses here in this Kancharo pasture will grow tall, but probably not in time to save Bonaya's family from further hardship. Already half of their 30 cows are dead, and as they withered -- starved for pasture and water -- so have the fortunes of her family, who depend on their animals for food and income.

"There are so many problems," says Bonaya. "The drought has taken all that we have."

And still it keeps scorching.

A mother of four children, all Bonaya has to feed them now is tea in the morning and corn twice a day. As their herd grew weaker and its numbers dwindled, Bonaya's husband made the decision to take their remaining cattle -- 15 -- and walk with them to Teltele, an area more than 50 miles north. Word had traveled among the herders that there, further from the Kenyan border, conditions were slightly better. Maybe enough grass would be growing to ensure the animals' survival. Accompanying him on the trek was the couple's eldest son.

I think of the young herding boy I met the day before, stoic and self-sufficient at just 15. He was alone with his family's cows, on a week's journey to find them food and water. And I think of my own two sons, and the fears and hopes I have for them as they make their way through early adulthood far from me.

Bonaya's son and husband took a supply of grain with them when they left for Teltele. But surely they have eaten every bit of it by now, she says: They have been gone more than a month. And then she tells, with aching exactness, of the days she has counted since she last heard from them: 34. In a community where news travels fast, even without the benefit of much technology, I imagine that silence must be nearly unbearable.

Alone now in the cleared pasture -- a few acres of hope for the future -- Bonaya says she fears that her husband and son might die.

Her words hang in the air for a moment, the truth of them stunning us. Beyond the loss of family assets and livelihoods, this is what drought means: fear and agonizing uncertainty about those you love most, day after day.

Coco McCabe filed this report from Ethiopia, where she is reporting on the severe drought in East Africa. In August, she visited an area in northern Ethiopia -- which has thus far escaped this year's drought but has been devastated in the past -- to report on initiatives to fight recurrent drought. Her reporting is featured in a World Food Day half-hour documentary special report from ViewChange and Oxfam: "ViewChange: Africa's Last Famine," which is available online at and and broadcasts on Link TV on Friday, October 14, and Tuesday, October 18.

Starving for Coverage

September 13th, 2011

Starving for Coverage

Unlike the 1980s, journalists pay little attention to famine ravaging the Horn of Africa

By James Fahn

What a difference a generation makes. Back in 1984-85, groundbreaking media coverage of the terrible drought and famine that affected around eight million people in Ethiopia spurred an outpouring of Western relief efforts. A harrowing report by BBC broadcaster Michael Buerk is often cited as the spark that led to Band Aid, a supergroup of British and Irish musicians who recorded a pop album for charity, and eventually Live Aid, a group of American pop stars who performed likewise.

Contrast that to the media and cultural response to the current famine in Somalia and surrounding countries, which has affected around ten million people, caused the deaths of at least 29,000 children and placed half a million more at risk, led to a refugee crisis in East Africa, and which was set off by the region’s worst drought in sixty years. “In July and August the food crisis has accounted for just 0.7 percent of the newshole,” notes a report from the Pew Research Center released this month. “Year-to-date the crisis registers at just 0.2 percent.” This time, instead of pop singers crooning about Africa, we have Lady Gaga parading around in a meat dress.

Read More from Columbia Journalism Review

Ethiopia urges protected aid corridors for Somalia

September 11th, 2011

Ethiopia urges protected aid corridors for Somalia

Ethiopia has called for humanitarian corridors in Somalia to be protected by peacekeepers, so that aid can reach famine-hit areas held by rebels.

Prime Minister Meles Zenawi suggested the move at a regional summit in Kenya on the East Africa drought and famine.

But UN humanitarian co-ordinator for Somalia Mark Bowden said aid deliveries were increasing and efforts to provide armed protection could jeopardise them.

The UN says 750,000 people could die in Somalia's famine within four months.

Read More from BBC