An Ethiopian Journal

"Until lions have their historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunters"

On the ground with an Ethiopian farmer

leave a comment »

UN World Food Progamme – Ethiopia, August 2008

Daniel Gedisha holds up a fistful of the dry, yellow leaves he has been laboriously pulling from the ground. “This is my maize,” he says bleakly, then casts a glance around the field where he is standing. “Look at it.”

The field is blanketed with knee-high plants of withered, yellowing maize, all as desiccated as those in the 52-year-old farmer’s hand. “No crop this time,” he mutters, “nothing…nothing at all.”

Daniel is not alone. Virtually all of his neighbours who farm the hard, rocky slopes of Konso in the Great Rift Valley in southern Ethiopia face the same plight. Little rain has fallen in the district for a year, and that has spelled disaster for those whose crops depend entirely on the water that falls from the skies.

That includes just about everybody who dwells in the stone-walled villages that perch on Konso’s many hilltops, 600 kilometers south of Addis Ababa. Close to 98 percent of the district’s 250,000 people live off the land, tilling small, often tiny, plots of terraced land sculpted out of Konso’s hillsides.

In good years, Konso’s farmers produce two crops a season, one planted during the February-to-April “belg” rains, another during the August-to-November “meher” rains. The belg rains are the most important in Konso, a distinction from other parts of Ethiopia. Accounting for 80 percent of the district’s annual agricultural production, the short, springtime belg rainfall supports mostly maize, sorghum, barley, wheat, green beans and teff, the grain used to manufacture the ubiquitous flat, spongy, Ethiopian bread known as injera..

But this past year has not been good for any of Konso’s farmers, Daniel says. “The belg rains failed and it looks like the meher may fail too,” he says. “I would normally get around 10 quintals (around 1000 kgs) of maize from my fields. Now I have nothing but fodder. Maybe it will keep the goats alive.”

The goats, perhaps, but not Daniel’s wife, nor any of his eight children. Their survival will depend on outside assistance, much of it supplied by WFP. The Konso farmer and his family are among the more than 7 million people in Ethiopia whom WFP is currently helping with emergency food rations.

All have fallen victim to twin threats – the prolonged drought that is ravaging large swathes of Ethiopia compounded by the global phenomenon of soaring food prices.

Successive failures of seasonal rains

Daniel’s case is typical. Successive failures of seasonal rains have destroyed his crops, endangering his livelihood. At the same time, skyrocketing market prices for food have outstripped his ability to come up with the cash to buy alternative supplies.

Like 7.5 million other Ethiopians, Daniel is a participant in the Ethiopian government’s innovative Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP), a scheme designed to lift poor families out of chronic food insecurity by creating community assets – roads, bridges, terraces, wells, watering ponds etc. – and minimizing the loss of household assets like farm tools, laying hens, milking cows, ploughing oxen and other livestock.

Recipients receive either a monthly cash grant of 30 Ethiopian birr (roughly US$3) or a monthly food grant, supplied by WFP, of 17 kg of cereals, usually maize or wheat, in return for participating in various public works.

Rising food prices

But Daniel’s 30 birr is not going to buy much on the local markets in Konso: where a quintal of maize, which cost 150 birr a year ago, now costs 600; where a quintal of teff has doubled to 900 birr over the same period.

To come to the aid of Ethiopians trapped in plights similar to that facing Daniel, WFP is planning to deliver US$384 million worth of food relief assistance to more than 4 million people affected by the drought. WFP will also extend food assistance to another 3 million people enrolled in the PSNP in drought-stricken areas.

Food supplies to support this effort have proven difficult to obtain. The relief effort is currently short some 123,000 metric tons of mixed commodities, valued at more than US$99 million, while supplies for PSNP beneficiaries lag 38,000 metric tons, worth US$30 million.

The shortfalls have forced WFP, in consultation with the Ethiopian government, to cut the monthly rations for beneficiaries by one-third, reducing the cereal ration from 15 kgs to 10 and trimming the non-cereal ration to three kg of blended food, one kg of pulses and 0.3 kgs of vegetable oil.

In places like Konso, where more than one-third of the population is in need of food assistance, the ration cuts have had a severe impact. Among those most affected have been the children.

Malnutrition among children under 5 is on the rise in Konso, as in some other areas of Ethiopia hardest hit by the drought. Close to 700 children are currently being treated at Konso’s stabilization centre, a health clinic set up to deal with the most severe cases, or in the district’s nine therapeutic feeding centres.

Targeting pregnant women, nursing mothers and young children

To help deal with this problem, WFP is working with government health officials as well as UNICEF and NGOs to provide targeted supplementary feeding in drought areas across Ethiopia to 737,000 pregnant women, nursing mothers and children under five years of age who are suffering from moderate acute malnutrition.

One of those centres operates not far from Daniel’s ravaged maize crop, in the village of Fasher. Several hundred women are gathered on the grounds of an elementary school, receiving lessons in basic nutrition while they await delivery of food rations designed specifically to combat malnutrition.

Every three months, the women receive 25 kg of blended food fortified with 23 vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients as well as three litres of vegetable oil fortified with vitamins A and D.

“Only the women receive the ration,” explains Dawit Belete, an official with the Ethiopian government’s Disaster Preparedness and Prevention Agency. “If we gave it to the men, they’d sell it right away.”

In addition to the thrice-monthly ration, the women also receive nutrition lessons, learning about correct food proportions, proper breast feeding and the need to provide complementary foods to young children.

“We have two aims here,” says Dawit. “We want to rehabilitate women and children suffering from malnutrition and we also want to provide the women with basic knowledge about nutrition that they will share with the rest of the community.”

Written by Tseday

September 21, 2008 at 12:28 am

Share your thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: