(UN News): The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today announced that timely agricultural assistance for the upcoming rainy season is essential to help the drought-affected people of Ethiopia, as one of the strongest El Niño events on record continues to have devastating effects on the lives and livelihoods of farmers and herders.
“FAO urgently needs $13 million by the end of March to support more than 600,000 of the worst affected people,” said FAO’s country representative, Amadou Allahoury Diallo, in a press release.
“We’re expecting that needs will be particularly high during the next few weeks,” he added, “so it’s critical that we’re able to respond quickly and robustly to reboot agriculture now before the drought further decimates the food security and livelihoods of millions.”
Humanitarian needs have tripled
Humanitarian needs in Ethiopia have reportedly tripled since the beginning of 2015 as the drought has led to successive crop failures and widespread livestock deaths.
As a result, food insecurity and malnutrition rates are alarming in the Horn of Africa country, with FAO reporting that some 10.2 million people are now food insecure. In addition, one-quarter of all districts in Ethiopia are officially classified as facing a food security and nutrition crisis.
Meanwhile, the agency is highlighting that with planting for the country’s first rainy season, known as the belg, which is already delayed, and the meher season – Ethiopia’s main agricultural campaign – fast approaching, farmers need immediate support to help them produce food between now and September for millions facing hunger.
The meher produces up to 85 per cent of the nation’s food supplies.
Recent estimates by Ethiopia’s Bureau of Agriculture indicate that some 7.5 million farmers and herders need immediate agricultural support to produce staple crops like maize, sorghum, teff, wheat, and root crops, and livestock feed to keep their animals healthy and resume production.
Farming families are said to have either exhausted seed reserves through successive failed plantings, or to have consumed them as food. Animal feed stocks are also depleted, and support is needed to enable families to produce fodder. Hundreds of thousands of livestock have reportedly already died and the animals that remain are becoming weaker and thinner due to poor grazing resources, feed shortages and limited water availability, leading to sharp declines in milk and meat production.
‘Not just a food crisis’
“It’s important to understand the current drought is not just a food crisis – it is above all a livelihood crisis,” said Mr. Allahoury Diallo, who highlighted that last year’s losses have severely diminished households’ food security and purchasing power and forced many to sell their last remaining agricultural assets.
FAO is underlining that meeting immediate needs of farmers now is essential to longer-term recovery, as it helps farmers feed their country and keep their productive assets intact. Its call for $13 million by the end of March is part of the agency’s larger $50 million appeal for its Ethiopia El Niño Response Plan but currently less than 10 per cent of the plan is funded.
FAO’s response to El Niño
As part of the emergency response, FAO is already providing planting materials to help seed- and food-insecure households in the worst-affected regions plant in the belg and meher seasons. But it is warning that this support urgently needs to be scaled up.
In an effort to preserve livestock, FAO has been distributing nutrient blocks in pastoral and agropastoral areas meant to strengthen livestock and bolster the resilience of the cooperatives that produce them. FAO is also providing survival animal feed and support to help farmers produce fodder and improve access to water for livestock. Herds across the country have also benefited from vaccination and treatment campaigns to address their increasing vulnerability as a result of drought.
In Ethiopia’s Somali Region, FAO is enhancing the financial stability of drought-affected households through the purchase of weak sheep and goats for immediate, local slaughter, and providing the meat – rich in protein – to nutritionally vulnerable drought-affected families. The intervention will help reduce stress on available feed, enable households to focus their resources on their remaining productive animals, and invest in productive assets.
In addition, FAO is closely working with the government to conduct seasonal assessments and develop preparedness and response plans, along with guidelines for emergency agriculture support.