Everything but the Rains


Uncertainty and anxiety prevail amidst assurances of food security and fickle rainfall



In Ethiopia’s Agriculture-led economy, every single thing depends on rain. With predictions of drought being realised in some of the country’s important agricultural production areas, there are also instances where the information provided does not match experience on the ground. FORTUNE STAFF WRITER, DAWIT ENDESHAW, met with farmers and agriculture in Dodotta, Arsi Zone, in Oromia Region, he received first hand information about how farming communities are affected with implications for the entire nation.


In the afternoon of August 5, 2015, Workitu Mamo, a mother of eight, was on her way back from a nearby local market in Awash Beshallo Kebele 125Km south of Addis Abeba. She and her firstborn son, Demesse Dadi, were carrying teff and maize, which they had bought for 128Br and 62Br, respectively. They made the purchase after they had consumed the last of their reserve which they had kept as seed for the farming season.

“If the season were normal, we would have maize and beans by now which we would use as food until teff is harvested around October,” said Demessie.

Sowing would have taken place in June and this time would be time for weeding, but the rains were late.

“We have just started sowing with the hope that the rain we saw yesterday will continue,” Demessie said.

Nothing green has appeared on the farmland, only dry and bare scenery, he described.  As the man of age in the family, he is looking forward to find a wife, with whom he intends have a big wedding. But his wishes are not yet in sight.

“If we had a promising farm progress, we would do it in such a big manner having the whole neighbourhood in attendance,” he said.

Except for Wonji Sugar Factory’s sugarcane plantation on the horizon, irrigated by the Awash River, Fortune observed that almost all farmlands around the area had nothing green.

Workitu’s family used 500kg of teff seeds and 650kg of DAP [Diammonium phosphate], fertiliser which he bought for 1,400Br per quintal, for planting on a five-hectare of plot of land throughout the year. Last year they harvested 15ql of teff from two hectares of land.

“We were not informed that the rains would fail,” said Workitu.  “The agriculture extension workers used to come to assist us with farm activities. Lately, they hardly show up.”

Another farmer in the same neigbourhood, Mengesha Shumeye, 43, and father of five, was working his land with a hired helper and his two daughters, Shetaye and Asnakech, 13 and 16, respectively providing help for their father. While the helper was ploughing, Menegesha was sowing at the same time.

“If we were sure that the rain would come, my daughters would not been here to do this tiring work of hiding the seeds with soil to hide them from the birds,” said Mengesh.

If there was rain, the water would have helped to sink the seed deeper, he added. But the rain also has to be at least a heavy one, as small rains spoil the seeds.

Exhaustion was showing on the faces of the two sisters as they had been helping their father all day. By the time Fortune met them, they were almost done with the two hectare plot of land owned by Mengesha.

Awash Beshalo Farmers’ Association comprises three of the 12 kebeles in Dodotta Wereda in Arsi Zone. The wereda mainly harvests teff, wheat and barley; it has 10,125 framers at household level. According to a 2014 population projection done by the central statistics agency (CSA), the wereda comprises 80,555 people.

Last year, Dodotta harvested 159,939ql of the aforementioned seeds on 17,744ha and maize on 207ha of land with the plan to harvest 407,156ql. However, they failed to achieve 80pc of the plan.

Following this the wereda requested 14,000ql of seed from the region for food consumption and seeds. From this 521ql of emergency seeds were distributed to farmers. There are around 23,000 people living in poverty in the wereda who are under a safety net programme. Yet, for those farmers who are not under the safety net 15kg of wheat, edible oil and 1.5kg of beans per person, were distributed as emergency rations for the last six months because of last year’s vagaries in rainfall.

Last year crops were affected by shortage of rain as well as diseases affecting wheat and beans, explained Kassim Keder, agriculture extension head at regional office. This harvesting season is the worst in terms of rainfall level, added Kassim.

The Agriculture Bureau was planning to increase the teff harvest to 30ql per hectare this season, which Kassim now thinks is an unlikely target. Last year it planned 25ql but managed only 10ql.

Last year the Agricultural Research Institute in a nearby Assela town called Qolemesa, had trained 300 farmers on how to use mobile technology to access meteorological data. They were updating farmers with available data but this project is no longer operational and farmers are not willing to use it because the information received did not match the reality, according to Kassim. There was no advance weather information this year either from the Meteorology Bureau or even from the news media, he said.

According to the National Meteorology Agency’s (NMA) weather outlook from July 1 to July 31, areas in eastern Hararge and half of eastern Arsi Zone would experience a dry season. In keeping with the forecast, these zones in Hararge experienced rainfall ranging from eight millimetres to 17mm in that period.

Subsequent to that, the Bureau is now receiving several complaints from farmers expressing their need for help, saying they can no longer manage to feed themselves and their children. Requests for food aid are already coming from farmers, Kassim said. On August 6, 2015 the bureau therefore sent a team to three kebeles to assess the situation. The team returned with requests for aid, including requests from 25 households in one kebele alone, Kassim reported.

In addition to Arsi Zone, water shortages are visible in Eastern and Western Hararge. According to the weekly humanitarian bulletin by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), released on July 27, 2015, weather forecasts indicate that the rains are unlikely to improve in the coming weeks, especially in north eastern Afar, northern Somali and the lowlands of East and West Hararge zones of Oromia.

In areas near Haromaya University, in Eastern Hararge, 504Km east of Addis Abeba the same shortage is happening.

Almost all crops of sorghum and khat collapsed due to the shortage and lack of rainfall in Haromaya and Kersa, said Mohammed Sani, chairman of the Haromaya Union in a telephone interview with Fortune. In good times this is the point where maize would be harvested but it was in June that most of the area was covered by the rain. And there is little feed for cattle.

As an alternative we have tried to dig out water from underground but it was not possible to get any, added Mohammed.

The Oromia Livestock Development & Health Agency has already requested money from the federal government for the purchase of animal feed for seven zones.

“We only got 26 million Br, which is not enough to fill the gap,” Asrat Hailu, expert at the agency told Fortune.

The Agency has decided to use the money for the two most affected zones and is now selecting suppliers to make the purchase, according to Asrat.

Whereas on the side of supplying seeds for farmers, the Bureau has asked 35 million Br from the federal government; 6,521ql of wheat seeds have already been distributed on credit, prior to the approval of the fund.

“We have prioritised the two zones of Haragae which witnessed lowest rainfall for the seed distribution,” said Moisture Stress Extension Area & Food Security worker at the Bureau, Andinet Degefu. The same holds true for Afar, where a command post was formed by the region two weeks ago to deal with the drought affecting many parts of the region. Livestock deaths have already been recorded, says Awol Woticca, head of president’s office of the region. The reason is that few floods came from the highland areas making the land dry and there is hardly grassland for livestock.

“We are working with the federal government to overcome the challenges,” said Awol.

A technical committee comprising Ministry of Agriculture, Agricultural Transformation Agency, National Meteorology Agency and Ethiopian Agricultural Research Institute, has been formed to deal with the issue.

Reports from OCHA attributed the disturbance of weather to the on-going El Niño, which is a band of warm ocean wind that develops from the central and east central Equatorial Pacific. It is a recurrent weather problem that usually occurs at intervals of two to seven years, usually lasting from 12 months up to 18 months. The last time Ethiopia suffered from El Niño was in 2005/06, according to a report from USAID.

“We have already seen that the wind has reduced both the Belg and Kiremt seasons’ rains,” said Woldeamlak Beweket (Prof.), a lecturer at Addis Abeba University’ Department of Geography & Environment Studies.

Planting of Belg crops was already delayed and ploughing and planting area coverage were much below plan, according to the early warning and response analysis by the government. Thus, ploughing and planting area coverage were down to 93.5pc and 39.5pc, respectively, in North and South Wello and North Shewa zones of Amhara region and an average of 82.4pc and 41.3pc in Arsi, West Arsi, Guji, Borena East and West Hararghe and North Shewa zones of Oromia region.

The El Niño impact may continue till September and October, 2015; then heavy rainfall may come at that point in time; or the impact may continue till the Belg season of the coming year, he added.

The impact of the wind on productivity depends on the intensity of the wind and this one is considered to be a strong one. Back in 2001/02 when El Niño was considered as a moderate one, reports showed that 14 million people were affected by drought.

“When we see previous experiences most of the cases show that there will be heavy rain from September, October down the line, said Woldeamlak.

However, the same report from OCHA released on July 27, 2015, indicated that the on-going El Niño phenomenon will continue to negatively affect rainfall patterns until the first quarter of 2016 (80pc probability).

“Whatever the case we have to be ready for both scenarios,” he stressed.

According to humanitarian requirement in 2015, an estimated 2.9 million beneficiaries were estimated to require emergency relief food assistance in 2015, which was reported in January 2015.

However this figure is expected to increase, according to OCHA’s weekly humanitarian bulletin. The government is also currently reviewing an updated draft of the need for humanitarian assistance, according to sources. As per the tentative schedule the report is expected to be disclosed by the end of this week.

The current nutrition situation demands strengthening the emergency nutrition response; otherwise the nutrition situation may deteriorate. Disaster Risk Management and Food Security Sectors have invited the nutrition partners to express their commitment to intervening in the most affected priority weredas, stated in the Early Warning & Response Analysis report.

Funding shortfalls are still limiting partners’ capacity to respond to the nutrition needs, added the report. The fact that there are a number of humanitarian crises scattered all over the globe, Syria, migration overcrowd in Europe, civil war in Libya and South Sudan, and Haiti, may have affect the aid assistance which Ethiopia could have expected.

According to Communications Officer of the Ministry of Agriculture, Alemayehu Berhanu, “We are going to make sure the production and productivity will meet the target. We do not think that the food stock in the country will fail to feed the country.”



By Dawit Endeshaw
Fortune Staff Writer

Published on Aug 10,2015 [ Vol 16 ,No 797]


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