Ethiopian and Sudanese grains could help feed needy neighbours

International donors should consider financial support for the purchase and export of foodgrains from Ethiopia and Sudan, where output is set to increase significantly, to help feed people in the neighbouring food-deficit countries of Kenya, Eritrea and Somalia, say FAO and the World Food Programme.

In a series of special country reports issued in December (see list below), FAO and WFP forecast that Ethiopia's 1996/97 cereal and pulse output will be 20 percent higher than last year's main Meher harvest. And in the Sudan, cereal production is expected to reach near record levels, up 50 percent on the previous year's poor crop.

But neighbouring countries have fared less well. Forecasts for Kenya put total maize production for 1996/97 down by 18 percent on the previous year and pulses down 25 percent. And in Eritrea, where food security is reported to be "highly precarious," cereal and pulses are down 11 percent.

Making grains available to the neighbouring countries, says FAO and WFP, would bolster the Ethiopian grain market and reduce the possibility of expected surpluses remaining unsaleable and acting as a disincentive to agricultural production next year.

Indeed, in 1995 and 1996, Eritrea avoided major food supply difficulties by turning to Ethiopia. Significant imports were made through the public and private sectors and through cross-border transactions. These imports were purchased through the Ethiopian Birr -- which remains the official currency -- and so excess pressure on foreign exchange reserves were avoided.

Yet the "comfortable situation" in Ethiopia masks the existence of food-deficient communities due to displacement and lack of purchasing power. Though food aid requirements are down 36 percent from last year, 1.9 million people still require assistance. FAO and WFP recommend that "all food aid should be met through local purchases and that no food aid should be imported".

A similar situation exists in the Sudan. Here parts of the population, particularly in the war-affected south and in the drought-affected west areas, will have difficulty in meeting their food needs. It is estimated that emergency food assistance is required for 2.6 million displaced and war-affected people.

In Ethiopia, increased output is due to various factors including plentiful and well-distributed rains and a "draught animal force in excellent condition" in all but tsetse-prone areas.

However, neighbouring Eritrea is still recovering after years of conflict. FAO and WFP report that agriculture and the capacity of the country to meet its own food requirements remain "weak and highly unstable".

And among the factors affecting production in Kenya were reduced use of fertilizer and quality seed. FAO and WFP warned that action needs to be taken to avert a serious food crisis in the pastoralist areas of the North Eastern province where rains failed for a second year.

January 1997

GIEWS Special Reports

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