An FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission visited Eritrea from 13 to 25 November 1995 to make a preliminary assessment of the 1995 cereals and pulse harvest, and estimate cereal import requirements for 1996, includi ng food aid needs. During the field work, Mission members and Government counterparts travelled extensively in eight of Eritrea's nine provinces. Discussions were held with representatives of donor agencies, UN agencies, NGOs and relevant Governmen t institutions. At field level, discussions were held with Provincial agricultural staff of MoA, Eritrea Relief and Rehabilitation Agency (ERRA) and with representatives of bilateral agricultural development projects, community leaders and farmers.

The cropping season started with low moisture levels during the short rainy period between March and May which did not permit the successful planting of early sown crops. Despite this set back, generally favourable rainfall during July and August r evived production prospects, although in some areas the short and intense rainfall resulted in some damage to crops. The dry spell in June and the sudden cessation of rains in September resulted in low soil moisture levels during critical stages of crop development, thus reducing the potential yields, particularly for the long season varieties. Although maize and sorghum planted between March and May suffered from unfavourable rainfall, the short season cereals such as barley, wheat and fing er millet performed well in the highlands. The tall stalked sorghum and maize varieties suffered moisture stress during June and in September. In order to offset the likelihood of a poor long season sorghum and maize crops, farmers increased the a reas planted under short season crops such as barley, wheat or mix of both in the highlands and teff, short season sorghum and sesame in the lowland areas. Localized infestation of grasshoppers, desert locust, stem borers and other insects further reduced yields.

The Mission provisionally estimates the cereal and pulse production in 1995 at about 149 000 tons, which is 42 percent less than in 1994 and 25 percent below the last 3-year average. The reduction in output is mainly due to low yields on account of unfavourable rainfall and pest damage including locust infestation.

As a result, and with carryover stocks low, the food supply position is expected to be tight in 1996. Rising cereal prices in the immediate post-harvest period, point to impending supply difficulties with serious implications for large groups of vu lnerable population with limited resources.

The 1996 cereal and pulses import requirement is estimated by the Mission at 291 000 tons. With anticipated commercial imports of approximately 100 000 tons, a deficit of some 191 000 tons will remain to be covered by food aid. Of this total, some 78 750 tons of relief food aid will be needed to assist an average of 750 000 vulnerable population over a nine month period, leaving some 112 250 tons to be provided through programme food aid.


The Mission's preliminary estimate of cereal and pulse production in 1995 are shown in Tables 1 and 2 below.

Table 1: Eritrea: Cereals and pulse production, comparison 1992-1994 (average) and 1995

1995Change 1995 over
average (%)
Akel Guzai
Cereals37 43318 78034 04813 850-9-26.3
Pulses5 5001 360730117-86.7-91.4
Total42 93320 14034 77813 967-19-30.7
Cereals33 10018 60758 08817 00975.5-8.6
Total33 10018 60758 08817 00975.5-8.6
Gash Setit
Cereals54 03351 02353 91642 561--16.6
Total54 03351 02353 91642 561--16.6
Cereals32 16717 72030 94922 479-3.826.9
Pulses1 6505872 7601 60167.3172.7
Total33 81718 30733 70924 080-0.331.5
Cereals13 2335 02021 1566 73959.934.2
Total13 2335 02021 4986 78462.535.1
Cereals10 30010 6009 4909 246-7.9-12.8
Total10 30010 6009 4909 246-7.9-12.8
Cereals28 27013 63039 0068 36238-38.7
Total28 27013 63039 0068 36238-38.7
Cereals113 63460 13751 77921 818-54.4-63.7
Pulses4 4332 02018 1035 498308.4172.2
Total118 06762 15769 88227 316-40.8-56.1
Cereals322 170195 517298 432142 064-7.4-27.3
Pulses11 5833 96721 9357 26189.483
Cereals & Pulses333 753199 484320 367149 325-4-25.1

Table 2 - Eritrea: Areas planted to and production of 1995 cereals

Semhar< TD ALIGN=RIGHT>142 064
Crops/ProvincesHamassien Akele GuzaiSerayeGash SetitBarkaSenhitSahelTotal Eritrea
Area1 4303 64911 23543 16635 94221 2768 8144 560130 072
Production4298035 61836 69112 5803 7232 6445 47267 960
Millet - Pearl
Area98301439 90622 14610 2445 62642049 4 68
Production2950755 4484 4291 79398516813 193
Millet - Finger
Area5781 7697 375844
710 770
Production2313542 950422
54 011
Area18 69813 0084 913

2 7583 946
43 323
Production14 9587 8052 948

1 1031 973
28 787
Area8952 0183 411

4 3347354 50015 893
Production5378071 365

1 3002213 6007 830
Area81110 30619 042

330 162
Production2033 0925 713

19 009
Area5 9543 2984 960

1972 035
16 444
Production4 4669892 729

9 494
Barley and Wheat
Area1 600

2 300
Production1 360

1 780
All cereals
Area30 94934 04851 77953 91658 08839 00621 1569 490298 432
Production22 47913 85021 81842 56117 0098 3626 7399 246

The reduction in cereal output, only partially offset by increased pulse output, was caused by the interplay of several factors, described below.

2.1 Rainfall
In the highland areas, the early (short) rains usually commence in March and continue until May, with the main rains usually falling between July and September. In these areas, planting of the 1995 early grown cereals started in April and May with lower than optimum soil moisture levels during this period. Crop growth was also affected by a dry period in June. Some replantings with other short season crops such as barley and wheat or a mixture of both were carried out in the highlands and with teff in the lowlands. In the lowlands, favourable rains which began towards the latter part of June allowed the planting of medium to early maturing cereals and oilseeds such as sesame.

Rainfall in July and August was generally sufficient for satisfactory production in all the agricultural areas of the country. The decrease in the total amount of rainfall in September negatively affected grain output particularly for the long seas on varieties. The tall stalked long season maize and sorghum varieties were particularly affected. In areas where crop production is dependent on spate irrigation using flood waters from the highlands, the availability of such water in 1995 has bee n lower than normal.

2.2 Areas Planted
The estimates of areas planted in 1995, by province, are based on the preliminary results of a crop assessment survey undertaken jointly by MoA, ERRA and the Grain Board. The methodology used in the survey represents an improvement over the assessments carried out in previous years. A multi-stage stratified sampling technique was used and about 43 percent of total districts and 15 percent of all villages were surveyed. Each district was stratified by agroecologica l zone and cropping system and in each village, representative areas of high, middle and low productivity were randomly selected.

The aggregate area planted to cereals and pulses in 1995 is estimated to have decreased by about 4 percent compared to the past 3-year national average. The late onset of rains resulted in larger ploughed areas being left fallow this year compared to last year. Labour constraint at household level may also have been a factor responsible for reduced areas planted. The planted areas varied considerably between provinces. The land areas sown with cereals increased in only three out of eight pro vinces. However, area planted to cereals and pulses is reported to have decreased by about 19 percent in Akel Guzai and about 41 percent in Seraye compared with the last 3-year average.

2.3 Yields
Yields per hectare are highly variable between agroecological zones and cropping systems. The use of inputs, notably fertilizers, is low. The Mission found that about 10 percent of the farmers use inorganic fertilizers at low r ates. Farmyard manure is rarely used on crops and is primarily utilised as a source of household fuel. The yields of 1995 long season sorghum and maize cultivars were depressed by the erratic, uneven distribution and early cessation of rainfall. Th e short season and drought tolerant crops (barley, wheat and fingermillet) performed well in the highlands and medium to short season sorghum and pearl millet cultivars performed well in the lowlands. Weed control also posed a problem, and insect p ests including grasshoppers and desert locust, and rodents damaged crops.

3.1 Akele Guzai
Situated in the central highland zone, this province is densely populated with farm families cultivating small and fragmented farms ranging in size from 0.5 hectare to 1 hectare. Monocrop barley, wheat and mixed stands of barley and wheat, maize, finger millet and a variety of pulses are grown in the higher elevations. In the lower altitudes, including the Hozomo Plains, teff and sorghum predominate.

Favourable rains in April in Akele Guzai permitted the early planting of finger millet and maize in higher altitudes. The decrease in rainfall during May affected crop growth and vigour. An interruption in rainfall in June further worsened the crop performance. Despite the poor start, favourable rains in July and August revived the prospects of reasonable crop production. Many farmers increased the areas planted with barley and wheat in the higher altitudes and teff in the lower elevations. Nevertheless, the area planted under cereals and pulses decreased significantly over last year. The early cessation of rainfall in September coincided with critical maturity period and resulted in reduced grain output.

3.2 Barka
Although this province is situated between the Central Highland Zone and the south-west lowlands, in terms of climate (arid to semi-arid), cropping systems and population pressure, it has much in common with the neighbouring sou th-west lowland areas. Major crops grown are sorghum, pearl millet, sesame and groundnuts. Area planted under sorghum in 1995 was about the same as last year and area under pearl millet increased by about 15 percent compared to last year. However, late onset and early ending of the main rains (July-September) affected crop performance. Outbreak of Desert Locust and grasshoppers as well as high incidence of stem borer on cereals and beetle and smut infestations on sorghum, further reduced the yields.

3.3 Gash Setit
This province lies in the south west lowland zone with a hot semi-arid climate and rainfall range of 400-600 mm, with flat topography, soils different from the Central Highland Zone and transition zone and low population de nsity. Farm sizes are large, on average about 3 hectares per farm family. Main crops are sorghum, pearl millet and sesame.

Although the total amount of rainfall for 1995 was about the same as last year, the distribution was uneven and during July and August it fell with high intensity within short periods.

Compared to last year, areas planted under cereals increased by 11 percent, mainly due to returnees from neighbouring Sudan. Favourable prices for sesame also resulted in increased areas planted. Areas reported as having reasonable crop production prospects include most of the southern parts of the province. In other areas such as those bordering Seraye (Shomboko) sorghum failed to head due to early cessation of rains. Crop prospects are poor for the northern areas that usually receive less than 400 mm of rainfall.

3.4 Hammassien
This province lies in the Central Highland Zone and has similar characteristics to Akele Guzai in terms of ecology, cropping systems, farm sizes and population density. Maize, sorghum and finger millet are planted during th e short rains between March and May and drought tolerant short season cool weather cereals and pulses are grown with the main rains (July-September). Late onset, mid-period dryness in June and early cessation of rains in September, affected the yie lds of the long season crops, particularly sorghum and maize. Finger millet performed well.The short season cool weather crops such as barley, wheat and pulses performed better. Compared to last year, the area under cereals and pulses increased by about 6 percent. Overall, 1995 crop performance is rated as normal.

3.5 Sahel
The province lies partly in the semi-arid northwestern lowlands. In the higher altitudes barley, wheat, maize and some pulses are grown. In the lower altitudes, sorghum and millet predominate. A large proportion of the populatio n are agropastoralist. In the eastern lowlands some crop production with spate irrigation is practised. Compared to last year, the area under cereals increased by about 60 percent. The season started well and prior to locust infestation was conside red as being better than last year. Localized desert locust and grasshopper infestation reduced grain outputs. Hoboro sub-province suffered most from locust damage and loss due to locust and grasshopper damage on cereals is estimated at 60 percent .

3.6 Semhar
Situated in the eastern escarpment and incorporating the middle area of the Red Sea coastal plain, the province of Semhar encompasses a wide variety of agroecological zones. Semhar differs from the other provinces of Eritrea in terms of the cropping season, which commences in this province in September/October and is characterized by spate irrigation managed traditionally through diversion canals and cascading terraces upon which crops are sown using ox-drawn ploughs. So rghum, maize and vegetables are the predominant crops grown in the province. During the current season, the province experienced serious shortfall of rains during the critical sowing period. Thus, despite land preparations covering an estimated are a of 13 950 hectares, only 6 555 hectares have so far been brought under crops. Nearly 80 percent of the area sown so far is accounted for by only one of the three sub-provinces, viz. Shieb. This has been largely facilitated by spate irrigation res ulting from the rainfall received in the highlands. The sowing of the remaining area is critically dependent on the rains during December/January.

It is estimated that a good harvest requires at least five irrigations during the crop season. The area currently under crops has received in general one to two irrigations and in some cases up to three. Crop prospects are also reported to have bee n somewhat affected by Desert Locust and stalk borer over an area of about 800 hectares.

3.7 Senhit
This province lies in the northern midlands of the Central Highland Zone and has a lot in common with Hammassein and Akelguzai provinces. It also exhibits similarities with Barka which it borders. Despite late onset of rains t he earlier part of the main rains were favourable for reasonable crop production. However, early cessation of the rains and outbreak of locust and grasshoppers affected crops. Premature harvesting of crops to escape locust damage further reduced gr ain yields. Locust invasion began in July when the first swarm of Desert Locust entered through Asmat on the border with Sudan and laid eggs. Adult locust attacked the early planted crops, which were seriously affected and many farmers reported ex tensive damage to sorghum and millet. The spot control measures by the Government reduced the damage to crops particularly in the higher elevations. However, areas around Karen suffered serious crop damage: up to 90 percent losses on pearl millet, 70 percent losses on early planted sorghum and 50 percent foliage damage on groundnuts. Although the area planted with cereals increased by about 18 percent compared to last year, cereal production showed a substantial decline.

3.8 Seraye
The soils of Seraye are fertile and in normal years grain yields are higher than in other provinces. In 1995 rainfall commenced in early July and ceased in early September. The delay in the onset of rains also resulted in short ening of the land preparation period and delays in the planting of crops, particularly for families who normally borrow draught animal power. It also resulted in a substantial reduction in the area planted and a change in cropping patterns this yea r compared to last year. The early sown crops, sorghum and finger millet, which were the dominant crops last year, were substituted by teff this year. However, teff yields have been affected by shoot fly infestations while the other cereal crops we re damaged by the high incidence of stem borers. Hailstorm damage also occurred at critical flowering and grain filling stages. The medium and long season sorghum varieties in Shomboko areas bordering Gash Setit suffered severe moisture stress. Dam age to crops by Desert Locust has been small following control measures undertaken on an estimated area of about 1 570 hectares.


Table 3 below summarizes the Mission's projected supply/demand balance and the cereal import and food aid needs in 1996.

Table 3 - Foodgrain Balance Sheet, 1996 (January/December) (tons)

1. Opening stocks30 000
2. Production149 000
3. Total Domestic Availability (1 + 2)179 000
4. Food Use 1/403 000
5. Other Uses (Seeds, feed, Post-harvest losses)22 000
6. Closing stocks (31.12.96)45 000
7. Utilization (4 + 5 + 6)470 000
8. Import Requirement (3 - 7)291 000
9. Commercial imports100 000
10. Food aid191 000
- Relief food aid78 750
- Programme food aid112 250

1/ The food needs of an anticipated 100 000 returnees from Sudan in 1996, which are to be covered by special operation, are not included.

4.1 Stocks
The estimated volume of carryover stocks in Eritrea as at 1 January 1996 is expected to be about 30 000 tons. This is made up of approximately 10 000 tons expected to be held by ERRA and NGOs, some 18 000 tons in pledges which can be expected to arrive in country either before the end of the year or early in 1996, and at least part of a further 5 000 tons of year-end commercial imports. Stocks in the hands of farmers are estimated to be negligible.

The 1995 closing stocks are well below the previous year's revised level of 97 000 tons, with the drawdown during 1995 reflecting the high level of distribution of food aid, significant cross border exports and limited commercial imports during th e year.

The Mission considers as reasonable a closing 1996 level of 45 000 tons, equivalent to just over one month's utilization.

4.2 Cereal and Pulse Consumption in 1996
In the absence of firm estimates of grain consumption, the Mission continued to use the previous Missions' estimate of 140 kg of cereals and pulses per caput per year, which seems to be reasonable in view of the apparent consumption of the past two years derived from the grain balances. The 1995 population figure of 2.799 million projected with the UN estimated growth rate of 2.8 percent and adjusted to include 100 000 expected returnees fro m Sudan results in a 1996 mid-year population figure of 2.978 million. However, the needs of the planned 100 000 returnees are not taken into consideration as food assistance for this group is planned separately. The grain food consumption requirem ents of the country in 1996 are calculated at 403 000 tons.

4.3 Other Uses of Grains
On-farm grain storage is considered by farmers to be a manageable problem and the Mission considers that post-harvest losses are likely to be in the order of 10 percent. Seed provisions obtained from the different crop seed rates, together with brewing uses of coarse grains, are assumed to account for about 5 percent of the output. Overall, other uses of grains are therefore estimated at 15 percent of the production.

4.4 1996 Import Requirements
The 1996 cereal and pulses import requirement is estimated at 291 000 tons. This is substantially above the level of 1995 when high carryover stocks and a good harvest resulted in a larger domestic availabilit y of grains. Commercial imports are projected by the Mission at approximately 100 000 tons, compared with estimated actual imports of over 50 000 tons in 1995 and of some 83 000 tons in 1994. This forecast includes some 60 000 tons of wheat require d for the operation of the mills, which currently have virtually no stocks, as well as provision for the repayment of 11 000 tons of wheat the mills borrowed from ERRA in 1995. The Mission expects that the mills will be in a position to cover thei r requirements commercially as they did in 1994 when they imported some 60 000 tons of wheat. Cross-border imports, which in the past two years have been in the order of 20 000 tons to 40 000 tons, are expected to increase in 1996 due to the sharp decline in domestic production coupled with the good cereal harvest in neighbouring Ethiopia, which is expected to result in substantial flows of food into Eritrea.


The 1995 marketing year has been characterized by increased availability of foodgrains made possible by a good harvest in 1994 coupled with substantial releases of grain under food aid/food-for-work programmes, together resu lting in the stability of cereal prices. Despite a setback caused by weather aberration at the beginning of the 1995 crop season, the favourable rainfall situation during July/August revived hopes of good crop prospects, lending sustained stability to the market prices until September 1995. However, the sudden cessation of rains early in September, coinciding with the critical stage of crop growth and damage to crops by Desert Locust and other pests, dashed hopes of a bumper harvest. Consequ ently, the anticipated shortfall in production and the resultant severe setback to the marketable surplus of grain triggered a rise in cereal prices during October 1995, beginning with sorghum, the principal staple crop of the country. This unfavou rable situation has already started to manifest itself in adverse movement of terms of trade between cereal and livestock. The figures given in Table 4 indicate that deficit farmers are having to liquidate a higher proportion of their livestock ass ets to purchase grains for household consumption.

Table 4: Terms of trade between cereals and livestock in the main markets, 1995

Terms of TradeAdikeihAfabetAgordatAsmaraAssabBarentaKerenMassawaMandefera
Jan.-March 1995 1/1.070.950.711.630.491.021.241.26
October 19951.27-

1/ Terms of trade expressed in terms of number of goats required to purchase one quintal (100 kg) of sorghum, calculated from sorghum prices expressed in terms of Birr/Quintal and goat prices in terms of Birr/Unit.


While the Mission is of the opinion that what is being experienced in Eritrea is essentially a critical structural food deficit, rather than a classic food emergency, it is evident that due primarily to the well below average harvest, a somewhat higher than normal proportion of the population can this year be considered as vulnerable. This increased vulnerability is likely to be compounded by what is understood to be a high general level of mal nutrition in the country. While reliable information on the current nutritional status of the population is unavailable, reports from a survey carried out in 1993 indicate very high levels of wasting and low weight for height and weight for age rat es among children under 5 years old. Protein and iron deficiencies are also reported to be prevalent.

There is already an indication of declining food availability at the household level, in most of the rural areas visited by the Mission. This is further evidenced by recent significant increases in grain prices and an equivalent decrease in prices of small livestock such as sheep and goats. Such a trend is a reflection both of the below-average harvest in 1995, as well as of the very considerable reduction in the level of food aid recently available on local markets.

People considered particularly vulnerable are those who had been affected most by the war (especially the disabled, orphans and the large number of female headed households), as well as recent spontaneous returnees, many of whom have experienced di fficulties in finding land and/or suitable employment.

Pastoralists in Dankalia, Barka and Sahel, are also likely to be particularly affected by any rapid increase in grain prices in the coming months.

Likewise farmers in those areas of the country which have experienced a significantly below-average harvest, will require early food interventions. The most vulnerable areas in terms of diminished crop production, and consequently where it is recom mended that a priority be given in the targetting of relief assistance in the coming year are :

Seraye - especially the area bordering Gash-Setit (Shomboko),

Akele Guzai - especially the area around Dekamahare and the lowlands neighbouring the Hozomo Plains

Senhit - the areas around Keren

Barka - areas neighbouring Senhit

In estimating the most urgent food aid requirements for 1996, the Mission especially considered the exceptionally low level of food stocks now in the country.

The finding of the Mission is that some 78 750 tons of relief food assistance will be needed, for an average beneficiary level of 750 000 people, the most vulnerable of the population, and for a period averaging 9 months. This food, which would co rrespond to some 21 percent of the total estimated food consumption requirements for the year, will need to be available for distribution from March/April 1996 onwards. In addition some 112 250 tons of programme and/or project food aid will be nee ded to fill the anticipated food deficit. The provision of this programme/project assistance will be essential if the country is to avoid a further major relief food requirement later in the year. A continuous assessment, with particular emphasis o n the monitoring of household food stocks, market prices and the nutritional status of those considered most vulnerable, is highly recommended.

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