FAO GLOBAL INFORMATION AND EARLY WARNING SYSTEM ON FOOD AND AGRICULTURE
WORLD FOOD PROGRAMME

Mission Highlights

  • Prolonged drought conditions have seriously affected agricultural and livestock production in 2002.
  • Azmera rains (March-June), important for land preparation and replenishment of pastures, in key agricultural areas almost totally failed and the main Kremti rains (June-September) were late by more than four weeks.
  • As a result, cereal production in 2002 is forecast at about 74 000 tonnes, the lowest level since the country's independence in 1993.
  • Pastoralists were seriously affected by the delayed rains, as reports indicated that livestock in some sub-regions may have been reduced by up to 20 percent from their 2001 levels between March and June 2002.
  • The cereal import requirement for 2003 is estimated at 413 000 tonnes of which about 80 000 tonnes are anticipated to be imported commercially.
  • With 50 000 tonnes of food aid expected in the country by the end of 2002, the uncovered gap is estimated at 283 000 tonnes, but most of this could be covered through a combination of informal grain imports, current WFP food aid programmes and bilateral donations.
  • Of immediate concern are some 1.04 million of the most vulnerable people who will require 140 000 tonnes of food aid in 2003.
  • Emergency support to crop and livestock production is urgently needed to revive production capacity for next year.

 

1. OVERVIEW

Following the declaration by the Government of Eritrea of a national drought emergency, an FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission visited Eritrea from 19 August to 1 September 2002 to assess the effect of the drought on food and livestock production, estimate the expected cereal import requirements, including food aid needs and identify emergency support for the livestock sector.

Prior to the arrival of the Mission, a preliminary assessment of the country's crop and livestock situation had been carried out by a Technical Task Force drawn from Government , resident UN missions and NGOs. The mission, working closely with the Ministry of Agriculture, reviewed the latest releases and reports from the Government, UN and bilateral agencies working in the country and visited all regions except Southern Red Sea. Discussions were held with farmers, traders and key informants in relevant ministries and field inspections of the state of crops and livestock were made.

The Mission found that rainfall, the major source of water for food production, had been very poor since October 2001. The total failure of the secondary azmera season rains in major agricultural areas has seriously affected land preparation and the replenishment of pastures. The main kremti season rains arrived late over most of the country, delaying planting by several weeks. At the end of August, the forecast for the rains continuing to the end of September was not optimistic and lower than the currently projected poor cereal crop production cannot be ruled out. An early cessation of the rains could also compromise the important chickpea crop which is normally planted in early September.

The current poor agricultural season could not have come at a worse time. The country has just started the recovery from a devastating border war with neighbouring Ethiopia. A large number of people, including farmers, are still displaced and thousands of soldiers are yet to be demobilised. Furthermore, the resettlement of Eritrean refugees that continue to return from Sudan is a further strain on the country's resources.

Against this adverse backdrop, the Mission forecasts a cereal harvest of a mere 74 000 tonnes, nearly 60 percent below the average of the last 10 years. This will be sufficient to cover about 15 percent of the food requirement instead of an average of about 40 to 50 percent.

The poor rains have also had a serious impact on the country's livestock. Many areas were short of fodder from about March till mid-August, and drinking water was scarce. The situation began to improve with the eventual arrival of the rains, but, by then, drought-related livestock deaths had already been reported in several parts of the country. The poor condition of oxen at the time of land preparation imposed further limitations on the area cropped.

The cereal import requirement for the marketing year 2003 (January/December) is estimated at 413 000 tonnes. Reflecting the serious economic difficulties facing the country, only 20 percent of the requirement is anticipated to be covered commercially. With 50 000 tonnes of food aid expected by the end of 2002, the uncovered deficit, for which international assistance is required, is estimated at 283 000 tonnes.

Already some 1.04 million crop dependent vulnerable people will require emergency food assistance of about 140 000 tonnes. However, it is anticipated that other populations may also need food assistance before the end of 2003, depending on cereal, water and pasture availability and cereal prices later in the year.

To revive production capacity for next year, emergency support to the agriculture sector should include the distribution of seeds for cereal production next year; the provision of supplementary feed and vaccines to cover possible outbreaks of stress-induced diseases, with training for vaccinators.

2. SOCIO-ECONOMIC SETTING

2.1 The economy

Eritrea is a low income food-deficit country, with a per capita GDP of about US$ 180 per annum. At independence in 1993, the country had a low industrial and agricultural base, severely damaged infrastructure and extremely poor health and educational facilities, even in comparison with other developing countries.

After six years of steady improvement in Eritrea's economy, a border dispute with neighbouring Ethiopia led to a devastating armed conflict from 1998 to 2000. UN-sponsored border negotiations started at the end of 2000, but until now the border remains closed, patrolled by UN troops. Despite a recent upturn in exports to Sudan, the border closure has severely curtailed Eritrea's foreign trade since Ethiopia was its most important trading partner. The main export items are salt, semi-processed leather goods, flowers, livestock and textiles.

Furthermore, as a consequence of the war more than 60 000 displaced people still live in temporary camps in the country. Most of these are internally displaced families that moved away from the border area at the time of the conflict, but the total also includes a substantial number of Eritreans who were living inside Ethiopia when hostilities broke out. In addition, at the beginning of July 2002 about 50 000 Eritrean refugees were reported to have returned from Sudan with more than 100 000 still awaiting repatriation. A financial package of US$ 288 million was secured from the World Bank in December 2000 for Eritrea's Emergency Recovery Programme, which aims to revitalise war-damaged infrastructure and development facilities, promote human welfare and support the balance of payments over a two-year period from January 2001 to December 2002. The main contributors are the World Bank (US$ 90m), Italy (US$ 59m), and the EU (US$ 50m). In 2000 Eritrea's external debt was US$ 298million equivalent to 44.8 percent of gross national income (GNI).

The Government has returned to its policy of promoting economic growth through various market and private sector initiatives, with the objectives of raising incomes, generating employment and developing trade. However, as a consequence of the border war and national service, the productive workforce is effectively reduced.

2.2 The agricultural sector

Although agriculture is a vital sector, in that it employs the vast majority of the population, its contribution to GDP is only 16 per cent. Domestic production, even in good years, is insufficient to meet demand, and the country relies heavily on food imports, including aid.

There are about 3.2 million hectares of arable land in Eritrea, of which less than 15 percent is normally cultivated. More than 95 percent of the cultivated area, of between 300 000 and 500 000 hectares, is rainfed, depending on rains that are highly variable in terms of quantity and distribution, both temporally and geographically. There are three distinct rainy seasons in Eritrea: October to February in the eastern lowlands (winter or bahri rains); March to May in the highlands (spring or azmera rains); and June to September over the whole country apart from the coastal plain (summer or kremti rains). The kremti rains are by far the most important for national production. Normally, rainfall varies between 400 and 600 mm per year in the highlands and between 200 and 300 mm per year in the western lowlands; coastal rainfall ranges from zero to 300 mm. Rainfall patterns in the western lowlands and central highlands are broadly similar, with most of the rainfall concentrated in July and August during the kremti season.

Crop production is predominantly cereal-based, with barley, wheat1 and teff grown in the highlands, and sorghum and millet grown at lower altitudes; some maize is also produced at intermediate altitudes. Limited areas of chickpeas and beans are grown, mainly in the central highlands, while in the south of Gash Barka, sesame is locally important.

For a semi-arid country, Eritrea's irrigation resources are not highly developed. In a good year, only about 21 000 hectares may be irrigated, but since irrigation is very largely dependent on surface water, the productive area in any year closely reflects the amount of rainfall received in the highlands. The country has no perennial rivers or streams, and only about 2 000 hectares (less than 10 per cent of the country's irrigable area) is under irrigation from boreholes; knowledge of groundwater resources is limited. The largest irrigated areas (totalling about 18 000 hectares in a year of good rainfall in the highlands) are in the coastal lowlands, where sorghum and millet are grown under spate irrigation. There are some microdams in the highlands, which make a small but locally important contribution to crop production (typically about 200 hectares), but these too are totally dependent on rainfall.

Eritrea's agricultural productivity continues to be very low as a result of the country's fragile rainfall regime, its often poor and shallow soils, the use of unsophisticated and labour-intensive cultivation methods, and limited use of agricultural inputs. The border conflict with Ethiopia has also rendered unusable an estimated 12 000 hectares in Debub and most of the sub-region of Lalai Gash in Gash Barka because of unexploded landmines. Conscription to national service has also depleted the agricultural workforce in many areas.

Livestock production is an extremely important sector of the rural economy, especially in the more arid areas of the country. Although the largest herds are in the lowlands, the overall herding pattern is characterised by seasonal movement, both within the lowlands and between the lowlands and the highlands, in search of grazing. The principal animals are sheep and goats, followed by cattle, camels, donkeys and horses. On average, rural households have between three and five sheep and/or goats. Apart from work oxen, which are often put to graze in areas specially reserved for them, most livestock are raised on an extensive system that relies on natural pasture and crop residues. As a result, there is a marked annual fluctuation in stock condition which reflects the availability of fodder. Livestock numbers are said to have increased in the years immediately after independence, then fallen during the two years of conflict with Ethiopia. Since then, numbers are thought to have risen again. Pastoralists tend to over-stock, despite the frequent shortages of fodder and water, as they usually put more store by numbers than by condition; they are often loath to sell off stock even when times are hard. The border conflict with Ethiopia has largely halted the movement of livestock both to traditional grazing lands across the border and to grazing areas within Eritrean territory that are still mined; it has also closed important livestock trade routes.

In addition to smallholding agriculture, the Government also allocates land concessions to investors to enable crop production over relatively large areas. Concessions vary in size depending on location and water availability (rainfed or irrigated) as well as on crops. Those near seasonal river beds are normally between 10 and 30 hectares and produce vegetables (onions, okra, carrots, etc.) and fruits (bananas, oranges etc.), whilst those in arid or semi-arid areas can be as large as 400 hectares and are used primarily for cereals or oilseed crops. The contribution of concession agriculture to the country's food economy, however, is not significant, and yields are often mediocre.

3. FACTORS AFFECTING FOOD PRODUCTION IN 2002

3.1 Rainfall

The current agricultural season started poorly with widespread failure, for the fourth year in succession, of the bahri rains along the north-eastern escarpment. These rains are normally expected between November and March and are especially important for Northern Red Sea Region.

This was followed by generally unsatisfactory azmera rains; these are light rains that usually fall between March and May, but they are important for land preparation in the highlands. Only the southern part of Debub Region received an average amount of precipitation during this season, while elsewhere, in northern Debub, Maekel and southern Anseba, the azmera rains were either insignificant or non-existent. As a result, land preparation was widely postponed and in those areas that did receive some azmera rains, such as around Adi Keih and Dekemhare, extensive re-planting was often involved, following the emergence and subsequent desiccation of seedlings.

Figure 1: Eritrea Monthly Rainfall Average in 2002 compared with long-term average

The kremti rains, which are expected to fall from June to September over the highlands and western lowlands, arrived between four and six weeks late in most highland areas. Beneficial showers only began from the third dekad of July, and in some areas did not arrive until mid-August. June is the optimum time for planting long-cycle cereal crops in the highlands, so this delay has very serious implications for both planted area and yield expectation. The overall result of this year's rainfall pattern has been a huge reduction of the area under long-cycle sorghum varieties, which would normally have been planted in June. Barley and wheat in the highlands, which should have been at the grain-filling stage by the end of August had not even headed, with some plantings no further than the three-leaf stage of development. In some parts of Gash Barka Region, above-average rainfall was received after a slow and late start of the kremti rains.

Late and inadequate rains in the highlands have also led to significant reductions in the area under spate irrigation along the coastal strip as a result of the greatly reduced run-off.

3.2 Area planted

The area planted this year in Eritrea was greatly reduced as a result of the poor and late rainfall. The productive area for cereals is expected, at most, to be only about 40 per cent of the average (for the previous ten years cultivated area under cereals averaged at about 360 000 hectares). All regions have suffered in relative terms but the drop in Gash Barka and Debub Regions, known as the bread basket regions, constitutes the biggest loss in absolute terms. Estimated harvestable cereal crop areas by region and nationally are given in Table 1.

3.3 Means of production and inputs

Farm power

The Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) is currently in the process of selling off its tractors and other field equipment which it used to hire out to farmers. For use of the remaining tractors, the MOA charges 94 Nakfa2/hr (one hour is generally considered sufficient to plough 0.5 hectares). Commercial hire is consistently more expensive, ranging from about 120 to more than 200 Nakfa/hr. Such high prices are too high for small farmers and often result in under-utilisation of both arable areas and existing farm power.

Labour

The current rate of conscription to national service has had a significant negative impact on the availability of agricultural labour in many parts of the country. Eritrea has a very high incidence of female-headed households, which are often dependent on hired labour to cultivate their land on a share-cropping basis. This is further enforced by the traditional disapproval of a woman operating a plough, especially in the highlands.

Irrigation

There are about 200 micro-dams in the highlands, but only 30 or so are used for irrigation; the others are used as sources of domestic water use for people and livestock. This year they started to fill late, causing delayed planting and prolonged water stress among livestock.

The area under spate irrigation is expected to reach less than a quarter of its potential this year as a result of the late arrival of the kremti rains in the highlands.

The Technical Task Force carried out a sample survey of well depths at the beginning of August and found that water levels were generally below those expected at that time of year.

Seed

Most farmers use seed saved from the previous season's harvest, with the concomitant low yields expected from this practice, resulting from genetic deterioration and contamination by weed species. Very little improved or cleaned seed is used. The country has two small seed-processing facilities, one at Halhale and the other at Tessaniye; this year, 5 tonnes of wheat and barley seed were distributed to farmers from Halhale. A serious shortage of seed is anticipated for next year as a result of this year's expected poor harvest.

Fertilizers

Fertilizer use is higher in the highlands than it is in the western lowlands, where farmers believe their soils to be of high native fertility. With the late arrival of the rains and the overall reduction in cropped area this year, fertilizer use is thought to be well below average, with many farmers considering it to be a risky investment.

3.4 Pests and diseases

Pests

The incidence of crop pests this year has, so far, been normal. There were localised outbreaks of armyworm in Debub and Anseba, where 2 500 hectares and 550 hectares respectively were affected. Damage, however, was limited, and the outbreaks were brought under control. Other pests occurring this year included stalkborer, grasshoppers and the chisel beetle which attacks sorghum grain in the standing crop. However, the relatively low incidence of these pests this year may be largely attributable to the relative absence of crops. There is, later in the year, always the possibility of desert locust swarms.

Diseases

Crop diseases have not presented any problems this year, largely because of the unusually dry conditions that persisted up to August.

Weeds

Striga is a perennial problem in Eritrea, but this year, with the greatly reduced area under sorghum, it is not much in evidence. Other weeds are locally troublesome where, because of the late arrival of the rains, the crop has not yet developed a sufficient canopy to compete successfully with them.

3.5 Cereal yield

Assuming normal September rains, cereal yields from areas actually harvested are expected to be similar to the average (main factor in low production this year will be the reduced area). In some areas, including, for example, parts of Debub and the spate irrigation schemes, it is expected that yields may be above average since farmers will be able to give more attention to their reduced areas of cultivation. This, however, may change radically if the rains stop earlier.

3.6 Cereal production

Figure 2 shows Eritrea's annual cereal production from 1992 to 2001 along with the forecast for 2002. The figure clearly illustrates the very wide annual fluctuations that the country experiences. However, cereal production this year is expected to be the lowest since independence in 1993. At best, assuming that the rains continue through to the end of September, the country is expected to produce just over 74 000 tonnes, nearly 60 percent below the average for the previous 10 years. Estimates of cereal production by region and nationally (assuming adequate rainfall in September) are given in Table 2

Table 1. Cereal Area ('000 ha) in 2002 compared to average (1993-2001)

 
Sorghum
Barley
Wheat
Other cereals
Total cereals
 
2002
Average
2002 %
average
2002
Average
2002 %
average
2002
Average
2002 %
average
2002
Average
2002 %
average
2002
Average
2002 %
average
North Red Sea
4.5
15.7
28.7
0.0
1.8
0.0
0.0
0.9
0.0
2.5
16.5
15.2
7.0
34.9
20.1
Southern Red Sea
0.1
0.5
20.0
0.0
0.0
0.0
0.0
0.0
0.0
0.0
0.0
0.0
0.1
0.5
0.0
Anseba
0.0
18.5
0.0
4.4
3.1
141.9
1.8
1.0
180.0
12.4
17.4
71.3
18.6
40.0
46.5
Maekel
0.0
1.8
0.0
12.7
15.8
80.4
7.6
7.2
105.6
0.1
5.6
1.8
20.4
30.4
67.1
Debub
0.1
30.8
0.3
22.0
20.3
108.4
14.1
11.4
123.7
16.3
58.0
28.1
52.5
120.5
43.6
Gash Barka
33.0
101.7
32.4
1.0
1.5
66.7
2.0
0.1
2786.0
2.0
26.6
7.5
38.0
129.9
29.3
Eritrea
37.7
169
22.3
40.1
42.5
94.4
25.5
20.6
123.8
33.3
124.1
26.8
136.6
356.2
38.3

 

Table 2. Cereal Production ('000 tons) in 2002 compared to average (1993-2001)

 
Sorghum
Barley
Wheat
Other Cereals
Total cereals
 
2002
Average
2002 %
average
2002
Average
2002 %
average
2002
Average
2002 %
average
2002
Average
2002 %
average
2002
Average
2002 %
average
North Red Sea
4.5
10.8
41.7
0.0
0.4
0.0
0.0
0.2
0.0
1.0
7.3
13.7
5.5
18.7
29.4
Southern Red Sea
0.1
0.5
20.0
0.0
0.0
0.0
0.0
0.0
0.0
0.0
0.0
0.0
0.1
0.5
20.0
Anseba
0.0
6.7
0.0
0.5
1.2
41.7
0.2
0.3
66.7
3.7
6.0
61.7
4.4
14.2
31.0
Maekel
0.0
0.8
0.0
8.4
11.6
72.4
4.3
5.2
82.7
0.1
3.1
3.2
12.8
20.7
61.8
Debub
0.1
16.4
0.6
14.7
12.5
117.6
7.9
6.2
127.4
7.0
25.9
27.0
29.7
61.0
48.7
Gash Barka
19.8
67.3
29.4
0.6
0.5
120.0
0.9
0.0
4541.0
0.5
9.0
5.6
21.8
76.8
28.4
Eritrea
24.5
102.5
23.9
24.2
26.2
92.4
13.3
11.9
111.8
12.3
51.3
24.0
74.3
191.9
38.7

 

Source: Ministry of Agriculture of the State of Eritrea; 2002 figure is forecast

3.7 Other food crops

Grain legumes and oilseeds are expected to yield normally this year, but the greatly reduced area planted to them will mean very low production. This applies particularly to field beans in Debub and Maekel Regions, groundnuts in Anseba and sesame in Gash Barka. The MOA had hoped to partially redeem the adverse food-supply situation by extensive planting of chickpea at the beginning of September, but it now seems that only about 2 000 hectares in Debub, 500 hectares in Maekel and 50 hectares each in Anseba and Gash Barka will be all that can be achieved; seed is scarce, expensive and often of poor quality, and soil moisture may be insufficient for good crop establishment.

3.8 Livestock

Livestock systems

The livestock sector is dominated by pastoralists and agro-pastoralists owning indigenous ruminants, mostly in small herds or flocks grazing natural rangelands. Draught animals play a crucial role in crop production where oxen and camels are the main source of draught power and in a range of transport functions that also includes donkeys. One ox will plough about one hectare of land in the highlands or 1.5 hectares in the lowland areas. The majority of livestock are in the lowland areas and in the highlands, oxen comprise about half the cattle population. The arid coastal zones are populated mainly by goats and camels. Estimated livestock numbers for the regions are given in Table 3.

In the intensive cropping areas of the highlands, the main livestock are cattle, with sheep and goats being kept for cash income and supplementation of household food. In the less intensive cropping areas of the escarpments, cropping and livestock production are roughly equal in importance and there are more small ruminants. In lowland areas, livestock production is traditionally the mainstay of livelihoods, although cropping is being encouraged in higher rainfall areas in the south-western lowlands.

A small proportion of livestock owners in Eritrea are truly pastoral and migratory and depend largely or exclusively on their animals for their livelihoods. These are mostly found in the northern part of Anseba and in Northern and Southern Red Sea. Milk from cattle, goats and camels is an important part of the human diet. Livestock, especially small ruminants, are occasionally slaughtered for meat but are more commonly sold for cash income.

A large proportion of farmers who own livestock and grow crops, also move their animals on a seasonal basis. Movement occurs between the highlands and the eastern lowlands to avoid the very high temperatures of coastal areas in the summer and to later take advantage of spate-irrigated crop and forage production followed by winter rains in the lowlands. Traditionally, some pastoralists in Southern Red Sea have moved into Ethiopia in the summer and this movement is now limited although it still occurs to some extent. Farmers in the western escarpment areas move their livestock into the more southern parts of Gash Barka (and in the past, into Ethiopia) during the dry season and move them back north in summer when biting fly activity is intense and includes transmission of trypanosomiasis. The closure of the Ethiopian border and the progressive encroachment of cropping into what was previously rangeland, is now limiting the ability of agro-pastoralists to find summer grazing in this area.

Nutrition is the main constraint for livestock production in Eritrea and animals are generally of poor productivity. Crop residues form about 8 percent of the diet for livestock and are particularly important for maintaining stock through the dry seasons. Total feed availability is about 15 million tons of dry matter. Because of the unreliable rainfall, drought conditions are common. In highland areas, communities set aside pasture areas for the exclusive grazing of oxen and periparturient cows and other areas for use in drought conditions. Livestock diseases are reported to be widespread and undoubtedly also limit production.

There is smallholder dairy industry around major towns in the highlands, with cows being fed concentrates, including bran, oilseed cake and brewers grain. There is a developing network of milk collection centres to facilitate marketing. Small-holder semi-commercial poultry production is a popular, widespread and growing sector. The estimated per caput consumption of poultry in 1996 was 15-22 eggs and one chicken per annum. Mortalities due to disease, especially Newcastle disease, are reported to be high.

Domestic trade in livestock is largely in oxen and breeding animals. More livestock trade is export-oriented, being dominated by small ruminants and including export to the Middle East.

Table 3: Eritrea Current Estimated Livestock Population

Region
Cattle
Sheep
Goats
Camels
Anseba
218 923
124 300
620 023
25 266
Debub
490 093
614 069
706 409
19 382
Gash Barka
917 344
675 268
1 745 784
113 263
Maekel
40 505
149 927
23 556
0
Northern Red Sea
178 532
462 333
994 596
107 032
Southern Red Sea
82 060
103 047
571 417
53 971
Total
1 927 457
2 128 944
4 661 785
318 914

Effects of the current drought on livestock

Pastures and grazing constraints

There is a clear shortage of pasture for grazing in most areas of the country. Available pastures and crop residues ran out over the period between April and June 2002 and animals progressively lost weight. Losses of livestock from starvation were reported at 10-15 percent in most areas and up to 20 percent in some areas. Since late July and early August, however, good rains in nearly all Kremti rainfall areas have helped in pasture regeneration and the process of recovery of the remaining livestock. While some animals were seen, both grazing and in markets, that could be described as in very poor condition, most were in poor to fair condition and could be expected to survive.

The fate of livestock in Kremti rainfall areas (the highlands and western lowlands) depends on what further rainfall occurs up to the expected end of the season, around the end of September. If rains continue to be poor, a shortage of feed can be expected in several months' time. If rains are good, there is likely to be sufficient feed in many areas, especially those in which livestock deaths or the sale of stock has reduced livestock numbers significantly.

Livestock in the winter rainfall areas of Southern Red Sea and Northern Red Sea are currently suffering as a result of poor winter rainfall succeeded by poor summer rain in the areas of the eastern escarpment to which they normally migrate. Without adequate intervention these livestock will probably continue to suffer/perish from low feed availability until winter rains late in the year.

Livestock disease

Mange was widely reported as a concern in sheep, goats and camels and was observed by the assessment team. This disease has become widespread since 1997 and is commonly an outcome of drought-related stress and increased congregation of animals. Treatment is reportedly often of poor effect because only acutely affected animals are presented for treatment, leaving carrier animals that maintain herd infection. Other diseases were reported, either as a current concern or that could be anticipated as a result of drought, including other ectoparasites (especially ticks on cattle) intestinal parasites, blood-borne protozoan infections, contagious caprine pleuropneumonia and other respiratory infections. There appear to be significant constraints to accurate diagnosis and effective treatment of livestock diseases, that would bring into question the wisdom of widespread intervention without first improving veterinary laboratory and field capabilities. However, it is reasonable to accept that ecto-, endo- and blood-borne parasites will all exact a toll on drought-affected livestock.

Livestock migration

The constraints to livestock migration that have occurred in recent years have been exacerbated in the past two years by the low rainfall. Farmers from highland and western escarpment areas, who would normally graze their animals during the dry season in the south of Gash Barka, had very limited pasture available there during the early months of 2002. Some pastoralists, from coastal areas that had very little winter rainfall, also had little feed for their stock in the highlands and moved their animals right across the highlands into Gash Barka.

Sale of livestock

Although there has probably been a certain amount of distress selling of livestock in the wake of extended dry periods, in general pastoralists and agro-pastoralists have shown a reluctance to sell stock, in the hope that rains will come. Ultimately, by the time the necessity of stock reduction is accepted, many animals are either too weak to take to market or are worth too little for their sale to be an attractive option. This has undoubtedly been the reason for much of the livestock mortality that has been recorded. Market prices for livestock, even in the face of drought, have been relatively high. Although this at first appears to be contradictory, it would appear that a shortage of animals in good condition and the reluctance to sell en masse may have maintained high prices.

Animal protein availability

The most important human dietary resource from livestock in Eritrea is milk. Peri-urban dairy production has apparently been sustained during the drought periods, with more feed supplements being imported and the retail price of milk increasing accordingly, from about Nakfa 5.00 to Nakfa 6.50. Pastoralists and agro-pastoralists depend on milk from goats, cattle and camels. The drought conditions have been sufficiently severe to cause the cessation of milking from many of these animals for some weeks, although the recent improvement in pasture conditions has resulted in a return to lactation of many of them.

Existing measures to assist livestock owners

The Ministry of Agriculture has a policy of provision of services to the farming community including extension advice on marketing and processing, veterinary services and rural finance. Service provision is constrained by budget and availability of suitably qualified personnel.

Veterinary services

Government provides veterinary services to livestock owners from region and sub-region clinics, undertaking vaccinations, parasite control and other disease control activities. Because access to the field is limited, a system of village-based animal health workers has been introduced on a pilot basis in the Sheib district of Northern Red Sea, with the intention of expanding it.

An FAO-supported project is undertaking rehabilitation of sub-region clinics which sustained war damage and re-stocking them with basic equipment and medical supplies. Veterinary staff are limited in their access to livestock due to transport constraints and by the migratory activities of many livestock herds and flocks. Conscription of young men for national service has reportedly led to a decreased availability of community animal health workers.

Poultry production

Village small scale commercial chicken production is being encouraged, to provide households with the opportunity to meet their own needs for chicken meat and eggs and to sell surplus production for cash income. This is supported by the supply of young chicks for breeding. Other support to small scale commercial livestock enterprises in milk, meat, and egg production are to be promoted by providing credit, extension and organising farmers to market their output under the National Livestock Development Project.

Livestock Development Project

A five-year National Livestock Development Project, funded under a loan from the African Development Bank, commenced in 1998. It is particularly focused on rangeland management and livestock nutrition.

4. SITUATION BY REGION

4.1 Northern Red Sea

The region's three predominantly highland sub-regions received no significant rainfall before mid-July. The cropped area was thus greatly reduced and very little production is expected. On the eastern escarpment, where the bahri rains are critical, production is also poor. Lowland sub-regions are dependent on spate irrigation from the highlands but planting is also late as result of late arrival of highland rains. A steady decline in agriculturally productive area is recently observed demonstrating the reliance of the system on highland rainfall. In 1999, 5 000 hectares were productive, while only 4 000 hectares were productive in 2000. Production was interrupted in 2001 by the construction of civil works.

With the reduced area of spate irrigation in 2001 and the subsequent failure of the bahri rains, there was a scarcity of pasture in early 2002. High livestock mortalities were recorded, and many surviving oxen and camels were moved to the western lowlands. In Karura sub-region, mortalities were recorded of about 15 000 sheep and goats, 74 cattle, 200 donkeys and 18 camels. High mortalities were also reported in Ghela'eo sub-region. Livestock would normally be moved from there to the eastern escarpment in times of drought, but this year, because of the poor rains on the escarpment this was not an option.

4.2 Southern Red Sea

This region, which is very thinly populated, mostly by pastoralists, has little agricultural production. This year, in addition to low run-off from the highlands, the potential 1,000 hectares or so of spate irrigation has been further compromised by damage to upstream civil works resulting from last year's floods; for security reasons, it has not yet been possible to repair the damaged structures which are on the border with Ethiopia. Seasonal conditions for livestock have been similar to those in Northern Red Sea Region and it is likely that similar livestock mortality rates have been experienced.

4.3 Anseba

Three highland sub-regions were seriously affected by the virtual failure of the azmera rains. Wheat and barley are usually sown in June, but the first significant rains did not arrive until between the last week of July and the second week of August. Some areas have still received no significant rainfall. In the lowland sub-regions such as Hagaz, the rains also arrived late, preventing the early planting of long-cycle sorghum. Farmers have planted short-cycle sorghum during August in an attempt to get some crop. Groundnuts planted at the end of July are doing well, but on a limited area.

Pasture conditions were reasonably good until March, but the re-growth that was expected to occur with the arrival of the azmera rains in May did not occur this year. Shortages of pasture, crop residues and water, resulted in loss in condition and in some areas, such as Asmat, one of the worst affected sub-regions, mortalities of up to 20 per cent. Reports of disease included lumpy skin disease, contagious caprine pleuropneumonia and ecto- and endo-parasites. Prices of livestock in Keren market were relatively high: camels from Nakfa 4 500 to 11 000; oxen from Nakfa 1 500 to 5 000; goats from Nakfa 250 to 600. The condition of stock at the market ranged from poor to good. Since about mid-August, pastures have been improving, as has the general condition of livestock.

4.4 Maekel

Poor azmera rains and delayed arrival of the kremti rains led to extensive post-emergence loss of maize and sorghum, with the result that only a very small amount of maize (and virtually no sorghum) is expected to be harvested. The area under wheat and barley is close to the annual average, but the level of crop development by the end of August was approximately four weeks behind the optimum. If the September rains are satisfactory, overall yield and production figures for wheat and barley may not fall too far below the long-term average, but poor September rainfall could reduce these figures very significantly.

Lack of rain resulted in poor pasture growth. In the Arberebue area, cactus growth was poor, further limiting livestock feed availability. It was reported that many oxen were weak and unable to adequately plough fields. Drought-related diseases were reported in Loga Anseba and Galanefhi, without further elaboration. In one of the sub-region (Serejeka), livestock deaths following the failure of the Azmera rains were reported to include over 700 cattle and about 1,000 sheep and goats. During the time of the assessment team's visit, most livestock appeared to be in fair to good condition.

4.5 Debub

The azmera rains, which are important in this region, were generally poor this year, especially in the central and northern parts. The kremti rains then started late and were sporadic, with days of high rainfall (e.g. 60 mm) followed by dry periods. Most of the small amount of sorghum that was planted on time dried up soon after emergence, with the result that the region, which generally contributes about 15 per cent to the country's total production, is expected to produce only negligible amounts this year. Short-season maize was planted later in July, mostly below micro-dams. What little there is has mostly cobbed, but again the total area is negligible. Barley and wheat were both sown late because of the late arrival of the kremti rains. They should be the second half of June, but this year planting was delayed till the first half of July or later. By the end of August they should be at the grain-filling stage, but many fields were still no further advanced than the three-leaf stage. Many areas face the possibility of complete cereal failure if the rains stop before the end of September.

The region has a number of microdams which are now, after late filling, producing very limited areas of maize and legumes. Hopes of growing large areas of chickpea to compensate for low grain production looked increasingly doubtful by the end of August. Seed was difficult to obtain, expensive and often of poor quality, and the weather forecast was pessimistic with regard to adequate soil moisture content for successful establishment. Some small areas of sorghum were still being planted at the end of August at lower altitudes towards the west, in the hope that the rains would continue and allow a harvest in January.

The collection, local consumption and sale of cactus fruits (Opuntia) are important coping activities in Debub at this time of year.

Early in August, cattle, donkeys and camels were reported to be in poor condition, often emaciated. Some livestock deaths were reported, without details. By the end of August pastures had developed sufficiently that stock were improving in condition. Old fodder stocks have been exhausted and overgrazing is evident.

4.6 Gash Barka

Gash Barka Region's average annual production of more than 65 000 tonnes of sorghum generally represents more than half of the country's total production. The situation in 2002 is indicative of the severity of the problem facing the country as a whole. This year, total sorghum production in the region, at about 20 000 tonnes, will be less than a third of its average, but this will nevertheless represent 80 per cent of the country's production. Crop production is always concentrated mostly in the south of the region but this year the contrast between cropped south and uncropped north is more marked than usual.

The south of the region is also an important area for sesame production, but this year, because of late and inadequate rains, planting has been greatly reduced.

In La-elay sub-region, deaths of 400 cattle, 250 goats and 190 sheep were reported. It is not known what percentage of the populations these figures represent. In Guluj sub-region, stock losses of 30 percent were recorded. The condition of livestock in Gogne and Haykota sub-regions was generally reported as fair and livestock in the Forto, Dighe, Agordat and Mogolo sub-regions, where there was access to rivers (Sawa, Hawashait, Barka, Mogoraib and Kaelay) have maintained reasonable condition. Outside of riverine areas, grazing conditions were very poor, with extensive evidence of over-grazing and most stock observed being congregated around small areas of green feed.

During August, indicative livestock prices in La-elay Gash sub-region (compared with those in 2001) were reported: average sheep prices stood at Nakfa 700 compared to Nakfa 800 in 2001; goats Nakfa 400 compared to Nakfa 500; cattle Nakfa 3 500 compared to Nakfa 7 000 in 2001.

5. CEREAL SUPPLY/DEMAND ANALYSIS, 2002/2003

The cereal balance sheet for 2002/03 (summarised in Table 4) is based on the following assumptions:

Table 4: Eritrea - Cereal Balance Sheet, 2003

Domestic availability
Opening stocks
Domestic production
124 000
50 000
74 000
Total utilisation
Food use
Seed and losses
Closing stocks
537 000
467 600
19 400
50 000
Import Requirements
Commercial import capacity
Food aid currently in stock and pipeline
413 000
80 000
50 000
Uncovered deficit
283 000

 

The total cereal import requirement in 2003 is estimated at 413 000 tonnes. With the anticipated commercial cereal import capacity estimated 80 000 tonnes and expected food aid by the end of this year estimated at 50 000 tonnes, the uncovered cereal deficit is estimated at 283 000 tonnes. However, this calculation does not take into account any estimation of informal grain imports. Based on discussions with traders, the mission estimates that informal grain imports from Sudan alone are approximately 70 000-80 000 tonnes annually. In addition, WFP plans to distribute over 120 000 tonnes of food aid during 2003 to previously targeted vulnerable populations under its Protracted Relief and Recovery Operation (PRRO) expected to be approved at the forthcoming meeting of the Executive Board and its two current Emergency Operations (EMOPs), assuming the needed resourcing for these operations can be obtained. This would reduce the unmet cereal deficit for 2003 to approximately 93 000 tonnes. Should the planned WFP operations not be resourced, the uncovered cereal deficit will have to be met by an additional WFP EMOP which would propose up to 80 000 tonnes of food aid.

6. FOOD AID REQUIREMENTS FOR 2003

6.1 Chronic vulnerability to food insecurity

Eighty percent of the population of Eritrea resides in rural areas. True pastoralists comprise just five percent of the total population and live mainly in Southern Red Sea Region and the northern and extreme southern areas of Northern Red Sea Region, where rainfall is insufficient for agriculture. Agro-pastoralists comprise 25 percent of the population and are found primarily in the western and mid-eastern lowlands of Northern Red Sea, Anseba and Gash Barka Regions. Sedentary farmers comprise 50 percent of the population and live in the highlands of Northern Red Sea, Maekel, Anseba, Gash Barka and Debub Regions and the western lowlands of Gash Barka Region. For example, in Anseba Region, about 30 percent of the population are pastoralists who generally live in the north and north-west, 20 percent are agro-pastoralists who generally occupy the central areas of the region and 50 percent are farmers who are mainly in the south, which is also densely populated.

Since food crop production in Eritrea is almost entirely rainfed, the amount and distribution of rainfall remains the most crucial limiting factor to cereal production. Eritrea has only been able to meet an average of less than half of its cereal consumption needs from its own production during the 1992-2001 period.

Due to pervasive poverty, chronic vulnerability to food insecurity is endemic to all regions in Eritrea, and the majority of the population has limited and deteriorating coping mechanisms. This is particularly the case in drought-prone Northern Red Sea, Southern Red Sea and many parts of Anseba Regions. Since the conflict with Ethiopia (1998-2000), war-affected populations displaced within Gash Barka and Debub Regions, as well as some of the Eritreans deported from Ethiopia, have had limited, or no, means of accessing food, and are extremely vulnerable. These populations are currently being fed under several WFP and other programmes, and were not the subject of this assessment.

Those local populations that are chronically vulnerable generally change little from year to year. However, in Eritrea the number of chronically vulnerable people and degree of their vulnerability (baseline vulnerability) has increased greatly since 1997, due to the war with Ethiopia and its ongoing impacts. This has resulted in Eritrean populations being much more likely to have sharply increased current/transitory vulnerability due to current shocks or hazards, as they are only marginally making ends meet and are easily pushed into destitution. Changes in the numbers of people who are affected by transitory vulnerability in Eritrea usually reflect changes in rainfall and agricultural production, as is generally the case this year.

6.2 Justification for international food assistance

The food security situation in Eritrea will continue to deteriorate over the coming year due to the late-starting rains, resulting poor harvest and large national food deficit. Access to food will be severely restricted for more than one million poor Eritreans as they are confronted with reduced levels of production, low purchasing power, high prices and exhaustion of coping mechanisms. Relatively large numbers of livestock have already been sold off, been consumed or died, and the most common coping mechanism, casual labour, is limited by the intense shortage of household manpower due to the absence of younger men in National Service. As noted above, food availability will be an extremely serious issue this year in light of the size of the national food deficit, estimated at 283 000 tonnes, the limited foreign exchange reserves available to the GSE to purchase food, and drought in neighbouring countries, such as Ethiopia and Sudan.

The country is faced with a host of longer term problems, some emanating from its recent conflict with neighbouring Ethiopia, now exacerbated by this year's poor rainfall and resulting fall in crop and potentially livestock production. Emergency food aid will be required at least until next year's harvest in order to prevent loss of human life, destitution, liquidation of minimal productive assets, and distress migration. The next major harvest will be in November/December 2003. Areas of Northern Red Sea and Anseba Regions may also benefit from a harvest of long-cycle crops beginning in October due to the March-May azmera rains. However, the latter season has yielded little in the most vulnerable areas over the past three years, and the success of both seasons will depend heavily on climatic conditions that have been exceedingly erratic in recent years.

A great many community works projects, particularly for water management and soil conservation, that are required to improve the lives of Eritreans, have been ready for implementation for some years. Many of these could greatly benefit from a labour force working for food. Current Government policy does not permit Food for Work. However, if this policy changes, the mission recommends that whenever possible food is provided through Food for Work to both enhance targeting of aid to the most vulnerable and to produce outputs that will improve Eritrea's future food security prospects. However, vulnerable populations that lack labourers need to be targeted for free distributions, as appropriate.

In the context of this assessment mission, insufficient data was available to evaluate levels of vulnerability and specific needs of urban populations in Eritrea, but in general the mission deems them to be less vulnerable as a consequence of the current situation than their rural counterparts. The analysis below focuses on the vulnerability and emergency needs of rural populations only.

6.3 Targeting of food assistance

Geographical targeting

Rainfall has generally been late and considerably below normal during the current season throughout the country. This has led to reduced crop production prospects in all major crop-producing areas. However, rainfall since the end of July has generally been sufficient to support improvement of pasture and water availability since the initial March-June drought that led to some livestock deaths and generally poor physical conditions for the remaining animals. Livestock condition is now improving and prospects for livestock production will generally be fair to good if rains continue until the end of September. Therefore, the more crop-dependent sub-regions of the country and their populations are generally more vulnerable to current food insecurity than their livestock-dependent counterparts. Accordingly, emergency food aid will need to be directed primarily to the more crop-dependent sub-regions in north-eastern and north-central Gash-Barka and Anseba, Maekel, Debub and North Red Sea Regions.

Socio-economic group targeting

In all areas mentioned above, the most vulnerable population groups are the poorer crop-dependent farmers and agro-pastoralists. Richer and middle-income groups generally have more livestock and other assets that will help them cope with a loss in crop production while poorer populations will have no other resources to make up the current food gap. However, it must be noted that, with few exceptions, even in normal years these populations rarely produce more than 50 percent of their food needs from their own crops and make up the other half of their needed food/income through a combination of livestock production, casual labour and other activities. While some of these options/coping mechanisms are expected to be more limited during 2003, many will still be viable. Therefore, populations are not expected to require food aid throughout the entire year. Accordingly, food aid will be targeted to the specific populations who are suffering most from the expected poor crop production, have the greatest dependence on crops and have no possibility of making up the gap in their food/income through alternative income sources and coping strategies.

6.4 Coping mechanisms

The vast majority of rural Eritreans live close to subsistence level under normal conditions. During times of food stress, previous research in Eritrea indicates that communities utilise coping strategies, which include:

Casual labour is the most normal alternative form of income generation or coping strategy for the majority of Eritreans. The current severe shortage of labour caused by the absence of many young men in National Service is not only affecting the performance of normal productive activities, such as ploughing and weeding, but is also curtailing coping strategies, further exacerbating food insecurity at household level. Another frequently used coping mechanism is poultry production for eggs and meat. This is usually an endeavour conducted by women at the household level, while other livestock raising and management activities are almost exclusively handled by men. Another coping mechanism is the gathering of wild fruits and other plants when in season. These are either sold or eaten, depending on market access and/or demand. Particularly for pastoral or agro-pastoral populations, milk production is an important alternative income source. While almost all animals had stopped producing milk during the March-July period, by mid-August milk production in many areas had restarted and was on the rise.

The absence of younger men has led to a large number of de facto female-headed households. Since these households are missing what is normally their largest source of labour, their ability to cope through casual labour, food for work, cash for work or other labour-intensive activities is greatly reduced. Many of these younger households are coping by depending on extended family links, with remaining women and children being welcomed into the households of parents and grandparents. However, in the case of poorer populations, this merging of capacities and assets is still insufficient to provide adequately for food needs, especially in this poor production year.

Since the majority of rural Eritreans obtain no more than 50 percent of their annual food needs from their own crop production, much of the food they need must be purchased from the market. Grain prices have increased sharply (e.g., sorghum prices in August were an average of 33 percent higher than for the same period in 2001) since the same period last year, and news and impacts of the large national grain supply deficit should send prices considerably higher in the coming months. Most rural Eritreans already have very low purchasing power due to chronic vulnerability, and their ability to procure food will be further reduced by rising prices, reduced crop production, probable reduction of livestock prices if there is a glut of animals on the market, and reduced casual labour opportunities/labourer availability.

While emergency food aid needs in Eritrea during 2003 will be extensive, it should be noted that in many areas there is a risk of people developing an over-reliance on food aid, with the expectation that food assistance will be provided on a regular basis. This is proving destructive to some traditional coping strategies, and creating a vicious cycle that can lead to dependency. Therefore, it is critical that emergency food aid be provided only to those who cannot survive or will become destitute without it.

The figures in Table 5 below reflect estimates of the currently most vulnerable populations and their expected food aid needs at the regional level. Due to expected poor crop production in combination with high levels of chronic vulnerability that will cause many households in Eritrea to have high levels of vulnerability, over one million people in at least five regions will require over 140 000 tonnes of emergency food aid in 2003. However, subsequent, more detailed food needs assessments need to be conducted during the coming months to determine more clearly those localities and more specific populations to be targeted.

Table 5: Eritrea - Estimates of Emergency Food Aid Requirements for 2003

Region
Number of people needing assistance
Est. food aid needs (tonnes)
Anseba
Debub
Gash-Barka
Maekel
Northern Red Sea
TOTAL
128 288
393 808
309 590
100 132
105 932
1 037 749
17 319
  53 164
  41 795
13 518
  14 301
140 096

Rations: 15 kg/person/month (2,100 Kcals/day) of a combination of grain, pulses and oil
Duration of assistance: 9 months, February-October 2003

6.5 Distributions

From the resumption of its operations in November 1999 until July 2002, WFP has distributed over 283 000 tonnes of food commodities through its Government implementing partner ERREC. This was accomplished through two separate WFP Emergency Operations (EMOPs) for war- and drought-affected populations. In January and February 2002, WFP food was distributed to almost one million beneficiaries at a rate of 17 000 tonnes per month. Since then, the figures have gradually declined to the current 350 000 beneficiaries and 5 500 tonnes per month. WFP is planning to increase this figure again towards the end of the year to 540 000 beneficiaries and 9 200 tonnes per month. This is due to new and expanded projects and the start of the school year in September, with up to 80 000 students being supported through the emergency school feeding programme.

WFP stocks and expected arrivals will be sufficient for the planned programmes until the end of the year. However, an expected sharp increase in the number of drought-affected beneficiaries will necessitate sourcing of the remaining balances for both EMOPs (approximately 63 000 tonnes).

In 2002, food aid from WFP and other bilateral sources will cover about 30 percent of the total cereal needs. The remainder is being covered through local harvests, commercial and Government imports and bilateral loans.

6.6 Logistics

Although Eritrea has started with substantial port improvements in Massawa, its stevedoring capacity of grain bulk remains limited; additional - relatively small - investments should be made in bagging capacity and storage to avoid long delays resulting in excessive demurrage and lower the disproportionately high ocean-freight rates to Eritrea.

Only half of Eritrea's registered trucks are currently in service and, due to the old age of its fleet, it is expected that the percentage of active trucks will drop further. This will adversely affect the cost effective and timely delivery of food commodities from port to central warehouses and transport to delivery points in rural areas. Secondary transport to remote locations in the country will be even more affected as the feeder-road network in many places is only accessible for trucks in good condition and/or equipped with 4x4 traction.

Eritrea's warehouse capacity needs urgent upgrading and extension in case of the need for massive food deliveries into the country. The present capacity of 165 000 tonnes (Assab not included) proved too small in 2001 when arrivals to Massawa of both food aid and commercial food shipments were concentrated in the second half of the year.

Food aid to the country is received, handled and transported by the Eritrean Relief and Rehabilitation Committee (ERREC), the overall co-ordinating body for all relief aid and implementing partner of WFP and EU/DIA (European Union/Dutch Interchurch Aid). Due to the increased targeting of beneficiaries and diversity of programmes, ERREC is in dire need of additional staff and equipment to be able to carry out its task in a satisfactory way.

Large amounts of food aid to Eritrea (in excess of 200 000 tonnes) should be accompanied by investments in port, warehousing, and management capacity of the Implementing Government Agent (ERREC), to ensure cost effective, efficient and timely delivery of food commodities to beneficiaries throughout the country. Failing to provide this investment will result in late and insufficient deliveries to beneficiaries, loss of food and exorbitantly high costs for transport and handling of food aid. The Government or international finance institutions should also be urged to finance replacement of part of Eritrea's moving stock.

 

This report is prepared on the responsibility of the FAO and WFP Secretariats with information from official and unofficial sources. Since conditions may change rapidly, please contact the undersigned for further information if required.

Office of the Chief
GIEWS, FAO
Fax: 0039-06-5705-4495
E-mail: giews1@fao.org
Mr. N. Siwingwa
Acting Regional Director, ODK, WFP
Fax: 00256-78-260872
E-mail: Nicholas.Siwingwa@wfp.org

The Special Alerts/Reports can also be received automatically by E-mail as soon as they are published, by subscribing to the GIEWS/Alerts report ListServ. To do so, please send an E-mail to the FAO-Mail-Server at the following address: mailserv@mailserv.fao.org, leaving the subject blank, with the following message:

subscribe GIEWSAlertsWorld-L

To be deleted from the list, send the message:

unsubscribe GIEWSAlertsWorld-L

Please note that it now possible to subscribe to regional lists to only receive Special Reports/Alerts by region: Africa, Asia, Europe or Latin America (GIEWSAlertsAfrica-L, GIEWSAlertsAsia-L, GIEWSAlertsEurope-L and GIEWSAlertsLA-L). These lists can be subscribed to in the same way as the worldwide list.

 


back to the table of contents Back to menu

1 'Hanfez', a mixture wheat and barley, is grown extensively in addition to the pure crop stands.

2 The official exchange rate for the Nakfa stood at US$ 1 = Nakfa 13.55 in August 2002.