30 December 2002, Rome/Addis Ababa -- More than 11 million people in Ethiopia are facing serious food shortages and possible starvation, following a prolonged dry spell that led to a poor harvest in many parts of the country, according to a joint report released today by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP).

"Late, poorly distributed and early cessation of the 2002 seasonal rains were the main cause of the decline of grain production," the report concluded. Crop yields also fell because farmers were reluctant to invest in improved seeds and fertilizer due to the uncertain crop prospects. According to the report, depressed grain prices in 2001 further contributed to this year's poor harvest, particularly in western Ethiopia where there were large surpluses.

Based on a four-week joint crop and food supply assessment mission which visited all regions of the country in November and December, the FAO/WFP report indicates that sharp increases in grain prices occurred in the second half of 2002, with the prospect of a poor harvest. To manage the negative effects of such fluctuating grain prices - for both farmers and consumers - the report calls for mechanisms to strengthen price stabilization, such as storage facilities and marketing.

Although the drought affected the lowlands most severely, the report says Ethiopia's major cereal producing zones have also been hit, seriously cutting cereal production by 20 to 30 percent. Poor rainfall in the eastern and north-eastern pastoral areas reduced available pasture and water. According to the report, rising livestock deaths prompted an early migration of herds and livestock prices dropped by as much as 50 percent.

FAO and WFP estimate the 2002 cereal and pulse production at about 9.2 million tonnes, 25 percent below last year's harvest. As a result, Ethiopia will need to import 2.3 million tonnes of cereals in 2003. With commercial imports forecast at 328 000 tonnes, the deficit stands at 1.8 million tonnes. This deficit will have to be covered by a combination of emergency food aid and bilateral donations.

The FAO/WFP report is in line with the results of a government led multi-agency emergency needs assessment carried out last month, which estimated the total number of people in need of emergency assistance at 11.3 million people. The government and the UN jointly appealed for some 1.4 million tonnes of emergency food aid.

In many lowland and pastoral areas of Ethiopia, people have barely enough food to last for even one to two months. Millions of subsistence farmers and herders will soon face a desperate situation.

FAO Media Relations Office
(+39) 06 5705 3625

Trevor Rowe
WFP Chief Spokesperson
(+39) 06 6513 2602

Wagdi Othman
Information Officer, WFP/Addis Ababa
(+251) 1 515188 or (+251) 9 201976