Rome, 30 May 2003 - FAO is helping Eritrean farmers restore their productive capacity through the distribution of cereal and legume seeds for the 2003 cropping season.

The drought of 2002 - the worst in ten years - severely weakened the productive capacity of farmers and affected all regions, including Debub and Gash Barka, which constitute the breadbasket of Eritrea.

The overall harvest of cereal crops realized in 2002 represents only 11 percent of the expected annual cereal harvest.

In many regions, the quantity of wheat and barley harvests was lower than the amounts of seed required to be saved for planting the 2003 crop.

Farmers also still suffer from the impact of the border war with Ethiopia. They have little cash left to buy seeds. Often, their limited seed stock becomes the family's only remaining source of food.

In Eritrea, the food situation is alarming as nearly two-thirds of the country's population of 3.4 million people face severe food shortages. Of these, an estimated 1.4 million need emergency food assistance.

A $400 000 TCP project

Under its Technical Cooperation Programme (TCP), FAO just launched a new US$400 000 project in Eritrea. The Organization will provide technical assistance services and inputs to help rural communities resume farming.

FAO will distribute 400 tonnes of cereal and legume seeds to about 30 000 families. This will enable about 15 000 ha of land to be cultivated, ultimately yielding about 12 000 tonnes of food worth about US$5 million.

The emergency provision of cereal and legume seeds project starts in June 2003 and should end by January 2004. It complements the efforts of a Swedish-funded seeds distribution project in the Debub and Gash Barka regions.

A huge gap

The calculated cereal and legume seed requirement for Eritrea is 16 247 tonnes, covering wheat, barley, sorghum, finger millet, peal millet, maize and teff, being the main cereals, and chickpea, horse bean and sesame, being the main nutrition supplements.

In Eritrea, FAO is working in close cooperation with NGOs. So far, FAO, NGOs and donors have pledged or provided 5 640 tonnes. The Ministry of Agriculture of Eritrea has already purchased 2 862 tonnes.

Taking into account the 20 percent of seeds (3 250 tonnes) to be raised by farmers themselves, a gap of 6 333 tonnes remains to be filled.

Some further 2 000 tonnes of seeds are likely to be purchased by the Ministry of Agriculture. This leaves a huge gap of 4 000 tonnes to be filled.

Unless urgent assistance is provided to bridge the gap, about 100 000 farmers would remain without seeds and be unable to resume farming when the rains return in June 2003.

Pierre Antonios
Information Officer, FAO
(+39) 06 570 53473