25 September 2003, Rome -- Serious food shortages and high levels of malnutrition continue to affect a large number of people in several parts of Ethiopia, FAO said today.

An estimated 13.2 million people are now in need of emergency assistance in the country. The food situation in the Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples Region (SNNPR) remains particularly critical.

Donor response to recent appeals for emergency assistance has been unprecedented, averting a large humanitarian disaster, FAO said.

Cereal seed distribution, for instance, has met most of the requirements, but in some areas farmers still lack seeds.

FAO called for an additional $7.7 million for projects on animal health, feed and fodder and the provision of seeds for non-cereal crops.

"The funding of these projects is essential to strengthen the capacity of vulnerable farmers and pastoralists, to make them more self-reliant and less dependent on food aid," said Anne M. Bauer, Director, Emergency Operations and Rehabilitation Division.

"Providing the poorest families with a minimum of agricultural inputs is a first step for them to resume food production," she said. "Especially pastoralists are in urgent need of support."

Helping pastoralists to save their animals

Livestock diseases such as anthrax, black leg, bovine and ovine pasteurellosis are spreading in SNNPR and could even threaten other regions or neighbouring countries, FAO warned.

Veterinary services in pastoral areas are poorly equipped for vaccination campaigns. FAO therefore proposed strengthening veterinary services and training veterinary staff.

Where necessary, vaccines should be provided to protect animals against diseases. Around 30 000 pastoral families would benefit from these interventions.

Drought has killed many farm animals in pastoral areas, FAO said. The agency will therefore assist in setting up fodder banks to feed animals during drought and dry seasons.

Improved feed supply to lactating and reproductive animals, such as cows, sheep and goats, will increase milk availability especially for children and will also contribute to faster recovery of herds and flocks.

Funding for livestock emergency feed has been insignificant so far to cover the needs.

FAO is planning to distribute more than 3 million sweet potato cuttings and vegetable seeds to the poorest farmers in SNNPR. About 50 000 farm families would benefit from this project.

Ethiopia's dilemma

The UN agency stressed that food insecurity in Ethiopia is mostly chronic and mainly linked with structural causes and poverty, and aggravated by recurring disasters, caused by nature and people.

The number of vulnerable people has increased over the past decade, despite an increase in food aid and development assistance. There are several reasons for this trend, FAO said.

The annual agricultural growth, for example, averages 2.4 percent compared to a population growth rate of 2.8 percent. This increases Ethiopia's annual food deficit.

In addition, agricultural policies in the rural sector have yet to address structural problems inhibiting growth and aggravating poverty.

Overall, there has been a trend towards declining investment in the deficit areas, whilst surplus producing areas were continually affected by volatile prices that are hindering further investment.

There is also very little integration between surplus and deficit areas. Poor marketing and transport infrastructure compound the problems of a weak agricultural sector. Present trends in marketing continue to benefit urban dwellers, at the expense of the rural sector.

The combination of relief and development resources should improve the economic viability of small farmers and lift them out of poverty and chronic hunger.

In this regard, the government of Ethiopia, together with the World Bank, FAO and other UN agencies, donors and non-governmental organizations, haslaunched the New Coalition for Food Security.

Erwin Northoff
Information Officer, FAO
(+39) 06 570 53105