4 November 2003, Addis Ababa/Rome -- Over 70 000 drought-affected families in the Ethiopian provinces of Amhara and Tigray are receiving late-planting crop seeds in a bid to help the region's farming sector recover, FAO said on Tuesday.

Thanks to generous funding from Canada, some 350 500 drought-affected people in the regions of Amhara and Tigray are being given seeds of late-planting pulses such as chickpeas, lentils and vetch.

Late-planting carrot, cabbage, tomato, onion, beetroot and spinach seeds are also being distributed to selected farmers, women and youth groups.

"Prolonged drought and poor and delayed rains have led to the widespread loss of high-yielding crops such as maize and sorghum,'' the FAO Emergency Coordination Unit in Ethiopia said.

''Vulnerable households have been unable to either save seeds from previous harvests or to buy new seeds to plant, and are extremely food insecure," FAO said.

"Reasonable harvests and the long-term improvement in the food security situation cannot be expected if households do not have seeds to plant."

Chickpeas, lentils, pulses against food insecurity

The distribution of food crop seeds will help improve the nutritional status of households and help families generate extra food which can be used as a safety net and a source of income thus reducing their dependency on emergency food aid, FAO said.

An estimated 13.2 million people in Ethiopia are in need of emergency assistance, according to the UN agency, due mainly to structural causes, poverty and recurrent natural disasters.

Planted at the end of the main rainy season, late-planting crops and varieties are sown in time for harvesting during Ethiopia's most important cropping season, the Meher, at the end of December and the beginning of January.

The crops grow using residual soil moisture

A total of 1 555 tonnes of pulse seeds have been bought and are being distributed by FAO in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture, Non Governmental Organizations and various seed survey and beneficiary selection committees in the country.

FAO said some 17 500 hectares of land will be cultivated as a result of the seed distribution and are expected to yield some 14 500 tonnes of grain pulses in the Amhara and Tigray provinces.

Over 2 500 hectares of land will be covered with vegetable crops as a result of the 6795 kgs of vegetable seeds distributed under the same Canadian-funded project.

Watering the harvest

In line with the Government of Ethiopia's policy, in return for the agricultural inputs and relief assistance such as seeds, households will carry out various community-based activities on employment generation schemes - regenerating water management projects, for example.

Occasional but intense floods have destroyed some of the canals, small dams and diversion weirs set up as a result of water management projects in both provinces.

Rebuilding this kind of infrastructure is becoming beyond the capacity of local farmers.

"There is an important educational component to this project," FAO said, "Farmers will be trained in modern crop production techniques, seed selection, and water management procedures. By assisting today's food-insecure households, we may be producing the self-sufficient, self-reliant households of tomorrow."
Stephanie Holmes
Information Officer, FAO
(+39) 06 570 56350