14 January 2004, Rome -- Despite a good harvest, 7.2 million people still require assistance to meet minimum food requirements in 2004, according to a joint report released today by two United Nations agencies. Last year, 13.2 million Ethiopians needed food assistance.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) report, "Well-distributed seasonal rains that began on time and continued until late September/October in the main production areas resulted in an upsurge of grain production in the 2003 meher season."

Seed support programmes helped ensure access to seeds in most regions and increased use of improved seed and fertilizer also contributed to "the marked improvement in yields over last year."

Livestock mortality declines

National cereal and pulse production in the meher season is forecast at 13.05 million tonnes, about 46 percent above 2002/03 and 11 percent above the last five years average.

The report says the overall agricultural performance in 2003 was much better than last year, primarily due to favourable weather conditions. Incentives to invest were also greater following higher prices since November 2002.

Much better rainfall in the central highlands and in the north-eastern pastoral areas and improved livestock condition reduced livestock mortality rates and removed the need for early migration of herds and flocks, according to the report.

Grain prices expected to fall

Despite these overall improvements, the report estimates that Ethiopia will still need 980 000 tonnes of food relief for 2004, compared with 1.8 million tonnes in 2003. It estimates the total grain import requirements in 2004 at 210 000 tonnes of which 50 000 tonnes are expected to be imported commercially. Confirmed food aid commitments stand at 160 000 tonnes.

Following the poor harvest in 2002/03 grain prices rose sharply and have remained high compared to the same period last year owing to a reduced supply on the market.

However, says the report, the prospects of a good crop this year are expected to cause prices to decline once the harvest comes in.

Such severe price volatility hurts producers as well as consumers. The report says, "the need for effective price stabilization can not be overemphasized" and recommends the use of local purchases as the main tool for securing cereals and pulses for food aid programmes in the coming year.

The report is based on the findings of a joint FAO/WFP mission that visited Ethiopia from 5 November to 6 December 2003.
John Riddle
FAO Information Officer
(+39) 06 570 53259

Robin Lodge
WFP Public Affairs
(+39) 06 651 32330