In 1993, Eritrea emerged from an independence war that lasted more than three decades, but the country fell back into conflict with Yemen and then its former ruler Ethiopia in the years that followed. With Eritrea’s independence, Ethiopia became a landlocked country, and so borders and trade tariffs remain a source of friction.
An armed conflict with Ethiopia broke out again in 1998 and ended in 2000, leaving tens of thousands of people dead.
Conflict, drought and high food prices
About 80 percent of Eritrea’s population relies on subsistence farming; however, decades of war, displacement and a prolonged drought affecting the entire Horn of Africa have decimated crops and livestock.
These events, combined with high food prices, have made rural households in Eritrea even more food insecure. Malnutrition rates, especially for women and children, are high.
Agricultural production low
Agricultural production in the country has been stymied by the limited availability of high quality seeds, water shortages and crop disease.
According to the Eritrean government, the country only manages to produce about 60 percent of its cereal needs during productive years, and only about 25 percent during lean years. As a result, Eritrea relies on imports to make up the difference.
European Union Food Facility
In July 2009, FAO launched a two-year project aimed at restoring a minimum food-producing capacity among Eritrea’s most vulnerable people. With funds from the European Union totalling €3.4 million, the project is expected to benefit around 12 080 households (approximately 60 400 people).
The project is following a twin-track approach to respond rapidly to farmers’ needs and to make a more lasting contribution to the development of the National Seed Programme.
Quality, drought-resistant seeds will be generated from crops currently being grown and then distributed to households in 2010. The main beneficiaries include drought-affected families, internally displaced people and female-headed households. Attention is being given to seed sector development activities, including research, quality control, processing, storage and a seed growers’ programme.
Building on a number of ongoing FAO initiatives, this project includes a component on integrated pest management, helping to pave the way for sustainable intensification of crop production.
The project is also involved in increasing the livestock production capacity of 1 280 vulnerable households. To this end, work is being done to set up a small-scale animal rearing programme and to distribute sheep and dairy goats to beneficiaries for milk and meat production.
Funds are being used to improve water management capacity in this drought-prone country through a small-scale irrigation programme. The water harvesting activities are in line with the government’s food security policy and strategy and with the food security programmes of the UN Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF).
Efforts are being made to ensure links and mutual optimization among the project’s different components.
Other FAO activities
Through a Technical Cooperation Programme (TCP) project worth USD500 000, FAO assisted the government by supplying seed potato (cuttings) to 1400 vulnerable farming families in Eritrea.
Eritrea has also benefited from a regional TCP project involved in the distribution of agricultural inputs, capacity-building, and the monitoring and evaluating of programmes implemented in response to the food price crisis.
The UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) gave just under USD 800 000 to provide parent stock chicken, animal feed and related equipment and materials to reinforce the capacity of poultry production in the country. The overarching goal is to satisfy domestic demand and to reduce import requirements.