FAO helps feed vulnerable herder communities in Ethiopia

FAO destocking activities increase financial stability and livelihoods of herder communities.

Key facts

In Somali Region, in southeast Ethiopia, the ongoing drought – the most severe in half a century due to the effects of El Niño – has caused critical feed and water shortages, resulting in abnormal migrations and widespread livestock deaths. Most of the region’s population is dependent on animals as a source of both food and income, but as the lean season continues, these households are experiencing a rapid deterioration in food security and increased risk of malnutrition. To safeguard the livelihoods of pastoralists affected by the drought and provide time-critical support to people in dire need, FAO implemented an intervention in nine communities in the three worst-affected districts of Siti Zone – Erer, Hadagala and Shinile – in collaboration with the regional Livestock and Pastoralist Development Bureau (LPDB). The project aimed to enhance the financial stability of some 2 200 households and nutritional intake of more than 4 500 families through the purchase of livestock and provision of protein-rich meat. By offering fair prices for the local purchase of already weak sheep and goats, the project created local markets. The purchased animals were then made available for immediate, local slaughter to ensure the availability of meat for displaced local families.

In the worst-affected areas of Somali Region, households dependent on their animals – mainly sheep, goats, cattle and camels – have seen most, or all, of their herd perish as a result of insufficient feed and water. Many have reported death tolls in the range of one to two hundred heads.

For livestock herders like Mahmud Omer from Bisle, the drought almost decimated their livelihood. “I sent my best animals, the ones that could make the trek, with some herders heading to Somaliland, where we had heard there was rain,” he said. “The trip took 19 days, and they found no pasture. The animals were so weakened from the long walk that they could not turn back. I was told that most of them died.”

Creating local markets and economies
Having lost their main source of income, thousands of pastoralists settled close to villages in makeshift camps, housing themselves and what few animals remained in low shelters made of sticks, mats and repurposed tarp. Increasing concentrations of people and livestock have been straining extremely limited and already degraded natural resources.

FAO partnered with LPDB to purchase, at fair prices, weak livestock from displaced pastoralists, which helped boost local economies. “Even if we could sell our animals in the conditions in which they were, there was no functioning market and the animals were too weak to travel to the bigger towns,” said Mahmud. “FAO helped us by bringing the market to our doorstep.”

The project aided pastoralists to focus their limited resources on the remaining livestock. That enhanced the animals’ chance of survival through to the rainy season.

Providing access to protein-rich meat
The purchased animals were provided to displaced families for immediate, local slaughter, especially to single mothers with more than one mouth to feed. Halima Hassan, a mother of six from Aydora had been eating one meal a day of mostly dry grain. “We used to mix the food aid with milk, but my animals had stopped producing for months,” she said. Owing to the sociocultural and financial importance of livestock, meat is rare and eaten only on special occasions.

With support from FAO, vulnerable households like Halima’s now have access to animal protein for the first time in months.

FAO and the LPDB ensured the overall quality of the intervention through multiple measures: 

  • Prices for livestock were set with local government officials to ensure that families were not encouraged to destock based on cash incentives.
  • To safeguard the eventual regeneration of herds, core breeding stock were not selected for purchase.
  • Prior to both slaughter and meat distribution, all sheep and goats were inspected by an animal health expert and meat inspectors.
  • Purchased animals with signs of disease or severe emaciation were condemned for immediate disposal.

As part of its El Niño Response Plan, FAO in Ethiopia is appealing for US$ 50 million, of which US$ 3 million is urgently needed to reach vulnerable households with emergency livestock feed support. An additional US$ 7 million is required for voucher-based supplementary feed provision, community-level fodder production support and restocking households with small ruminants.

*names have been changed to protect identities.

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