Ethiopia has staved off worst of El Niño, but possible impacts of La Niña looming large

$45 million additional funding urgently needed to support Ethiopian agriculture

12 August 2016, Rome - With this year's main planting season winding down in Ethiopia, there is still a small window of opportunity in September for farmers to plant the last set of crops this year and grow food for millions facing hunger, provided the necessary support arrives on time.

The newly released Mid-Year Review of the Ethiopia Humanitarian Requirements Document (HRD) - developed jointly by the Government of Ethiopia and UN agencies, non-governmental organizations and other development partners- indicates that 900 000 additional households need urgent agricultural support bringing the total number to 2.9 million in August. Meeting additional agricultural sector needs  will require $45 million bringing the total requirement for the agriculture sector to $91.3 million for 2016.

The overall food security situation has improved only slightly, with the number of people requiring emergency food assistance having decreased from 10.2 million to 9.7 since the beginning of the year. 

The El Niño-induced drought caused a wide-scale failure of crops and loss of livestock critical to the livelihoods of farmers and agropastoralists. The drought is being followed by seasonal floods, which have already led to crop damage and the inundation of pastures and may be further exacerbated by a phenomenon called La Niña, expected from October onwards.

"If floods worsen later this year, there could be outbreaks of crop and livestock diseases, further reducing agricultural productivity and complicating recovery," said Amadou Allahoury, FAO Representative to Ethiopia.

"The situation is critical now. We must make sure that farmers will be able to plant between now and September and grow enough food to feed themselves and their families thus avoiding millions of people having to rely on food assistance for another year. Ethiopia needs urgent global support to respond to its humanitarian needs, we have no time to procrastinate," Allahoury added.

The meher season is Ethiopia's main agricultural season and produces up to 85 percent of the nation's food supplies. If the farmers do not plant enough now, Ethiopia may face significant food shortages, which may further exacerbate food and nutrition insecurity in the country.

To ensure the last remaining planting window of the year is met, an estimated $8.8 million is needed to provide root crop planting materials, legumes, vegetable and cereal seed to 530 000 households.

FAO estimates that households who lost small ruminants such as sheep may need at least two years to return to pre-drought levels, while cattle-owning households may need up to four years to recover. Animals that survived the recent drought are still weak and susceptible to diseases during the rainy periods; $36.2 million is required to undertake the necessary interventions to support 2.4 million livestock-dependent households (or 12 million people).

Preparing for La Niña

According to meteorological reports, a La Niña event is 55 percent likely for October to November and will have two major impacts on Ethiopia: flooding in the dominantly highland areas and additional drought in the lowland livestock-dependent areas of Oromia and Somali regions. FAO is supporting the Government to prepare a contingency plan to address the upcoming needs.

FAO's response to the crisis

With resources received, FAO has already provided agricultural inputs to 127 000 households (635 000 people) in drought-affected regions including Amhara, Afar, Oromia, Tigray, Somali and SNNP. So far, nearly 3 700 metric tons of seed and 5.8  million potato cuttings have been delivered to affected communities. Additional vegetable and late season crop seed are being purchased and will be distributed between August and September 2016.

FAO has provided critical support to livestock-owning families. The organization provided livestock feed, fodder seed to rejuvenate pasture, and rehabilitated water points for livestock. FAO has supported the government to vaccinate and treat some 1.4 million animals. However, large numbers of animals has been weakened by the drought and are exposed to diseases as the result of the recent floods. The organization is planning to expand the vaccinations and treatment campaigns.

In order to increase the coverage of both farmers and livestock keepers affected by the drought and current floods, FAO requires $10 million by the end of September 2016.  

Photo: ©FAO/Giulio Napolitano
A farmer near Bahir Dar, Ethiopia, tilling the soil with cattle and plough before the planting process.