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Timely seed distributions in Ethiopia boost crop yields, strengthen communities’ resilience

FAO support reinforces food security response to one of the worst El Niño-induced droughts on record

7 October 2016, Rome  - Ethiopia is about to complete one of the largest and most successful  seed distribution campaigns in the country's history, aimed at helping farmers to stay on their feet in the face of a blistering drought caused by El Niño, FAO said today.

More than 32 000 tonnes of seed have been distributed to around 1.7 million food and nutrition insecure households across Ethiopia's six major regions by the Government, FAO, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other humanitarian agencies. 

FAO has coordinated this massive campaign in close collaboration with the Government. These joint efforts have enhanced preparations for the critical summer meher planting season, from which an estimated 85 percent of Ethiopia's food supply is derived.

FAO's impact on household food consumption

To date, FAO has directly distributed close to 4 000 tonnes of seed to 168 000 households. An estimated 78 000 hectares of land have been cultivated and will likely yield close to 170 000 tonnes of crop production. 

With an estimated average of one tonne of crops per household per annum, or about 0.2 tonnes per person, the beneficiary families may now be able to meet their minimum food requirements for at least eight to ten months.

The El Niño-induced drought resulted in two failed planting seasons in 2015 in heavily agriculture-dependent Ethiopia, decimating household seed supplies across the country and severely compromising national food security. The drought led to 10.2 million people requiring emergency food and livelihoods assistance at the start of 2016. It is now estimated that around 9.7 million Ethiopians still require assistance.

Making a difference in the livelihoods of Ethiopia's farmers

A recent FAO assessment concluded that the emergency seed distribution operation will have a significant positive impact on the 2016/17 harvest.

"Projections are that Ethiopia's 2016/17 harvest will be average to above average - a massive achievement coming on the heels of one of the worst droughts in recent memory," said Amadou Allahoury, FAO Representative in Ethiopia. "Both the Government and humanitarian agencies moved quickly to assist communities impacted by the drought crisis, an effort we are proud to support," he added.

FAO conducted the assessment in August and September 2016 in areas that were most impacted by the drought, with particular focus on the heavily crop-dependent regions of Amhara, Oromiya, Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples and Tigray. About half of the beneficiaries from randomly selected households surveyed after the distribution indicated that their livelihoods would have been in jeopardy had they not received emergency seed for the meher cropping season.

"I thought that I would not be able to plant any wheat this year. When the village committee notified me that I would receive seeds I was so relieved that I would be able to continue to work my land and feed my family," said Mitiku Tefera, a smallholder farmer in Werababo, South Wollo, located in the highlands of Amhara region.

Over 93 percent of beneficiaries reported that agricultural inputs had been distributed to them on time for the 2016 meher season and that they received their preferred type of seed. Critically, they overwhelmingly reported that the seed was of good quality.

"While input distributions were essential for the cropping season and enabled farmers to plant, it is now critical to continue building their resilience to withstand climate-related extreme events. These are becoming more and more frequent - a ‘new normal' in Ethiopia and more generally in eastern Africa" said Dominique Burgeon, Director of FAO's Emergency and Rehabilitation Division, following his visit to the worst drought affected areas.

"Pastoralists have also been badly hit, and efforts must be accelerated to protect their livestock, particularly core breeding stock, in order for families to rebuild their livelihoods," Burgeon added. FAO undertook a comprehensive livestock response, including providing emergency fodder seed, feed along the migratory routes, water point rehabilitation and animal treatments and vaccinations.  

Future work and needs

It is estimated that Ethiopia needs an additional $45 million for the crop and livestock sectors to rehabilitate affected farmers and pastoralists, bringing the total requirement for the country's agriculture sector to $91.3 million since the beginning of 2016.

The bulk of this funding, about $36.2 million, aims to support animal health activities, such as vaccinations and treatments, with more than 2.4 million livestock-dependent households now requiring assistance until the end of the year.  

As of October 2016, FAO mobilized about $14 million to respond to the crisis. The Organization is urgently requesting an additional $14 million to support livestock-dependent families in affected regions until the end of 2016.

In order to boost the resilience of crop and livestock-dependent communities, FAO is currently developing a resilience strategy for Ethiopia to support the Government and partners' efforts with technical expertise and capacities. 

Photo: ©FAO/Giulio Napolitano
Seed distributions help farmers in Ethiopia bounce back after El Nino.