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Despite average Meher production, currency devaluation drives atypically high food prices

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Ethiopia
  • December 2019
Despite average Meher production, currency devaluation drives atypically high food prices

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  • Key Messages
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    Key Messages
    • National Meher production is expected to be average with localized areas of below average production due to the impact of poor Kiremt rainfall, the ongoing desert locust infestation, and unseasonable rainfall. In parts of northeastern Amhara and Tigray along the Tekeze river catchment and Belg producing parts of Amhara and Tigray, parts of SNNPR, and lowlands of East and West Hararghe Zones in Oromia Regions, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are present. In most areas where Stressed (IPC Phase 2) are present, outcomes are expected to deteriorate to Crisis (IPC Phase 3). This is the result of the below average harvest and atypically high food prices.

    • The significantly above-average performance of the October to December Deyr/Hagaya rains is expected to have long-term benefits on vegetative and pasture conditions and water availability. This will likely facilitate the improvement of livestock conditions, household access to milk, and food security outcomes from Crisis (IPC Phase 3) to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) across much of Somali region in January/February. In riverine areas affected by flooding particularly along the Shabelle River, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected among some households until the harvest is available in March 2020.  

    • According to the Central Statistics Authority, annual inflation was 20.8 percent in November 2019, the highest inflation rate since August 2012. The Government devaluated the Birr (ETB) against the US Dollar (USD) by nearly 0.35 percent daily in the past month. This devaluation resulted in price increases for some imported items, keeping staple food prices atypically high as transportation costs are high and increasing. Staple food prices will likely remain near their current levels, higher than last year and five-year average despite the ongoing Meher harvest.


    Despite the impacts of an erratic 2019 Kiremt season, desert locusts, and unseasonable rains, which resulted in localized crop losses, national Meher crop production prospects remain near average. Currently, most households access to food has improved due to consumption of own Meher production or purchasing food from local markets. Most households are earning average levels of income from agricultural labor opportunities.

    According to satellite derived estimates, rainfall from early September through mid-December has been 150 to 200 percent above the long-term mean across most parts of the country, specifically, in Somali and Amhara regions. From late-October to mid-December areas of Amhara, Tigray, Oromia, SNNPR, and Beshangul Gumeze received light to moderate rainfall. Across much of the country this resulted in among some of the wettest October to December periods on the historical record.  Although, the largest rainfall totals were 50 to 75 mm over the two-month period in areas of SNNPR, Oromia, Amhara, and Tigray. This caused seed shattering of some ripening crops such as teff and haricot beans; leading to localized crop losses. In northeastern Amhara, East and West Hararghe, and southern Tigray, rainfall was favorable mostly for short-cycle crops planted late in July and August. This is due to the significant moisture deficits in June and early-July. Long-maturing crops like maize and sorghum are being harvested in surplus-producing areas in western Amhara, SNNPR, and Oromia Regions. Additionally, short-maturing Meher crops in lowland and midland areas are mostly harvested in Tigray, eastern Amhara, and Oromia.

    Desert locusts have infested crop lands and rangeland in northern and southeastern Tigray, northeastern Amhara, and areas of East and West Hararghe zones of Oromia, Afar, and Dire Dawa. According to OCHA and field reports, in Amhara over 97,000 hectares (ha) of crops and 43,000 ha of rangeland, and another 70,000 ha of land has been infested by desert locust swarms. However, according to FEWS NET field assessments, well-coordinated efforts by farmers, local communities, and the government implementing control measures have prevented widespread crop and pasture losses. Communication was an important tool to track swarms and households harvested crops early to prevent locust damage as information was relayed to them. This control scheme involved significant resources from Regional Bureaus of Agriculture diverting funding from regular planned activities such as extension and veterinary services and agronomic and horticulture activities. Further funding and assistance are required to replenish these funds for normal government supported activities to continue in early 2020. In Tigray and most areas affected by desert locusts were successful at controlling the locusts through mid-December without causing significant loss and damage. Some of the worst-affected areas include Bati and Dawe Harawa woredas in Oromiya Zone of Amhara Region where an estimated 30 percent of sorghum crops were lost.

    Flooding in Somali region during the 2019 Deyr/Hagaya season damaged nearly 17,500 hectares of standing riverine crops and nearly 10,000 livestock were lost. The largest crop losses were in Kalafo and Mustahil woredas along the Shabelle River. Additionally, about 140,000 people were displaced in 14 woredas. The immediate impacts of flooding decreased agriculture labor opportunities and availability of crops; however, as flood waters receded households have planted short-maturing crops for offseason cultivation since soil moisture is above average.

    Across most southern and southeastern pastoral areas, the availability of pasture and water has increased and is above normal. Livestock have largely returned to seasonally normal grazing areas with body conditions improving as pasture is readily available. Field reports indicate an increase in milk production per livestock and conceptions; however, camel milk availability has declined as the number of camels conceived last year was limited. Medium to high goat and sheep births has been observed.

    Southern areas of Afar and northern Somali Regions also received late unseasonal rainfall after a relatively normal performance Karma/Karan rains. This increased the availability of water and grazing land leading to normal livestock body conditions and productivity. Most livestock are in normal grazing areas and are yet to migrate to typical dry season pastures. However, in northern Afar due to the poor 2019 Kiremt season, livestock conception was minimal due to limited pasture.

    The start of the Meher harvest in October and November, has increased market supply leading to a stabilization in staple food prices in most markets; however, staple food prices remain higher than normal in most markets. According to DPPCO, in November 2019, maize prices in Jijiga and Gode markets of Somali Region were 81 and 47 percent higher than the five-year average, respectively. Similarly, November 2019 sorghum prices in Woldia market were 75 and 183 percent higher than the same time last year and the five-year average, respectively (Figure 2). Sorghum prices in October in Mehoni market were 73 percent above last year’s prices. The continuous devaluation of Ethiopia currency since November 2019 along with seasonally poor road conditions caused reduction in supply of both imported and locally produced staple foods resulting in atypically high prices and some atypical food price increases in areas of the country. In Somali Region, the above average rainfall has negatively impacted road conditions and disrupted trade routes leading to atypical price increases.

    Livestock prices across the country remained mostly stable, although above average due to good body conditions and stable market demand. Prices for breeding goats and sheep have increased due to improved body conditions and increased domestic demand for restocking following Eid al-Adha in October. In Gode market, the price of breeding goats and sheep is 133 percent above prices from the same time last year.

    In areas where the Meher harvest is ongoing, household reliance on own foods is increasing and market demand is decreasing. As a result, these areas are in Minimal (IPC Phase 1). The areas worst affected by desert locusts and moisture stress in Amhara are currently in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) as the result of crop losses and reduction in agriculture opportunities. In Somali region, areas affected by flooding will continue to face Stressed (IPC Phase 2); however, it is expected that there are some households within most of these areas in Crisis (IPC Phase 3). The delayed and below average Belg harvest coupled with atypically high prices and below-average incomes have resulted in decreased food access. As a result, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are likely across many Belg producing areas in northeastern Amhara, southern Tigray, and agro-pastoral areas of Afar. Poor pastoral households in northern Afar are currently in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) due to moisture stress of crops. Likewise, southern and southeastern Somali and lowlands of Borena, Guji, Bale, East and West Hararghe Zones of Oromia Regions are currently in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) as a result of ethnic conflict causing displacement and restricted movement for pastoralist in search of pasture and water.  


    The assumptions used to develop FEWS NET’s most likely scenario for the Ethiopia Food Security Outlook for October 2019 to May 2020 remain unchanged, except for the following:

    • Desert locusts are expected to form swarms in previously and currently infested areas which have the potential to cause crop and pasture damage following the February to May 2020 rainfall season if control measures are properly put in place.


    The food security situation across much of the country is expected to remain stable through May 2020 as the result of households accessing own foods from Meher production, the positive impacts of above-average Deyr/Hagaya rainfall, and near normal access to labor opportunities by most households. Localized areas with below-average Meher harvest including areas of central and eastern Amhara and Tigray are expected to be in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3). Specifically, poor households along the Tekeze River in Wag Hemera Zone and North and South Wollo Zones of Amhara, southern Tigray, and in the lowlands of East and West Hararghe in Oromia will have difficulty accessing food due to the anticipated below average Meher production in these areas. As a result, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are anticipated to emerge in these areas. Most parts of Belg dependent SNNPR will most likely be in Stressed (IPC Phase 2); however, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to persist in areas affected by conflict along the Oromia border.

    In most areas of Afar and Somali Regions, livestock body conditions and productivity will most likely be stable or improving, increasing household access to income and food. Although as herd sizes remain below average Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected in most areas. Consecutive poor rainy seasons in northeastern Afar and deteriorated livestock productivity and reproduction is expected to continue to restrict household incomes. As a result, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are most likely. Bordering areas of Oromia and Somali Regions are expected to remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) as pastoralists’ movements are expected to be restricted due to continued insecurity.


    Figure 1


    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 2

    Figure 1

    Source: USB CHC

    Figure 3

    Figure 2

    Source: DRMFSS

    This Food Security Outlook Update provides an analysis of current acute food insecurity conditions and any changes to FEWS NET's latest projection of acute food insecurity outcomes in the specified geography over the next six months. Learn more here.

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