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The Belg rains were two to eight weeks late.

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Ethiopia
  • April - September 2012
The Belg rains were two to eight weeks late.

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  • Key Messages
  • Most likely food security scenario, April to September 2012
  • Partner
    Key Messages
    • According to the humanitarian requirements document (HRD) of the Government of Ethiopia, around 3.2 million people continue to require emergency food assistance through June 2012. However, the level of needs is highly likely to increase throughout the April to September scenario period as a result of below-normal crop and livestock production following the late start and below-average February to May rains in 2012. The sweet potato-growing zones of Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples Region (SNNPR) and major Belg-cropping areas in the northeastern highlands and the southern woredas of SNNPR will be the most affected areas.

    • Despite the good rains during the 2011 October to December season, high needs for humanitarian assistance are likely to persist in the southern and southeastern pastoral and agropastoral areas as the food insecurity situation remains precarious due to the effects of repeated droughts in 2010 and 2011 and the anticipated below-normal rainfall during the current season to be followed by the long dry season during the July to September period. 

    • The atypical rises in staple cereal prices at the beginning of 2012 have shown temporary stability in March with exceptions in Mekele and Dire Dawa. However, due to the poorly performing current rains, additional price increases are likely from May to September as stocks are depleted. 

    Most likely food security scenario, April to September 2012

    The western parts of the country which typically produce a grain surplus remained generally food secure and are classified as No Acute Food Insecurity (IPC Phase 1) throughout the scenario period. However, poorer households in the eastern half and southern parts of the country will continue to experience food security outcomes classified between Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Emergency (IPC Phase 4) throughout the April and September 2012 scenario period. The depletion of household stocks from previous harvests, especially during the June to September lean season in most parts of the Meher-dominant areas of the country, the seasonal but unusually high increases in staple food prices, and the poor prospects for crop and livestock production during the current February to May Belg season are likely to negatively impact the ability of households to access food.

    Current staple grain prices are above the five-year averages and nearing the record high prices of 2008 (Figure 5). According to the Central Statistical Agency (CSA), the annual, nationwide, consumer food price inflation rate stood at 45 percent in March 2012.

    The onset of the 2012 February to May Gu/Genna/Belg rains was late by two to eight weeks across the country. This season’s rains are the major rains for the southern and southeastern pastoral and agropastoral areas and the major Belg-producing highlands in eastern Amhara which typically harvest their primary season in June or July. The rains are also important for crop production in bimodal areas such as parts of SNNPR and the East and West Hararghe zones of eastern Oromia. Most importantly, long-cycle, high-yielding maize and sorghum crops which typically provide about 40 percent of the national annual cereal production depend on these rains. This requires planting once the rains start for the Belg, but the rains continue into the next season. Inadequate rains at the start of the season have prevented adequate land preparation for long-cycle crops. The availability of effective rains in the remainder of the season will remain crucial for the planting and early growth of these crops. The soil moisture in the western parts of the country where the precipitation is normally high will be adequate for agricultural activities during the April to May period for long-cycle crops.

    The most likely scenario for April through September 2012 is based on the following major, nationwide assumptions:

    • Despite the improvement of the season since the middle of April, the overall performance of the February to May (Gu/Genna/Belg) rains will likely be below-normal providing ~60 to ~85 percent of normal rainfall totals though erratic and unevenly distributed.
    • Livestock to cereal terms of trade (ToT) will decline as the pastoral resources are depleted due to lack of adequate rains in the remainder of the season. This will be followed by further deterioration during the July to September dry period in the southern and southeastern pastoral and agro pastoral areas.
    • Despite temporary stability in March 2012, staple food prices are likely to show unusual rises between May and September 2012 given the poor prospect of the Belg harvests and the depletion of Meher stocks.
    • Resource transfers under the national Productive Safety Net Program (PSNP) are assumed to take place as planned through June. Distributions are expected to be extended for two to three additional months as a result of increased relief needs in the PSNP woredas using the risk financing funds.
    • The 2012 Kiremt rains from June to September are expected to be near average and will improve water and pasture availability and enhance Meher agricultural activities.

    Eastern Meher marginal producing areas

    The Belg rains which normally begin around the middle of February in the eastern Meher marginal production areas did not start until the end of March this year. This has affected timely and proper land preparation for Meher crop planting which normally takes place between March and April. The performance of the rains improved in amount and special distribution at the beginning of April.

    Many areas received moderate rainfall during April. However, in some of the zones, especially in the lowlands, the rains have been poor and erratic. These include parts of North Wollo and North Shewa of Amhara (Meket, Wadla, Lasta, Ankober, and Mida Woremo woredas), the Oromia zone of North Shewa, and parts of East and West Hararghe, and Arsi and West Arsi zones of Oromia. In the wheat, barley, and potato (WBP) livelihood zone of East and West Hararghe zone, for example, Belg crops including barley, potato, and haricot beans are normally planted in March and harvested in May and June. Long-cycle crops mainly maize and sorghum are planted in April and harvested in December. The delayed harvest of Belg crops will overlap with the time for planting short-cycle crops in June and July for the major Meher production season. In the major Belg-producing highlands of eastern Amhara, some farmers continued planting Belg crops in April. Harvests are likely to be extremely delayed with significant losses due to both the effects of frost and likely excessive Kiremt rains during the harvest.

    Population density is high in Amhara region in North and South Wollo’s highland, Belg-dependent livelihood zones. There are around 800,000 residents. Crop production only occurs during the February to May Belg season. In years where Belg crops are planted too late or Belg rains are insufficient throughout the season, the crops are used as fodder. In the Raya Valley livelihood zone (RVL) of southern Tigray, households planted teff in April on a limited scale. However, they normally plant between February and March. This delayed planting with reduced planted area is typical across the Belg-dependent areas of the northeastern highlands as the Belg rains are becoming more irregular year after year. Overall, Belg production in southern Tigray, North and South Wollo, North Shewa, and the East Hararghe and West Hararghe zones of central and eastern Oromia is likely to be substantially below average due to the late onset of the season. Planting of long-cycle crops remains possible in April in the midlands and in May in the lowlands. However, unless land preparation is already completed, most farmers will likely switch to short-maturing, low-yielding crops.

    With the progress of the current rains, access to water is improved in most areas. Critical water problems ceased in parts of West Arsi, eastern Amhara, and parts of Tigray. In West Arsi, for example, emergency water trucking operations that have been ongoing in the past few months are now suspended. Nonetheless, in East and West Hararghe, the rainfall so far has not been adequate to bring about a noticeable improvement on water availability. Thus emergency water interventions continue in all woredas except Meisso.

    Due to the ongoing assistance such as the PSNP and emergency food aid distributions, food access remains stable. Poorer households in most of these areas are currently Stressed (IPC Phase 2) though they are dependent on continuing assistance to cover their needs. The ongoing PSNP distribution until June 2012 and its possible extension through the risk financing mechanisms should cover many households through September. As long as agricultural labor between July and September would be normal, a similar level of food insecurity is likely to continue throughout the scenario period though households will have diminishing stocks from the last harvest that occurred between October 2011 and January 2012. They are likely to need additional income due to rising staple food prices during the June to September lean season. On the other hand, in the major Belg-growing areas in the eastern highlands, in parts of East and West Hararghe, and in Wag Himra zone of Amhara, households will be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) between April and September as a result of being in the leans season that follows the substantially below average Belg harvest in 2011. With the expected substantially below average Belg harvest in 2012 and continued high staple food prices, along with poor supplies from the Meher harvest in 2011 in Wag Hamira zone, households will remain in this phase throughout the scenario period.

    Major sweet potato-growing zones in SNNPR and dominantly Belg-cropping woredas of southern SNNPR

    The Meher harvest in 2011 was well below average in parts of SNNPR. As of early 2012, poor households in many Belg-dependent areas had already reached Stressed and Crisis-level food insecurity (IPC Phase 2 and3) due to a below-average March to July 2011 root crop and subsequent poor cereal harvests. Due to poor harvests, taro consumption, which normally begins in November, started as early as July, further depleting already low root crop stocks.

    Planting of root crops was timely in late 2011, and typically households rely on root crops such as sweet potatoes during the March to May lean season. However, the area planted was constrained by a shortage of sweet potato cuttings due to successive poor harvests since 2008. Poor Sapie rains in December and January began to stress root crops and the early season dryness created favorable conditions for pest infestation, particularly the sweet potato butterfly (acrea acereta). The onset of Belg rains this year was then delayed by six weeks not arriving until the end of March. The combination of extended dryness and pests severely damaged the already moisture-stressed sweet potato crop. This water stress also reduced the availability of vegetables like cabbage which are also consumed during the March to May lean season. A near complete failure of the sweet potato harvests is therefore likely in the major sweet potato growing woredas of Wolayita, Kembata, Gamu Gofa, and Hadiya zones of SNNPR. As a result, the market supplies of root crops, a key lean-season food source are low, and prices are high. In Durmae market of Kembta zone, the January to March average maize prices in 2012 was higher by 30 percent from the January to March average prices in 2011. Sweet potatoes are almost non-existent in most of the markets. Local market prices are also high for maize, haricot beans, and enset, limiting food access. Some households have taken to consuming immature enset.

    The early dryness of the season has also prevented land preparation and planting of Belg crops such as maize and haricot beans over February and March. Even though heavy rains have occurred in April, if households plant now, they will not be able to start consuming green maize until the end of July. Reduced income from agricultural labor migration is also possible over the coming months as the increased supply of households seeking additional cash resources for food purchases depresses wages. In Wolayita maize and root crop (WMR) livelihood zone, the very poor and poor households generate around 70 and 40 percent of their annual cash income from labor, respectively. These households spend a significant portion of their income on staple purchases, particularly during the lean season until the Belg harvests begin in June. The poor spend around 55 percent of their income while the very poor spend around 70 percent of their income on staple purchases. Thus, the expected reduction in labor income will directly impact household food access for the poor and very poor.

    Increased admissions of severely malnourished children to outpatient therapeutic feeding programs (OTPs) and stabilization centers (SCs) have been reported. Increased sale of livestock and firewood, consumption of immature enset, and migration to towns in search of labor are being reported by poor households. Given such outcomes, thousands of poor and very poor household in these parts of the region are currently experiencing a food security Crisis (IPC Phase 3).

    As a result of the anticipated delayed and below average Belg harvest, further increases in staple food prices, reduced household income from labor, and other household coping mechanisms, households are unlikely to access enough income to purchase sufficient quantities of food. Consumption gaps are likely to increase and last for longer than in a typical lean season. In the root-crop dependent zones, as well as in the major Belg-growing southern woredas of Konso, Derashe, Burji, and Amaro, poor households are expected to be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) between April and June 2012. The situation could deteriorate into Emergency (IPC Phase 4) in the absence of adequate and timely responses to the increased needs in the sweet potato-dependent zones of the region. Although the Belg harvest is likely to be below-normal due to inadequate land preparation, late planting, inadequate moisture during the end of the Belg season, and excessive rains at the start of the June to September Kiremt rains, the delayed Belg harvest at the end of July coupled with the extended food transfers through the risk financing mechanism of the PSNP will improve household food availability. The food security situation is likely to improve to the Stressed (IPC Phase 2) level during the July to September period in the sweet potato- dependent areas though the number of people requiring emergency assistance is unlikely to decline in the second half of the scenario period. The Crisis (IPC Phase 3) level of food insecurity is likely to continue in the Belg-dependent southern special woredas.

    Southern zones of Somali and the lowlands of Oromia and SNNPR

    After two consecutive seasons of droughts with the Deyr/Hageya in 2010 and the Gu/Genna/Belg in 2011, the good Deyr/Hageya rains from October to December 2011 improved water and pasture availability. Livestock to cereal terms of trade subsequently increased.

    Despite the regeneration of water resources during the Deyr/Hageya 2011, severe water shortages were reported in parts of the southern zones of Somali region in the lowland woredas of Medawelabu, Sewena, Guradamole, Legahidha, Dare Kechen, Rayitu, and Delomena in Bale zone until the rains began around the end of the first ten days of April. Currently, water trucking activities are suspended in most of these areas. Enhanced rainfall in April has improved river levels. Pasture availability is normal for this time of the year with exceptions in a few localities. During the dry season in February and March, the quality of pasture deteriorated. The physical body conditions of livestock in most of these areas are also currently normal, but declining body conditions have been reported in some localities.

    Typically cattle conceive by the end of Gu/Genna season. However, there were no conceptions during the very poor Gu/Genna season in 2011 due to the significant loss and distress sales of livestock that season and poor animal health. This has affected milk availability from March to July period this year as very few cattle gave birth in March. Despite the normal October to December Deyr/Hageya rains in 2011, the second conception period which normally occurs in October and November was delayed until December, and the number of conceptions was low due to declined herd size and the slow recovery of body condition from the previous droughts. Milking time for Deyr/Hageya conception will start in August instead of July due to the delayed conceptions. Staple prices increased since the beginning of they year, and like much of the country, prices remain high. However, livestock prices are also showing similar trends keeping the livestock to cereal terms of trade (ToT) fairly stable. Although late by about ten days, the Gu/Genna rains began in most of the southern pastoral and agropastoral areas. The coverage and amount of rains received to date has been generally good. However, the volumes are still below normal in parts of South Omo of SNNPR, parts of Borena zone of Oromia, and parts of Afder, Liben, and Fik zones of southern Somali. Pasture conditions remain below average across most of the southern pastoral areas (Figure 6).

    The current food security situation is generally stable as a result of stable ToT. Relief distributions are ongoing, and where operational, PSNP distributions are underway. Water availability has improved in areas that have received rains. There have been some local harvests in January 2012 in the agropastoral parts of Gode, Afder, and Liben zones. Nutrition support has been delivered by the government and its humanitarian partners. However, water shortages and emergency water trucking are expected during the July to September period in areas that received poor rains during the past Deyr/Hageya season from October to December and where the current rains are performing relatively poorly. About 1.1 million people were identified for emergency food assistance during the November to December 2012 seasonal Meher assessment including in the northern zones of Somali region. Increased new admissions to OTPs have been reported despite the ongoing nutrition interventions. The poor households in these areas are in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) given low milk availability for household consumption.

    Precipitation is normally highest in April. Despite the improvements observed due to rainfall accumulation to date, this season’s rainfall total is expected to be ~60 to ~85 percent of average. Many areas received moderate rains to date causing some improvement in water and browse conditions. However, given the overall expectation of below average rains over the course of the season, unusually high rises of staple food prices due to reduced supply as stocks diminish from previous harvests, poor prospect for the current Belg harvest, the expected decline in livestock prices during the July to September dry period, and the likely increase in goat and camel milk prices due to the absence of cow milk, poor households in most parts of these areas will continue facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) levels of food insecurity throughout the scenario period. However, the food security situation in areas where the 2011 Deyr/Hageya rains were poor with subsequent poor rains in the current season will remain precarious and deterioration to Emergency (IPC Phase 4) level of food insecurity is likely as the pastoral resources diminishes during the July to September period until the next rains begin in October. July and August are the normal dry season months in these areas. Pastoral and agropastoral households will only concentrate around areas where water and pasture availability is relatively better in September. However, because of the anticipated inadequate rains during the current season, early livestock migration and unusual movements are expected to occur. This in turn will lead to declined ToT and will affect household food availability among poor households. This will be exacerbated by reduced supply outside of these areas since July to September is the long lean season in the rest of the country which is when staple food prices reach their annual peaks. In addition, as the dry season intensifies, milk availability will remain limited although some cattle births are expected in August.

    Afar and Northern Somali Region

    In Afar, the onset of the 2012 mid-March to May Sugum rains was delayed by two weeks. Both the amount and distribution of the rains was poor until the first week of April. The Sugum rains have progressively improved throughout April. The mid-March to May Gu rains in the northern zones of Somali started on time, but the performance to date is below-normal. Serious water shortages continued in the chronically water deficit areas of Afar and northern Somali. Since the 2011 Sugum was a failure and followed by a poor mid-July to mid-September Karma rains, water trucking operations are ongoing in many woredas. Water interventions have also been underway in Shinile and Jijiga zones of Somali region since March 2012. Pasture availability continues to deteriorate in northern and northeastern of Afar as the poor seasonal rains performances over the past year impeded pasture regeneration.

    Following the start of the rains in Afar, livestock have started returning from their normal dry season grazing areas to their normal wet season grazing areas. Physical body conditions of livestock and the availability of milk have significantly declined in areas where pastoral resources are scare and the start of the season is not expected to bring about immediate changes. Prices of both cereals and livestock have increased compared to last year. However, ToT in March 2012 has significantly reduced in many local markets compared to last year. For example, in Chifra market in March, ToT for goat to maize and ox to maize declined from last year by 23 and 47 percent, respectively. The malnutrition situation remains elevated. While admissions increase during the dry season, in Dalefagae woreda, new admissions of severely acutely malnourished children to OTPs in March 2012 increased by 24 percent from February. Currently, poorer households in most parts of Afar and northern Somali are at Stressed (IPC Phase 2) level of food insecurity. In the northeastern parts of Afar, chronic problems have been exacerbated by the poor rains. So these areas, along with parts of Shinile and Jijiga zones in northern Somali are in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) despite the ongoing humanitarian assistance.

    The rains are currently performing better, and further improvement in the remainder of the season is expected to regenerate some water resources in the water deficit areas of Afar. The general food security situation is likely to improve to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) levels during the April to June scenario period except a few areas such as Elidaar where the performance of the rains remains poor. The rains are performing poorly in the northern zones of Somali so far, so it is less likely that the current food situation will improve. Parts of northern Somali will remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) through June 2012. In the second half of the scenario period, despite the fact that cereal prices will be seasonally high due to diminishing stocks nationwide and that PSNP transfers will have ended, the major mid-July to mid-September Karma/Karan rains coupled with ongoing humanitarian assistance will cause households to be Stressed (IPC Phase 2). During this scenario period, given the anticipated mid-July to September normal rains, improved livestock body conditions, milk availability and extended PSNP distributions will have a positive impact on food access by households in the latter half of the scenario period.

    Table 1: Less likely events over the next six months that could change the above scenarios.



    Impact on food security outcomes

              All affected areas

    • Substantially below normal Gu/Genna/Belg rainfall of 60 percent or less of average)
    • Widespread and increased rates of severe acute malnutrition in areas that depend upon these rains
    • Increased liquidation of productive assets to cover immediate food purchases

        All affected areas

    • Increased food and non-food humanitarian assistance
    • Reduced malnutrition
    • Non-employment of negative coping strategies
    • More limited livelihood disruption and losses of assets
    Figures Seasonal Calendar and Critical Events

    Figure 1

    Seasonal Calendar and Critical Events

    Source: FEWS NET Ethiopia

    Current estimated food security outcomes, April 2012

    Figure 2

    Current estimated food security outcomes, April 2012

    Source: FEWS NET and WFP

    Precipitation Anomaly for January to March 2012 in millimeters (mm)

    Figure 3

    Precipitation Anomaly for January to March 2012 in millimeters (mm)

    Source: USGS/FEWS NET

    Wholesale white maize prices, 2008-2012

    Figure 4

    Wholesale white maize prices, 2008-2012

    Source: Ethiopia Grain Trade Enterprise (EGTE)

    Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) anomaly, April 16 to 25, 2012

    Figure 5

    Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) anomaly, April 16 to 25, 2012

    Source: USGS/FEWS NET

    To project food security outcomes, FEWS NET develops a set of assumptions about likely events, their effects, and the probable responses of various actors. FEWS NET analyzes these assumptions in the context of current conditions and local livelihoods to arrive at a most likely scenario for the coming eight months. Learn more here.

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