Monday, October 22, 2012

Ethiopia | WFP | United Nations World Food Programme - Fighting Hunger Worldwide

Published on 16 October 2012
The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and its partners celebrates World Food Day (16 October) by reaffirming their commitment to helping communities overcome hunger. In Ethiopia, WFP is helping smallholder farmers become more productive and gain better market access through its Purchase for Progress initiative.
ADDIS ABABA – The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) honours World Food Day (16 October) by reaffirming its dedication to work with communities, civil society, governments and the private sector to end hunger in our lifetimes. Over the last year, communities on almost every continent have felt the devastating impacts of high food prices, natural disasters, climate emergencies and conflict, which have exacerbated hunger and poverty. Fortunately, working with partners across the globe WFP’s food assistance has brought hope and relief to millions.
“WFP faces many challenges as we work to ensure that the hungry poor receive the right food at the right time,” said WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin. “From the Sahel region stricken by the third drought in recent years, to unrest in the Middle East, to communities whose imported staple foods have become inaccessibly expensive, WFP delivers life-saving food assistance where it is needed most.”
In 2011, WFP reached almost 100 million people in 75 countries, including over 11 million children who received special nutritional support and 23 million children who received school meals or take-home rations.
The theme of this year’s World Food Day is “Agricultural cooperatives - key to feeding the world.” WFP works with agricultural cooperatives and farmers’ organizations in many countries around the world, providing training to help improve crop quality, strengthen business practices and increase access to markets. In particular, WFP’s Purchase for Progress (P4P) pilot project has worked with more than 800 farmers’ organizations, comprised of more than one million smallholder farmers, in 20 countries to build capacity and maximize the developmental impact of food procurement.
“In Ethiopia, WFP has injected over US$6 million in the pockets of over 33,000 smallholder farmers though P4P purchases since the launch of the programme in 2010, in addition to WFP’s regular food purchases,” said Abdou Dieng, WFP Country Director in Ethiopia. “We have also signed a Memorandum of Understanding to form a Maize Alliance with key partners, where WFP has signed forward delivery contracts with 16 cooperative unions in Ethiopia for a total of 30,000 metric tons for the 2012/2013 season."
Through this memorandum, together with partners, WFP has trained some 1,700 farmers providing technical assistance to farmers associations for storage and post-harvest handling, logistical support to unions, and increase the warehouse capacities of cooperative unions by 10,000 metric tons. P4P is also building cooperative unions’ capacity to take part in the National Commodity Exchange.
One of the lessons P4P has generated to date is that cooperatives can supply high-quality food provided there is an investment in their capacity and they have an assured market. WFP celebrates World Food Day along with its sister UN food agencies, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).
The three Rome-based agencies often work closely together to invest in and boost the production of smallholder farmers and increase people’s access to nutritious food.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Global food security governance linked to food price volatility' Food & Beverage News

Continuing food price volatility requires improved global governance of food security, José Graziano da Silva, director-general, Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), told a ministerial meeting on food price volatility today attended by some 20 ministers. 

"Food prices and volatility have increased in recent years. This is expected to continue in the medium-term," he said. 

"In this context, it is important to improve governance of food security. In the globalised world we live in, it's not possible to have food security in one country alone," Graziano da Silva added.

Stéphane Le Foll, a minister in the French cabinet and the moderator of the meeting, said, "In the course of its G20 presidency and in the face of the risk of tension on the grain market, French president François Hollande called for a high-level meeting on global agricultural governance. Discussions were held on transparency in agricultural markets, the coordination of international actions, response to the global demand for food and the fight against the effects of volatility. France will continue to support any political initiatives and any concrete plans in this direction."

Important advances
Important advances have already been made in governance, Graziano da Silva said, citing the reform of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS), the most inclusive inter-governmental platform on food security and nutrition, the establishment of the High Level Task Force on Global Food Security by Ban Ki-moon, secretary-general, United Nations (UN) and the creation last year by the G20 of the Agricultural Market Information System (AMIS) to ensure improved international coordination, information and market transparency.

Graziano da Silva said, "The new global governance system of food security that we are building together, that has the CFS as its cornerstone and AMIS as one of its components, is a part of a new world order that needs to emerge."

Better coordination
“AMIS is fully functioning and has contributed to better international coordination, information sharing and transparency,” he continued.

"This allowed us to react quickly to the price rise we saw in July 2012, preventing panic, avoiding unilateral actions and further spikes in those initial tense days," he declared.

"We are still in a complex situation but we are handling it successfully, Graziano da Silva added. 

AMIS was created as part of a G20 Action Plan on Food Price Volatility approved in Paris in June 2011. The presidency, initially held by France for a year, passed to the United States on October 2.

World Food Day
Today's ministerial meeting on food price volatility coincided with celebrations of World Food Day at FAO Headquarters and round the world. Ministers from the following countries took part – Bangladesh, Brazil, Chad, Ecuador, Egypt, Ethiopia, Eritrea, France, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Hungary, Japan, Lebanon, Mozambique, Netherlands, Papua New Guinea, Portugal, Sierra Leone, Spain, Sri Lanka and United Republic of Tanzania. 

Their discussions, covered three main topics – how transparency in agricultural markets can be increased and how international action can be better coordinated; how increasing demand for food can be addressed; and how the effects of excessive food price volatility on the most vulnerable can be limited. 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Ethiopian crops satisfy hunger for home - SFGate

This is the first in an occasional series on farmers working to preserve their cultural foodways by growing heritage crops in the Bay Area.
Whoever we are, wherever we're from, we're all exiles, if only from that foreign place, the past. Hunger is part of that experience - not for calories, necessarily, but for tastes. It could be a delicious but unshippable fruit you miss, a wild herb or a fish that must be fresh out of the Gulf of Mexico or the Mekong. Through history, displaced peoples have re-created the foodways of their lost homelands in diaspora communities, starting with seeds or tubers that make it through the filters of distance and hardship. It's still happening, in places like Ethiopian-born Menkir Tamrat's Fremont backyard.
Tamrat's garden showcases the diversity of Ethiopian crops. His homeland may have been one of nine places where agriculture was independently invented, thousands of years ago. In early fall, the garden blazes with red mitmita peppers that give the raw-beef dish kitfo its fire. There's besobila, sacred basil, an essential ingredient in the seasoning mix called berbere ("the backbone of the sauces"); gesho, a flavoring agent in tej (honey wine); and assorted culinary herbs and greens. A grass called tej sar resembles lemongrass but is used as soap. The leaves of the endod vine contain a chemical that kills the aquatic snails that spread bilharzia, a chronic disease widespread in developing countries.
Tamrat, 61, came to the United States in 1971 as a student, worked for IBM as a business manager, and became a full-time farmer after being laid off three years ago. In addition to his home garden, he has a plot at the Sunol AgPark for the milder berbere peppers. The land is leased from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and managed by Sustainable Agriculture Education, a Berkeley-based nonprofit. Tomato-grower Fred Hempel does the tilling at the AgPark. Tamrat, who has no farming background, handles everything else there and in his garden: "It's part of my exercise regimen."

Traditional teff

Near Wheatland in the Sacramento Valley, he's also growing teff, the endemic grain from which injera, Ethiopian flatbread, is made.
Or should be. Tamrat says most Ethiopian restaurants in the Bay Area use mixtures of wheat, barley and sorghum for their injera. "There are more than 2,000 varieties of teff," he explained. "White teff is revered; growers brag about who has the whitest teff. But a few things were thrown overboard when we crossed the ocean, and one of the first was white teff. The quality of injera was sacrificed." During the Mengistu regime (1974-91), teff exports were restricted and the grain could only be obtained in the black market, via neighboring Djibouti. For a long time, there were no American growers. The traditional preparation is also labor-intensive. Tamrat's dream is to have teff injera as the standard. "It nags at me when I go to a restaurant and can't have it," he said. "It's not the full experience without it."
An added bonus: Teff is gluten-free and might be attractive to a wider market, beyond the Bay Area's estimated 40,000-strong Ethiopian community. Tamrat hopes his sales operation, Timeless Harvest, can tap into it. Other products for potential e-commerce include berbere and other spice mixes and, further down the road, seeds for home gardeners.
Beyond teff and peppers, he's experimenting with Ethiopian collards and kales, collectively called gomen; his seeds come from Ethiopia and from a seed bank at Washington State University. "The scientists want the naming details," he said. "We just want the good taste." He can't grow those year-round in the South Bay, so he's negotiating with a retiring farmer for land on the foggy San Mateo County coast, where the climate is more like the Ethiopian highlands.

New ideas

He's also speculating about a special barley that's used to brew tela, a beer-like fermented drink. Tamrat's own tej brand, Yamatt, is already available in some Berkeley and Oakland restaurants and stores.
Networking with chefs, he's found new contexts for some of the heritage crops. Young green berbere pods are mild and can be pan-fried like Spanish padron peppers: "It's not used traditionally until it ripens and turns red or burgundy." East Bay restaurants like Gather and Sea Salt have featured the peppers.
Tamrat also supplies mitmita powder and shiro, a legume-based powder, to Finfiné, an Ethiopian restaurant in Berkeley. Owner/chef Charlie Zawde calls the mixes "completely different, with unbelievable flavor." Zawde, who uses all-organic ingredients, pairs the mitmita with ahi tuna and wild salmon. His supplies used to come from Ethiopia, but it was hard to get the quantities he needed and ensure consistent quality. Some batches of mitmita were too hot for the American palate. "The quality of Menkir's product makes a big difference," he said.
"The cuisine needs work to become sustainable in a foreign land, without waiting for the boat to come in," Tamrat said. "You have to have these things available when you need them. When I was younger, I used to call my mother and get recipes, get stuff shipped." She's deceased, though, like many of her generation, and Tamrat and other carriers of culinary tradition need to become self-sufficient. "It's tough for first-generation immigrants to think they're really immigrants, not just visitors," he reflected.

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Friday, October 12, 2012

Burundi, Eritrea, Haiti top 2012 global hunger index - AlertNet

By Katie Nguyen
LONDON (AlertNet) - Twenty countries have "alarming" or "extremely alarming" levels of hunger with Burundi the worst affected, followed by Eritrea and Haiti, according to this year's Global Hunger Index which examines the problem of producing more food with fewer resources.
Demographic changes, increases in income, climate change and poor policies are worsening a shortage of natural resources like land, water and energy that threatens food production, the accompanying report said.
"It is an absolute must that we start now to produce more food using fewer resources and to use the harvest more efficiently. But we also face the reality that decades of effort and rhetoric have so far failed to eradicate hunger," the foreword to the report said.
Progress in reducing the proportion of hungry people in the world has been "tragically slow" and 20 countries are experiencing "alarming" or "extremely alarming" hunger levels, the report said.
About 12.5 percent of the world's population, one in every eight people, is chronically undernourished, according to new figures unveiled by the United Nations' food agencies this week.
The U.N. agencies said 868 million people were hungry in 2010-2012, down more sharply than previously estimated from about 1 billion, or 18.6 percent of the global population, in 1990-92.
South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa continue to face the highest levels of hunger, the Global Hunger Index report said.
But because of  time lags in obtaining data, the report does not reflect last year's hunger crisis in the Horn of Africa or the unfolding food emergency in West Africa's semi-arid Sahel region.
The index, now in its seventh year, combines three indicators – the proportion of the population that is undernourished, the proportion of young children who are underweight and the mortality rate for under-fives.
Among its recommendations, the report calls for:
  • smallholder land and water rights to be secured
  • subsidies for fuels and fertiliser to be phased out
  • technical solutions that conserve natural resources to be scaled up
The report, compiled by the International Food Policy Research Institute, Welthungerhilfe, and Concern Worldwide is released ahead of World Food Day on Oct. 16.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Ethiopia worried over potential famine next year

ADDIS ABABA: Fears are growing in Ethiopia that famine could find its way to the East African country next year in devastating fashion.
Those worries were highlighted in an article by Alemayahu G. Mariam, a leading figure on Ethiopian politics and society, that the country could face a potential devastating famine as early as next year if action is not taken to alleviate the struggles rural areas face as a result of drought.
“For the past several months, there has been much display of public sorrow and grief in Ethiopia,” he began. “But not for the millions of invisible Ethiopians who are suffering and dying from starvation, or what the “experts” euphemistically call ‘acute food insecurity’. These Ethiopians are spread across a large swath of the country.”
According to the international “experts”, he said, “starving people are not really starving. They are just going through ‘scientific’ stages of food deprivation. In stage one or ‘Acute Food Insecurity’, people experience ‘short term instability (‘shocks’) but are able to meet basic food needs without atypical coping strategies.’ In stage two or ‘Stressed’ situations, ‘food consumption is reduced but minimally adequate without having to engage in irreversible coping strategies.’ In stage three or ‘Crises’ mode, the food supply is ‘borderline adequate, with significant food consumption gaps and acute malnutrition.’ In stage four ‘Emergency’, there is ‘extreme food consumption gaps resulting in very high acute malnutrition or excess mortality’. In stage five or ‘Catastrophe’, there is ‘near complete lack of food and/or other basic needs where starvation, death, and destitution are evident.’
“When are people in ‘famine’ situations?” he asked.
But the government is taking notice, and has said that new efforts to combat the growing problem of climate change and its adverse results in Ethiopia are paramount to their success in delivering the desired needs to the people.
Water and Energy Minister Alemayehu Tegenu told a workshop late last month on upgrading hydro-metererological networks that the ministry was looking at boosting data collection, processing and analysis in order to develop new action-plans for the country.
Ethiopia, he said, “is implementing sustainable development in all directions to end poverty.”
He added that the role of the “water and energy sectors in enhancing the country’s development was immense.”
Environment experts present at the workshop told they hoped that the ministry would follow through on the goals, citing recent upsurges in drought and potential famine as a result of climate change.
The Minister said information to be collected regarding the country’s water basins “had paramount importance in enhancing development and attaining Ethiopia’s vision to be a middle income country.”
He said the ministry was “currently operating 489 water gauging stations in 12 river basins of the country. The data collection activities focused on stream flow data, suspended sediment data, ground water depth and quantity and quality.”
According to the ministry, it has a plan to expand the hydrological observation network to satisfy the minimum requirements of the World Meteorological Organization and improve data dissemination with existing technology.
The Director for Food Security and Sustainable Development Division of the United Nations EconomicCommission for Africa (ECA) Josue Dione, said at the workshop “the ECA had taken the lead to conceive and establish the knowledge hub and technical secretariat of the ClimDev-Africa program, namely the African Climate Policy Center (ACPC), which has been operational for two years now.”
The ClimDev-Africa program and, therefore, the work of the ACPC, focused on making widely available and disseminating high quality climate information, generating enhanced scientific capacity through analytical work and ensuring informed decision making and effective awareness and advocacy.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Horn of Africa faces food insecurity, slowing development, ministers warn UN General Assembly

28 September 2012 – A range of African ministers took to the podium of the United Nations General Assembly today to highlight the precarious situation arising from food insecurity and the slow-down in development due to the global economic crisis.
Tanzania’s Foreign Minister, Bernard Kamillius Membe, said food insecurity had deteriorated and the vulnerability of many developing countries increased since his nation’s President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete voiced serious concern over the issue at the UN a year ago.
“We must work collectively to address food insecurity,” he told the 67th Assembly on the fourth day of its annual General Debate at UN Headquarters in New York. “We must increase food production and productivity on a sustainable basis, strengthen agricultural systems and establish early warning mechanisms as we also must develop effective responses to calamities such as those in the horn of Africa and the Sahel region.”
Mr. Membe noted that the world's economy still remains fragile after the financial crisis of 2008, compounding the challenges of sustainable development. “This situation is further exacerbated by the effects of climate change, population growth, poverty, unemployment, hunger, diseases, growing economic inequalities within and among countries as well as lack of rule of law and violations of human rights,” he said.
“I know for sure that the global economic crisis is far from over,” he said. “Many reports are predicting the re-occurrence of the crisis which will certainly affect the flow of aid, trade, FDIs (foreign direct investment) and remittances to developing countries.”
He also reiterated the African demand for expansion of the 15-member Security Council to include two permanent members from the continent with veto powers.
Foreign Minister, Djibrill Yipènè Bassolé of Burkina Faso.
Burkina Faso’s Foreign Minister, Djibrill Yipènè Bassolé, said his country had suffered a food crisis this year because of a bad rainy season. “The cereal shortage has been exacerbated by a massive influx of tens of thousands of refuges from Mali, sometimes accompanied by their cattle,” he said.
Instability in northern Mali, where Islamic militants have seized control, imposing strict Sharia law, has caused more than 260,000 refugees to flee to neighbouring countries, further straining the already fragile social and economic infrastructure.
“The restoration of a stable and lasting peace in Mali will require a global approach combining political dialogue and the use of force essentially aimed at neutralizing transnational extremist groups whose presence in northern Mali is sure to deliver an irreparable blow to efforts for better governance and social and economic development,” he said.
Patrice Emery Trovoada, Prime Minister of Sao Tome and Principe.
The Prime Minister of Sao Tome and Principe, Patrice Emery Trovoada, lamented the inability of the United Nations to confront the situation in Mali – where the Islamic militants are also reported to have destroyed World Heritage religious sites – as well as the crisis in Syria, where over 18,000 people have been killed since an anti-government uprising erupted 18 months ago.
“Sadly our organization continues to suffer from the roadblocks that prevent urgent decisions that cannot be postponed from being taken and that undermine the forum’s credibility,” he said.
He added, “We need no further evidence of the urgency for in-depth reforms of our institution, primarily the Security Council, to put an end to the horrific images of children that are symbols of purity and innocence who are killed daily in Syria, to prevent the destruction of the world historic and cultural heritage by gangs of destructive criminals in Mali and Afghanistan and to prevent coups d’état or obvious attempts to destabilize states and democratic Governments.”
Edouard Niankoye, Foreign Minister of Guinea.
Guinea’s Foreign Minister, Edouard Niankoye, addressing the General Debate on Thursday, endorsed the Malian Government’s request to the Security Council for the deployment of an international force to restore the country’s territorial integrity.
“In neighbouring Mali, where terrorist and rebel groups have occupied the north for several months, the reinforcement of democratic institutions and the restoration of territorial integrity constitute major challenges that must be taken up,” he told the Assembly.
Therence Sinunguruza, First Vice President of Burundi.
Also speaking in the General Assembly on Thursday, Burundi’s First Vice President, Therence Sinunguruza, voiced his country’s hope that the Malian Government will find a rapid solution to the crisis in its north.
Burundi “is equally confident that Mali will soon renew the democratic process to establish institution stemming from free and transparent elections,” he said, referring to the March 2012 military coup when soldiers took control of the West African country.
The African ministers are among scores of world leaders and other high-level officials presenting their views and comments on issues of individual national and international relevance at the Assembly’s General Debate, which ends on 1 October.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Advocacy agents call for swift action to prevent child malnutrition deaths | WNN – Women News Network

A child of Somali refugees at a camp in Malkadiida, Ethiopia August 2011. As drought and famine ravaged their home country, thousands of Somalis fled to refugee camps across the border. Infants and children continue to be the most vulnerable group to face severe malnutrition when famine strikes impacted regions. Image: Eskinder Debebe/UNphoto
(WNN/AN) Bangkok, THAILAND: AltertNet is reporting that countries with the highest numbers of malnourished children urgently need to step up the way they respond to the problem in order to prevent millions of unnecessary deaths, according to a joint report produced by charities Save the Children and World Vision.
The “Nutrition Barometer”, which provides a snapshot of national governments’ commitments to addressing children’s nutrition, found that of 36 countries, where 90 percent of the world’s malnourished children live, almost a quarter have shown little progress in tackling the crisis.
Without swift action, a commitment made in May 2012 by the World Health Assembly – the decision making body of the World Health Organization – to reduce the number of chronically malnourished children by 40 percent by 2025 would not be achieved, the report warned, urging world leaders gathering in New York for the U.N. General Assembly meeting to tackle the issue.
India, despite experiencing strong economic growth in the past few years, shares the bottom rank – countries defined by the study as having low levels of political, legal and financial commitment and little changes to the high rates of malnutrition – with Democratic Republic of Congo and Yemen.
These three countries, together with Afghanistan, Pakistan, Niger, Ethiopia and Madagascar, also have the worst nutrition and child survival outcomes, the report said.
While malnutrition itself may not kill children, it is the underlying cause of the deaths of 2.3 million children under five years in 2011 – more than a third of the total, the report said.
Peru, Guatemala and Malawi were applauded for topping the list, with political will and committed resources to fight child malnutrition achieving results.
Despite the overall positive trend of child survival, including nearly halving the number of children dying before their fifth birthday between 1990 and 2011, “progress in reducing childhood under nutrition has been slow,” the report said.
“Rates of stunting are falling too slowly, and the proportion of wasted children (suffering acute weight loss) actually rose during the last decade,” it added.
“Malnutrition remains a critical problem and it’s a very complex problem,” Michel Anglade, Save the Children’s director for campaigns and advocacy in Asia, told AlertNet.
“Therefore to address this we need very strong political commitment. There’s also a need for financial commitment. Unless (they’re there), it’s very difficult to have good outcomes or significantly reduce the level of malnutrition,” he added.
Around 170 million children under five under also suffer from chronic malnutrition or stunting, which hinders cognitive growth and economic potential. Stunted children, shorter than average height, complete fewer years of schooling and earn less income as adults.
“Stunting is called ‘a silent crisis’ because it’s not something very well-known or very visible. You will notice if a child is severely malnourished but you may not notice just by looking at the child that he or she is stunted,” said Anglade.
“And because it’s less visible, it’s something which has not been addressed properly,” he added.
Four of five Southeast Asian countries included in the report – Indonesia, Myanmar, Vietnam and the Philippines – are showing signs of progress while Cambodia is lagging behind.
Still, almost all of the countries except Indonesia show weak political and financial commitments.
While strong outcomes despite weak commitments could be a result of rapid economic growth, there are concerns that aggregated figures may be hiding huge inequalities.
“The story in Asia is that of growing inequality,” said Anglade.
“Even if the situation overall seemed to have improved, when you start to disaggregate this data you will see that children living in the poorest part of the population or remote provinces are in fact far worse than the national average,” he added.
“What we’re calling for is that the commitment must reach all the children and especially the most vulnerable.”

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Changing rainfall exposes over 3.7 Ethiopians to famine

In this 2009 file photo, Ethiopian farmers collect wheat in their field in Abay, north of Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa. REUTERS/Barry Malone
By Pawlos Belete
ADDIS ABABA (AlertNet) – Millions of Ethiopians face severe food shortages as a result of the failure of crucial seasonal rains, a problem increasingly linked to climate change.
The Ethiopian government announced last month that 3.7 million of its citizens will require humanitarian assistance between August and December of this year, up from 3.2 million in January. The 16 percent increase follows the failure of the Belg rains, which normally fall between February and May and are essential to the country’s secondary harvest.
The lack of rainfall is being blamed on climate change, with experts saying it is leading to erratic rain patterns and disruption to normal seasonal changes.
Mohamed Ahmed, a farmer in his early 40s, is one of the millions dealing with the consequences of the rainfall changes. He feeds his family of seven by farming a one-hectare (2.5 acre) plot inherited from his father in the village of Doba in the east of the country, 325 km (203 miles) from the capital, Addis Ababa.
But Ahmed’s land has declined in productivity over the past two decades, even as the size of his family has grown.
“Last season (Belg) I (could) barely sow,” the farmer said grimly. “The rain came almost a month later than the usual time. It is sometimes heavy and sometimes light. The yield is not impressive at all.”
Agriculture is the backbone of the Ethiopian economy, employing 62 million people (about three-quarters of the population), ensuring more than 85 percent of the country’s export earnings and contributing 43 percent of GDP, official figures show.
Most parts of Ethiopia have two rainy seasons and one dry period. Long heavy rains from mid-June to mid-September, known as kiremt, enable the main crop growing season, Mehir, which leads to a harvest from October to January.
The shorter and more moderate Belg rains are important for short-cycle crops such as wheat, barley, teff, and pulses, which are harvested in June or July, and for long-cycle cereals such as corn, sorghum and millet.
Faced with deepening food insecurity and poverty as a consequence of changing weather conditions, the government has responded by trying to boost agricultural production.
Ethiopia harvested more than 218 million quintals of crops in the most recentMehir season, surpassing the previous season’s production by 13 million quintals and beating government targets by 3 million quintals, according to the government’s Central Statistical Authority. Produce from smallholder farms grew by 7.4 percent compared to the same season last year.  
The increases are due to additional land being put under cultivation, following large-scale resettlement programmes by the government, aimed at relocating farmers to more productive land. The government has not yet produced an official tally of number of people resettled, but unofficial figures give the total as more than 1.5 million over the past five years.  
More than 12.8 million hectares (31.6 million acres) of land are now under cultivation in Ethiopia, almost one million hectares (2.5 million acres) or 8 percent more than in the last Mehir season.
Despite the increased yields, production is still less than 90 percent of the amount required to provide sufficient nutrition to all the population, according to a report issued last year by the Ethiopian Economic Association, a nongovernmental organisation.
Throughout the country, prices for staple foods remain relatively high, and with inflation hovering around 20 percent in July, they are not expected to decrease before the next harvest enters the market, experts say.
The failure of the Belg crop is raising fears of a humanitarian crisis among organisations working to provide drought relief in the country.
In July, the World Food Programme (WHP) forecast a significant drop in long-cycle Mehir crops such as maize and sorghum in many lowland and mid-altitude areas of Ethiopia during the next harvest season, following below-average Belg rainfall. The majority of crops produced in Ethiopia are categorized as long-cycle crops, needing at least six months to grow.
In a speech last month, Abdou Dieng, the WFP’s humanitarian food coordinator in Ethiopia, said that the lateness and weakness of the Belg rains had taken a toll on agricultural production in areas of the central highlands, particularly in the regional states of Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s Region, central Oromiya, and eastern Amhara.
Pastoralist areas also have been hard hit and “vulnerability remains high due to the lingering impact of last year’s drought emergency,” Dieng said.
Somali and Oromiya are the regional states most affected by food shortages, together accounting for two-thirds of those seeking relief assistance.
While the Belg harvest accounts for no more than 10 percent of the country’s total annual grain production, it may provide up to 50 percent of the yearly food supply in some highland areas, such as Wollo and Shewa regions, experts say.
The Belg rains are also the main annual rains for the pastoral and agro-pastoral areas of southern and south-eastern Ethiopia, where they supply critical pasture and water for livestock. Even in regions where the rains do not irrigate an extra harvest, they are still crucial for seed-bed preparation for Mehir crops.
The failure of the Belg crop ironically comes at a time of strong economic growth for Ethiopia. Speaking at a national workshop for disaster reduction last year, the state minister of agriculture, Sileshi Getahun, cautioned that the country’s growth rate of 11 percent for the past seven years was vulnerable to changes in the climate.
“While we are proud of this achievement and realize the benefits, we are also aware of how much natural disasters can hinder growth,” Getahun said. “These disasters are becoming more regular and pronounced in terms of frequency, intensity, and coverage due to climate change.”
Pawlos Belete is a journalist based in Addis Ababa.