- The food security situation in Ethiopia is worsening, according to a new assessment. The study found that an additional 1.2 million Ethiopians will be in need of food aid between May and October 2003, thus reaching a total of over 12 million affected persons in Ethiopia's worst-ever food crisis.
Due to this increase in the estimates, the food deficit in Ethiopia further boosts from the 200,000 metric tons earlier calculated. With the previous numbers, aid organisations already had been overstretched, only being able to supply 76 percent of the assessed needs. Less than 70 percent of future needs have been pledged thus far.
Higher malnutrition rates thus already have been registered in Ethiopia. In several areas of the country, an inadequate and irregular distribution of food aid has not prevented out-migration, malnutrition and in some cases, deaths due to starvation.
According to the latest Ethiopia update from the US agency Famine Early Warning Systems (FEWS), several areas in the country have reached a critical situation. "Post-harvest losses, mis-targeting and mismanagement of food aid resources" had contributed to the increase in victims in these areas. According to the agency's assessment, "immediate distribution of both cereal and supplementary food aid is required to save more than 20,000 people."
However, over 160,000 metric tons of cereals are estimated to be available for local purchase of food aid. Since 1996, the Ethiopian government has encouraged donors to procure relief food locally, in order to both assist the population in need and stimulate production and markets in surplus producing areas. The average quantity of grain locally purchased per year by donors between 1996 and 2002 is estimated at over 125,000 tons.
Several organisations have already started local purchase from the 2002/03 harvests. Available data from the World Food Programme (WFP) suggests that some 61,956 tons has already been obtained. With over 200,000 tons produced, therefore, the amount left for local purchase in subsequent months is estimated at 161,514 tons.
FEWS therefore argues that much of the food deficit therefore can be purchased by aid organisations on the local market. The agency however warns about the need for coordination between the various organisations engaged in local purchase, which was "necessary to avoid speculations and consequent price hikes," for ordinary and impoverished consumers.
Indeed, cereal prices are still high on Ethiopian markets due to the decline in cereal production. For instance, in Addis Ababa - the price setting market - maize prices in April 2003 were about 2 times higher than in 2002, and 65 percent higher than the historical average (1995-2002). Furthermore, the local wholesale cereal prices are also significantly rising above the import parity prices, FEWS reports.
- At the household level, the large drop in production translated into large reductions in farm employment and subsequent income, the US agency reports. "The combination of reduced income and higher food prices is seriously affecting poor households' purchasing power."
If the current upward trend persisted, farmers who are not categorised in the food aid beneficiary list may have to sell their productive assets at depressed prices to obtain enough food for their families and to secure input requirements, FEWS warned.
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