Drought Stricken Ethiopian Farmers Suffer Green Famine

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, June 12, 2003 (ENS): Ethiopian farmers have received emergency agricultural assistance to help them prepare land for the next planting season after months of devastating crop failure due to cycles of drought and floods, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said Tuesday.

Ethiopia is constantly battered by extremes of weather, both droughts and floods. The country's recent border conflict with neighboring Eritrea, a growing population, fractured road infrastructure and poor land management practices make difficult climatic conditions worse, leaving the country at constant risk of slipping into crisis each time the rains fail.

Some areas in the southern lowlands are experiencing what is known as a "green famine," the FAO says, where recent rains have created a lush landscape which masks severe hunger.

One of FAO's largest emergency projects, with support from the government of the Netherlands, is distributing 4,000 metric tons of cereal seeds, 24 million sweet potato cuttings, as well as vegetable seeds and animal drugs to treat livestock.

The project will benefit 134,000 families in the northern region of Tigray, the central region of Oromiya and the Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples region

Financial support has also been provided by the governments of Canada and the United States and the United Nations Development Programme.

Years of acute drought in several regions of the country, especially the south, have withered crops and left farming households destitute and unable to feed themselves, the FAO said.

Pre-famine conditions are now reported in parts of the East African country, and many children are malnourished. Animals are dying due to lack of water and feed after repeated failed harvests.

"Traditionally these people cope with drought either by growing crops which can be harvested sooner or by migrating," the FAO's Yon Fernandez de Larrinoa explained.

"But the situation is now so grave, all means of dealing with drought have been exhausted. The already malnourished people are simply eating even less or relying on food aid," he said.

An estimated 12.6 million Ethiopians are now in need of food aid. FAO's emergency agricultural projects, worth some US$4.3 million, aim to help farmers cope with the crisis now and manage better in the future.

These projects include supplying seeds, feed, equipment, animal health services, farming expertise and training in water management to boost the agriculture sector, which accounts for 45 percent of the Ethiopian economy, and improve access to food.