Impact of Insufficient Deyr Rains on Nomad Access to Food, 01/97

Impact of Insufficient Deyr Rains on Nomad Access to Food in the Central Area of the
Ethiopian Somali National Regional State

By Dr. Ahmed Yusuf Farah, Anthropologist, UNDP Emergencies Unit for Ethiopia, January 1997

Summary

This report is based on market data relating to the general situation of livestock and food availability in zones where the South Eastern Rangeland Project (SERP) operates, namely Godey, Kabridhaherre, Afdher and Wardher zones of the Somali National Regional State. Data gathered from SERP by the UNDP/EUE anthropologist at the end of December 1996 has been carefully analyzed in order to examine the various implications of livestock and food prices on the food security situation of the predominantly pastoral population of the aforementioned areas.

In general, it has been assessed that the targeted pastoralists in the study area may be facing a precarious situation in the current long dry season of jiilaal. In the past three months the price of the staple grains, which are an important element in the nomadic diet during the dry season and when pastoral staples are scarce, have been constantly increasing; livestock prices have declined in the same period. The main cause of this disproportionate rate of exchange between the price of livestock and grains is a severe shortage of pasture and water due to insufficient rains in the preceding deyr (short) rainy season between October and December. The situation at present is not serious enough to warrant emergency assistance, but if the jiilaal is prolonged there will be a need for a large-scale food assistance and supply of water to the nomadic areas. It is therefore recommended that the present situation is closely monitored in the coming months.

The seasons

Nomads live in the semi-arid, predominantly lowland areas of eastern Ethiopia. In these areas, which are administered by the Ethiopian Somali National Regional State (ESNRS), the year is divided into four seasons, two dry and two wet. The main rainy season, known as gu' in Somali, starts in March/April and lasts until the month of June.

The gu' season is followed by a short dry spell known as 'xagaa, starting in June and ending between August and September. The second minor wet season, known as deyr, then starts in October and ends in November/December. The cycle of seasons is completed by the long dry season known as jiilaal, which starts in January and continues until the onset of the gu'.

In the Somali inhabited pastoral zones in eastern Ethiopia, the long dry season is usually a difficult period for nomadic clansmen even in an average year. Hunger is endemic among pastoralists during the jiilaal season and derives from several factors relating to the weakened condition of livestock and a scarcity of water and pasture. Thus, dairy products, particularly milk, that form an essential component of the nomadic diet in the wet seasons when these staples are plenty, are drastically reduced during the jiilaal. In addition, prices of livestock, emaciated by shortage of water and grazing plummet, and prices of locally produced and imported cereals significantly increase.

Consequences of insufficient deyr rains

In an average year, the gu' rains are sufficient to adequately replenish water resources and regenerate grazing for the well-being of herds; this allows herders to manage over the short dry season of 'xagaa. Unless there is acute shortage of rainfall in main wet season, herds and herdsmen in eastern Ethiopia are able to withstand the rigors of the short dry season. Such a trend leaves the long dry season of jiilaal as the critical period in the annual cycle of the seasons.

In 1996, rainfall in the gu' season was generally good across the lowland pastoral zones in eastern part of the country. Expectation of a satisfactory year, however, has since been hindered by insufficient rains in the minor wet season of deyr. At this time the rains were below average and failed to replenish the much-needed nomadic resources for the the long dry season of jiilaal. Thus, water contained in natural depressions and in many of the man-made water structures diminished well in advance of the long dry season in January. The drying up of water contained in public depressions and private sources before the peak of the dry season caused an unusual movement of nomadic groups and their herds closer to permanent sources of water - the dry season deep wells.

In effect, insufficient deyr rains have disrupted the traditional animal husbandry relating to seasonal migratory cycles. Already at this early stage in the dry season lack of water (and not lack of pasture in most grazing regions) has forced nomads to abandon the wet grazing camps earlier than in an average season. Under normal circumstances nomads stay in the wet grazing regions as long as availability of water and pasture allow. Early migration to the permanent sources of water, as has already occurred, has the impact of prolonging the dry season and would be the precursor to the development of a full-blown drought if early gu' rains are not received.

Sturdy camel herds endure lack of water for two to three weeks and are therefore driven to pasture areas away from the water resources where the nomads are now concentrated. The weakened sheep, goat and cattle, however, need frequent watering and have thus been moved to close proximity of the permanent water wells.

Hopes for delayed deyr rains that would regenerate water, range resources and ultimately salvage the nomads and their livestock from an impending prolonged dry season has already receded. The remaining distant hope is now for gu' rains to start as early as February.

In general, the condition of local livestock does not seem to raise a alarm at the present time. Nevertheless, as the jiilaal season progresses, the condition of the weakened livestock (cattle and small ruminants) will gradually deteriorate and stock may start dying if the gu' rains do not start early. In the case of a prolonged dry season, mortality will be higher among the more vulnerable categories of stock - calves, milk camels and milk cows. It is also reasonable to assume that the weakened state of livestock due to drought increases their susceptibility to diseases. This indicates the need to monitor human and livestock health condition in remote nomadic areas where infrastructure and social services are totally lacking or in acute shortage.

Food security

The nomadic economy does not produce all the food herdsmen need for basic subsistence. Nomadic families consume more grains in the dry season than in the wet season when pastoral staples, milk and meat are relatively plentiful. During the dry season grains that supplement limited pastoral diet are exchanged with animals sold in the livestock markets in the region, including, Dhagahbur, Kabridhaharre, Godey and Wardher. This makes the exchange rate between livestock and grains vital for the survival of nomads in the dry season in particular.

Nomads and agro-pastoralists in eastern Ethiopia consume purchased and locally produced sorghum and maize respectively. However, the retail price of these grains have seen a significant increase during the last three months. During this period, for instance, the retail price of local red sorghum increased from Birr 1.80 per kg in the first month of the Ethiopian Calendar (September) to 2.50 in the third month; while that of local white maize from 1.70 to 2.37 in the same period. Moreover, insufficient deyr rains have failed to produce a sufficient second crop in the rain-fed agro-pastoral areas of the region - including Godey and neighboring Afdher zone. The ensuing scenario implies that without an infusion of relief food into the region, there is likely to be a trend of increasing food prices until the next harvest in August or September.

Regional factors have also contributed to the high price of food grains at present and the drought condition affecting lowland pastoral areas. First, rainfall in the gu' season was more favorable on the Ethiopian side of the border than the economically and culturally linked nomadic regions in the neighboring countries of Kenya and Somalia. Therefore, better pastures available earlier in 1996 on the Ethiopian side of the border attracted an influx of nomadic groups from drought ravaged north-eastern Kenya and south-western and central Somalia. Thus, an influx of Kenyan nomads arrived in Moyale wareda as early as August, while Somali pastoralists from south-western and central Somalia arrived in Dollo and Filtu weredas as well as in Afdher and Wardher zones1.

Drought-displaced migrating nomadic families from Somalia and Kenya exerted additional pressure on the limited nomadic resources already made scarce by the insufficient deyr rains and contributed to the increase in food prices. Guest nomads, as well as other clansmen remaining in their areas of origin in neighboring countries, have been buying food on the Ethiopian side of the border where rainfall was more favorable and ensured better pastures and crop production in the agro-pastoral areas.

Livestock prices

Food prices increased significantly between September and November 1996, while livestock prices decreased in the same period. For instance, the most widely traded livestock categories, male sheep and male goat decreased from Birr 123.3 and 110.2 to 109.7 and 68.82.9 respectively. The price of other livestock in the same period also shows a general downward trend.

Since it preceded the start of the dry season, this decrease in livestock prices has been a cause for concern. The crucial factor is presumably not the scale of decrease in livestock prices thus far, but rather the depressed demand for livestock. For instance, in the month of Maskaram (September), only 1,424 heads have been sold out of the 3,848 heads brought for sale in Godey market. This shows a reluctance to purchase on the part of local merchants, who under normal circumstances buy and accumulate livestock for profit and speculation. At present, given scarcity of water and pasture, livestock dealers can no longer afford the risk of purchasing large number of livestock.

The export market for camels in the region died with the collapse of the Somali state in 1991. This market was based on quotas negotiated by the then government with client countries in the Gulf. Except for a limited number of camels slaughtered for consumption in the urban centers in the region, there is now virtually no demand for camels. Therefore, camel herding clansmen in the region are left with a surplus of adult male camels they can not sell. In addition to the above mentioned problems, a shortage of Somali Shillings, the most common currency used outside Jijiga town (Ethiopian Somali Region), is also negatively affecting the nomads. Proceeds from the sale of animals are now used to partly pay for higher value imported goods, such as rice and sugar, bought from nomads in market areas like Wardher. To change these obtained goods into cash, a nomad has to sell in the market, sometimes at a price lower than the purchase price (refer to Tables 1-3 in annex).

Table 4: Cereal Prices in the Month of Maskaram 1989 EC (Godey Market)

Food Item
Unit
Average Retail Price(Birr)
Maskaram (Sept.)
Average Retail Price(Birr)
Tikimt (Oct.)
Average Retail Price(Birr)
Hidar (Nov.)
Imported red rice
1kg
4.85
4.91
5.13
local Red sorghum
1kg
1.80
1.91
2.50
Imported sorghum relief
1kg
1.67
1.89
1.86
Local white maize
1kg
1.70
1.86
2.37
Cow peas
1kg
4.70
4.20
4.80
Local red onions
1kg
11.0
9.90
9.57
Vegetable oil
1lit.
10.0
11.20
11.60
Local sesem oil
1lit
11.40
5.80
5.40
Sugar
1kg
6.0
5.0
5.31
Pasta
1kg
7.90
7.50
7.72
Wheat
1kg
2.20
3.0
1.40
Wheat flour
1kg
4.0
4.0
4.0

Wardher zone - The area most affected by insufficient deyr rains

One of the best grazing regions in south-eastern Ethiopia, Wardher zone, comes under the operational area of SERP (Ogaden Branch at Godey). A SERP mission dispatched from Godey in December toured Wardher, Shillabo and Kabari Dhahar areas to review the progress of the seasons and the impact on food security in its operational area. This mission provided the following market report on food and livestock prices.

SERP assert that drought conditions are most aggravated in Wardher zone with respect to the other zones in their area of operation: Afdher, Godey and Kabridhahar zones. A combination of factors are said to be responsible for this:

Many parts received limited rain in the deyr season and some localities received no rain at all (around Heergaale in Danot district and areas to the south and north of Wardher district town), creating a shortage of water and pasture before the start of the dry season of jiilaal.

Uneven distribution of deyr rains in Wardher zone created pockets that received sufficient rains and were able to accommodate basic nomadic resources. These favorable localities to the north-west of Wardher and Galadi district attracted herdsmen from drought affected neighboring zones of the country and further afield from central Somalia. Looking for better pasture and surface water, herdsmen from Gashamo and Dgagahbur areas migrated to the north-west of Wardher, while Somali nomads from Dhusamareb in central Somali in-migrated to Galadi district. The concentration of livestock in these favorable pockets led to a quick exhaustion of pastoral resources. For example, in areas around Danot, water contained in privately-owned underground water tanks, or barkads, which normally store water during the dry season, have become exhausted in December as such sources were not replenished by the failed deyr rains.

Three boreholes supply water to Wardher town and the predominantly nomadic population in the surrounding area. When the SERP mission visited Wardher in December, two of the boreholes were not functioning due to lack of spare parts. This illustrates the need to immediately repair the boreholes in the region and help deepen the traditional hand-dug wells that supply water to both the herdsmen and their stock in jiilaal.

Tables 5 and 6 on food and livestock prices (December 1996) in the indicated three market places does not elaborate on the drought condition affecting Wardher zone. Livestock prices are higher in Kabri Dhahar than in the other two places probably because of better quality of animals there. However, livestock prices are better in Wardher than in Shillabo - which hides the fact that drought conditions are more pronounced in Wardher.

Maize and sorghum traded in Godey were produced in the main season of gu' in the 'agricultural corridor' along the Webi Shabelle river, which passes through this zone; sorghum traded in the predominantly nomadic market zones of Wardher, Shillabo and Kabari Dhaharee has been imported through various Somali ports. Although it is difficult to know the amount of locally produced grains accumulated by the local traders, given the failure of deyr crops, it is expected that local reserves will soon be saturated - a possibility which could lead to the increase of prices of cereals in the region until the next harvest in August.

Table 5: Livestock - December 1996 Price Data (Birr)

Market Place
Adult Shoat
Adult Camel
Young Camel
Wardher
70-120
630-900
500-600
Shillabo
80-100
400-600
300-450
Kabri Dhahar
105-154
800-1150
400-550

Table 6: Food Prices in December 1996

Market Place
Unit
Food Item
Price
Wardher
50kg
Rice
200-230

50kg
Sugar
210-213

50kg
Wheat
100-120

50kg
Sorghum
110-120
Shillabo
50kg
Rice
200-230

50KG
Sugar
200-220

50kg
Wheat
90-120

50kg
Sorghum
100-110
Kabri Dhahar
50kg
Rice
200-230

50kg
Sugar
200-225

50kg
Wheat
110-130

50kg
Sorghum
110-130

ANNEX

Table 1: Livestock Price in the Month of Maskaram 1989 EC (September 1996) in Godey Market

Type of animal No. brought Sold Unsold Average
for sale Price
1
Ox
61
30
31
514.8
2
Messina
9
6
3
585
3
cow
69
36
33
646.3
4
Steer
86
50
36
349.0
5
Heifer
38
17
21
393.1
6
Male Camel
91
58
33
1157.7
7
Female Camel
76
38
38
979.4
8
Male Sheep
1349
467
882
123.3
9
Female Sheep
469
151
318
66.1
10
Male Goat
1100
345
755
110.2
11
Female goat
408
177
231
65.6
12
Kid
25
17
8
30.7
13
Male Donkey
56
31
25
359.2
14
Female Donkey
6
4
2
402.5

Total
3848
1427
2416

Table 2: Livestock Prices in the Month of Tikimt 1989 EC (October 1996) in Godey Market

Type of animal No. brought Sold Unsold Average
for sale Price
1
Ox
43
28
15
483.3
2
Messina
13
8
5
594.8
3
Cow
52
24
28
537.3
4
Steer
61
35
26
222.1
5
Heifer
39
19
20
408.6
6
Male Calf

7
Male Camel
61
37
24
1129.4
8
Female Camel
35
19
16
952.9
9
Male Sheep
1025
260
765
111.9
10
Female Sheep
238
123
115
72.2
11
Male Goat
650
270
380
83.9
12
Female Goat
256
120
136
73.3
13
Kid
3
2
1
30
14
Male Donkey
31
17
14
294.6
15
Female Donkey
3
1
2
400

Total
2510
963
1547

Table 3: Livestock Prices in the Month of Hidar 1989 EC (Godey Market)

Type of animal No. brought Sold Unsold Average
for sale Price
1
Ox
68
38
30
391.4
2
Messina
21
13
8
493.5
3
Cow
78
35
43
558.5
4
Steer
78
35
43
239.2
5
Heifer
53
26
27
326.9
6
Male Calf
3
2
1
160
7
Female Calf
2
1
1
159
8
Male Camel
80
47
33
1015
9
Female Camel
44
24
20
959.7
10
Male Sheep
1145
360
785
109.7
11
Female Sheep
599
194
205
66.7
12
Male Goat
1050
277
773
82.9
13
Female Goat
474
203
271
68.9
14
Kid
13
7
6
27
15
Male Donkey
49
27
22
268.8
16
Female Donkey
-
-
-
-

27 January, 1997
1

UN-EUETel.: (251) (1) 51-10-28/29
PO Box 5580, Fax: (251) (1) 51-12-92
Addis Ababa, EthiopiaEmail:UNEUE@padis.gn.apc.org
1 Further reading: Seasonal Migration of Drought Affected Kenyan Nomads to Moyale District of the Ethiopian Somali National Regional StateField Trip Report: 6-13 September; by Dr. Ahmed Yususf Farah.
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From: UNDP__EUE_at_UNECA@un.org Date: Tue, 28 Jan 97 08:41:08 EST Message-Id: <9700288544.AA854454003@mail-out.un.org> Subject: New reports by the UNDP Emergencies Unit for Ethiopia


Editor: Ali B. Dinar, (aadinar@sas.upenn.edu)