UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA - AFRICAN STUDIES CENTER
Perennial vegetation like shrubs and trees, including coffee and chat, profiting from exceptional moisture from October to January and from some belg rains thereafter, provide green scenery all over the different agro-ecological areas of the two zones of East and West Hararghe. The herbaceous vegetation is presently only growing well in higher elevations with more moisture. In general, pasture conditions are good to excellent all over East and West Hararghe and livestock is in good shape.
While an excess of moisture has provoked an increase in fungal infestations and the lack of an adequate dry season might spread the coffee harvest over a wider, and less optimal, period, generally there has been an unseasonable increase in chat production resulting in lower wholesale prices which have persisted until now. Though there might be some compensation for price reduction through increased production of rainfed chat, it is mainly the chat farmers on irrigated land who deplore a loss of income over the last few months as their best business time normally coincides with the dry season.
The rain pattern has been very disappointing in the belg producing areas of both zones. Starting a little late, during the first decade of March, the rains stopped after a few days to resume only around mid of April. Most farmers therefore refrained from seeding any belg crops.
The rains of April/May have, however, been intensively used for land preparation and seeding of meher crops. With the exception of many lowland areas, most fields are planted mainly with long cycle crops, which in most cases are at an early two to three leaf stage (weyna dega, part of dega & kolla). The belg rains extended into May and localised showers were observed in different locations during the whole field trip, prolonging the planting period and benefiting the already seeded meher crops. The relatively young stage of long cycle meher crops at this time of the year is of some concern, especially in regard to the frequently occurring early secession of kremt rains. Likewise, many lowland farmers will have to confine their production to lower yielding short cycle meher crops.
No lack of seeds has been reported and crop densities in the fields observed are normal, despite initial fears that the unseasonable rains in late 1997 would have a negative impact on seed quality.
With the exception of a localised locust infestation in East Hararghe, which was contained by adequate control measures undertaken by the zonal department of agriculture, no major crop pests or diseases have yet been reported from either zone. It is fortunate that no army worm infestation have taken place to date as a major infestation could have had a devastating effect on the still young meher crops.
Until now no relief food has been dispatched and screening of people in need of food aid is still ongoing. No apparent signs of distress have been observed during the mission and coping mechanisms are presumably still working. With its important cash crop and trading potential, cash flow in the Hararghe area is important, offering a wider range of off-farm income possibilities as compared to subsistence farming areas like Wollo or Tigray. Despite this fact, a considerable part of the rural community, because of unequal income distribution, has little access to the general wealth, a common plague well known all over the world.
Normally not used for ratoon planting, the sorghum stumps remaining in the fields after harvesting have tillered with the unseasonable rains of late 1997, giving a second harvest in the lowlands with an average yield of some 300 kg per hectare. Some farmers also took advantage of the unseasonable rains to plant short cycle maize, which was mainly consumed at green stage. While improving food availability to a certain extent, these unusual harvests will not allow the lowland farmers to subsist until the coming meher harvest, especially in areas with no cash crops. While there might be some reduction of beneficiary numbers in the agro-pastoral and pastoral communities where livestock benefited from the unseasonable rains, there will still be a considerable number of people in need of relief because of the very poor 1997 meher season. In order not to hamper the agricultural activities of the coming meher, it is important to initiate the necessary relief activities at an early stage.
Specific Observations in Some Weredas of East & West Hararghe
Babile: Driving east from Harar to the Babile lowlands, the perennial vegetation was found to be very green and abundant, but hardly any land preparation was ongoing and practically no fields were planted. Rains occurred only in April, allowing some ploughing, but thereafter farmers refrained from seeding long cycle crops for lack of rain. According to the local authorities, last years meher season suffered from lack of rain with part of the crops drying in the fields. The unseasonable rains provoked the tillering of sorghum, giving a modest additional harvest but food stocks are low and needy people are coping by selling wood and charcoal. The relief period is reported to start from now until November but there is no relief food in stock, nor is there any positive reply from the zonal DPPD on a quick delivery of relief food. The wereda officials estimate the number of people in need of relief to have risen since the DPPC appeal, affecting some 2,733 families or around 13,665 people. Some 800 people are reported to have migrated in search of labour and more are expected to follow if relief food does not arrive in time.
The price of staple food like sorghum and maize is still low, with an average of around 100 Birr per quintal, but supply is low and prices are expected to raise quickly. Peanuts, the main cash crop of the wereda, even though stocks are low because of last years meagre harvest, fetch only half of the usual price because of poor quality. Livestock, however, is generally in good condition but with many farmers wanting to sell animals prices have dropped over the last two months, reaching an average of only 500 to 600 Birr for an ox instead of 1,000 Birr. As in the adjoining Region 5, livestock is mainly sold to traders for export through Somalia. The unjustified ban on Ethiopian livestock in fear of the Rift Valley Fever is reportedly the main factor for the slump.
Gursum: 21 km east of Babile town, the road turns north to Funyan Bira, Gursum wereda. In the lowlands, farmers were occupied with land preparation. Asked about the season's performance they expressed their satisfaction including last years meher. In general, the microclimatic conditions in Gursum as a whole are far better than those in the southern wereda of Babile. From weyna dega upwards the scenery is green, not of shrubs and trees which are nearly non existent, but with the predominant cash crop, chat.
In the lowlands some chat is grown, inter-cropped with sweet potatoes or maize but the weyna dega are dominated by chat, mainly in pure stands, leaving only limited areas for the cultivation of maize and sweet potatoes. In the lower dega areas chat is again inter-cropped, mainly with Irish potato, to be replaced in higher elevations by potatoes, wheat, barley, maize and sweet potatoes. Being the nearest wereda with favourable agro-climatic conditions for chat production to major chat markets of Jijiga and Hargeisa, farmers are mainly opting for cash crops, predominantly chat, followed by Irish potatoes and some coffee, with locally consumed food crops being of minor importance.
The highlands of Gursum and to some extent Jarso to the north are the only areas where a well performing belg production could be observed. From Ejersagoro, the main town of Jarso wereda, down to Harar, following another watershed, no belg crops have been planted. Like Gursum, the lower dega and weyna dega agroecological zones of Kombolcha wereda are dominated by chat plantations.
Deder, Malka Balo, Mesela: Leaving the main road at Kobo town southwards to Deder, then south-west to Harawacha and Mesela and finally again northwards back to the main road at Hirna, the mission mainly passed through the highlands and some midland areas of the three weredas. Good crop stands mainly at knee height could be observed in the dega areas, but hardly any belg crops. Most fields are planted also at lower elevations, where plants are generally at an early two-leaf stage. Chat is the main cash crop for Deder and Melka Balo weredas, followed by coffee and also vegetables (Deder). Mesela is known for its high quality coffee, but also in this wereda chat production is on the increase.
A privileged chat farmer revealed, that his first year's harvest on 2.5 hectares of land was some 20,000 Birr. Once the chat fields were fully established he is expecting a gross income of 40,000 to 50,000 Birr (16,000-20,000.Birr/ha).
Anchar/Goba Koricha: According to farmers met in the lowlands some kilometres north of the main town of Hardim, this year has been satisfactory until now. Sorghum has been seeded and land preparation is ongoing for maize planting. If rains should stop now the plots could still be seeded or re-seeded with the beginning of the kremt rains.
Last meher, farmers had problems with insufficient rainfall and many people are actually in difficulties. To overcome this difficult period many farmers would like to sell animals but the demand is low and prices have dropped with one ox being sold for only 400 to 500 Birr instead of the normal price of around 1,000 Birr. Farmers habitually do not wait for eventual relief assistance and people in need would rather seek daily labour in neighbouring weredas and as far as Harar or Dire Dawa in order to manage.
Mieso: Mieso wereda, situated in the lowlands, has 31 kebeles, 16 comprise farmers and 15 are agro-pastoralists and pastoralists. The wereda is known for its important sorghum production, mainly from long cycle varieties. Actually, little land has been prepared and even less planted, for lack of moisture. The few planted fields are wilting and farmers are generally waiting for the kremt rains to plant short cycle crops. After a failed meher season 1997, partially alleviated by the tillering of sorghum and some green maize production from the unseasonable rains, the 1998 prognosis is again somewhat discouraging for crop producing farmers. On the other hand, as confirmed by cattle-breeders, pasture is doing well and livestock is in good condition.
In the sub-regional context (Djibouti, Northwest Somalia & East Ethiopia), Hararghe is the only highland area with adequate climatic conditions for rainfed agriculture and a reasonably well developed transport network by road, rail and air. Hararghe thus enjoys a privileged position for cash crop production and marketing, with the trading potential still exceeding the actual production capacity. It is therefore not surprising that cash crop production is steadily gaining in importance over subsistence farming and low-priced food crop production.
In this context vegetables and to a greater extent chat play an ever increasing role in the rural economy, alongside with coffee, which is sold on the international market.
Coffee is relatively slow to establish, reaching its full production capacity only after about six years. Moreover, the coffee price depends on the unpredictable fluctuations of the international market and its production involves substantial costs for chemical fertilisers, phytosanitary measures etc. With an increasing demand (and price) in the West for organically grown foods, the biological (organic) cultivation of coffee might be worthwhile investigating as the better and more stable price and independence from imported and expensive inputs might more than compensate for the lower yield. In fact, many farmers actually produce their coffee in a more or less biological way to avoid the excessive costs for imported agricultural inputs; however, as long as their production methods are not controlled and officially recognised as biological and the coffee labelled accordingly it can not be marketed as an organically-farmed product.
Chat, on the other hand, reaches maturity much more quickly, does not need expensive inputs and fetches a higher price than coffee, producing a fluctuating but more or less regular income over the year. Growing under similar agro-ecological conditions as coffee, farmers prefer to cultivate chat for its higher return; however, as chat must be marketed within hours of harvesting, it can only be cultivated as a cash crop along good roads or in areas that are not too far from the main markets or airports.
Vegetables and fruits need specific soil and climatic conditions to grow, so cultivation is restricted to suitable places with high soil fertility or deep soils, reasonably wet climate or irrigation possibilities. Although vegetables do not have to be marketed quite as quickly as chat, they are perishable and as a cash crop ready access to markets is important.
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1 June, 1998
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