Field Assessment Report: North Wello, South Wello and Oromia Zones of Amhara Region - Title

Field Assessment Report: North Wello, South Wello and Oromia Zones of Amhara Region

Field Assessment Report: North Welo, South Welo and Oromia Zones of Amhara Region

(Mission undertaken from 5 - 15 October 2000)

By Dechassa Lemessa, UN Emergencies Unit for Ethiopia

Introduction and background

North Wello, South Wello and Oromia Zones of Amhara region had an unsatisfactory meher harvest in 1998, a complete failure of the belg and a poor meher harvest in 1999, leading to the depletion of household assets including recent heavy losses of livestock. According to the January 2000 National Appeal 475,857 drought affected people in North Wello, 785,864 people in South Wello and 124,870 people in Oromia zones were in need of humanitarian assistance.

Furthermore, rains started two months late in April for the belg. Therefore, belg crops, mainly barley and wheat in the highlands, were planted late, subjected to moisture stress, pest infestation and became stunted. Consequently, the belg harvest was poor. The failure of the current belg harvest has pushed up the number of needy people in North Wello, South Welo and Oromia zones to 656,763; 1,185,926 and 164,391 respectively (DPPC -EWS Report, July 2000). Although the belated rains helped the re-growth of grasses for animals, land preparation for the meher planting was not carried out as required due to inadequate soil moisture.

This year's main rains started more or less on time and were distributed evenly. Farmers in mid-land and lowland areas unanimously reported that for a better meher harvest light showers should continue intermittently until the end of October. Unlike other years, last year for example, this year the rains did not cease in August, instead there were excess rains in pocket areas and overflow of Borkana River (Oromia Zone) which damaged crops planted in Chaffa depression. But in Kobo Wereda of North Wello Zone in August rains were scarce and this would affect crop yield to certain extent.

Objective and methodology

This field assessment was conducted from 5-15 October 2000 in North Wello (Kobo and Meket weredas), South Welo (Wara Illu and Kalu weredas) and Oromia (Bati and Dawa Chaffa weredas) zones of Amhara region. The objective of the mission was to assess the situation of main rains, the impact of a delayed belg and monitor relief food distribution by various governmental agencies and NGOs. Line departments, wereda officials, wereda DPP Committees, NGOs and farmers were contacted during the mission.

Weather Condition

In normal years the belg rains start in February and end in May while the main season rains commence in June and end in September. However, this year the belg rains were delayed by two months starting in April in North and South Wello zones, except in Oromia Zone where light showers were received at the end of March.

In the highlands, and wet mid-lands where belg crops, mainly barley and wheat, were planted using April rains the crops suffered from moisture stress during a dry spell in May and later become infested with aphids. In many cases this has led to a total failure of the crops, with the remaining stalks only useful as livestock feed. In the lowland areas the main belg crops of maize and sorghum were either severely affected by moisture shortage or not planted at all, reducing the amount of land cultivated for belg season production. In general, due to the delayed belg rains, sowing was delayed and the harvesting of belg crops will also be delayed.

In the northern highlands, main season rains started on time in June and the distribution was good up until 15 October. Nevertheless, for better harvest, the main season rains need to extend on and off until the end of October 2000.

In the lowlands of Kobo, Habru, Bati and Dawa Chaffa weredas, where evapo-transpiration is high, the amount of rain received was not adequate to fulfill the moisture requirements of crops grown and there will be yield reduction as a result.

On the other hand, according to Oromia Zone Department of Agriculture report, in August there was inundation of Borkana River, which flooded teff, maize and sorghum crops in Dawa Chaffa Wereda and Artuma Jille Wereda damaging over 500 hectares of cropland. Furthermore, 500 households were temporarily displaced while 125 shoats and 247 chickens were killed in Dawa Chaffa Wereda.

Crop production

Normally, belg crops are planted in February and harvested in June/July while meher crops are planted in June/July and harvested in November/December. This year, due to the delayed belg rains, barley and wheat were planted late in April and were subjected to a dry spell in May. Compounding the problem, aphids (plant lice) physically stunted crops at the pre-flowering stage in the midlands and highlands of North and South Wello Zones. While belg farmers in the highlands do not normally attempt meher cropping, this year some farmers were seen re-ploughing their farm plots previously planted with belg crops and have sown opportunistic crops (pulses, teff, wheat and barley) despite hailstorms in July and August and the risk of frost in October. Even if unsuccessful these crops could be used for feeding their animals.

Belg rains are also used for land preparation for meher crops. Unfortunately, this year the delay in belg rains did not allow timely and quality land preparation ahead of the planting season. Lack of draught animals worsened the situation. As late as July, planting of meher crops like wheat, barley and horse bean and field peas was carried out and during this mission they were at seed setting stage instead of being matured. In the belg producing highland areas meher rains are used for land preparation and during this mission land preparation was going on in these areas for the coming belg planting. This helps farmers work the soil easily especially when the soil is wet and draught animals are well fed and hardy.

In lowland areas, long cycle crops like maize and sorghum were either planted late (in April) or farm plots were instead replaced with short cycle crops, mainly with a teff variety known as bunigne, which matures in less than three months. Long cycle crops planted late, mainly maize, generally failed due to lack of soil moisture, except in marshy areas. Short duration crops are expected to give a low yield thus reducing the annual production.

In order to alleviate the shortage of seeds, SCF/UK and FAO have provided seeds to needy people in the areas visited. 75 mts of improved wheat seed (HR1685) was distributed (25 kg/farmer) in June to farmers in Desse Zuria Wereda from FAO. At the same time, 25 mts of teff seeds (10 kg/farmer) and 12 mts of barley seeds (25 kg/farmer) were distributed to farmers in Kutaber and Wadla weredas, respectively from the same organization.

SCF/UK provided 150 mts of barley seeds (local purchase) each to Wadla and Guba Lafto Weredas on a novel mode of payment, Seed-for-Work/EGS, where a household working for 5 days gets 25 kg of seeds. The project established a "seed implementation committee" which has 7-8 members (4 beneficiaries - 2 women and 2 men, 2 elders and 1 or 2 religious leaders - one Christian and one Islamic). The project set an agreement with the needy and selected farmers and advised them to buy by their own means or borrow from friends/relatives 25 kg of barely seed (for a quarter of a hectare) that suits them. Then each farmer brought 25 kg of seed to warehouse to be weighed (names written on each bag) and issued to the farmers after completing their EGS activities. Once the seed is purchased by the selected beneficiaries and handed over to be stored, SCF/UK refunds the money (Birr 75 for 25 kg of barley seed) to each farmer. Contacted beneficiary farmers were happy with this system because they had a chance of buying varieties preferred and suitable to their soils, climatic conditions and above all they are confident about the quality and performance of the material purchased as they are relying on their own experience in selecting the seed. Although the approach was implemented for only one year, it needs more time to generate greater interest and for further development. The approach was welcomed by the beneficiaries and local officials. SCF/UK learned that there is a need for increasing the amount of seed to be provided per farmer to 50 kg, sufficient for half a hectare of land.

According to a recent Kombolcha Plant Health Clinic report, starting from June 2000 there have been outbreaks of an insect pest, Sorghum Chafer (Pachnoda interrupta) in Oromia Zone (Bati, Dawa Chaffa and Artuma Jille weredas), South Wello Zone (Kalu and Wara Babo weredas), North Wello Zone (Habru, Guba Lafto and Kobo weredas) and 6 weredas of North Shewa zone. Over the past two years the pest was become an important crop pest in Afar Region and adjacent weredas in Oromia and Amhara regions. It is drawing national attention due to its potential damage to flowers and fruiting parts of crops (mainly sorghum, maize and sunflower) and bushes and forest trees. The pest extensively devastated crops despite farmers' efforts in controlling it traditionally (hand picking, smoking and disturbing the pest by shaking every stand of sorghum plant in a field the whole-day mobilizing all members of a household, including kids) and using baiting (mixing insecticide- Sevin with banana, peach and cactus fruits and other materials). The pest eats up fruits/grains at milky stage and hampers fructification and seed setting of crops. Research results indicate a 58 -71% yield reduction in sorghum in Ethiopia. Other pests such as American bollworm and Weaver birds (Quellea quellea) were also additional threats damaging crops in the three zones visited.

Furthermore, problems inflicted on crops by weeds, mainly Striga hermontica- a parasitic weed on sorghum, invasive weeds like Congress Weed (Parthenium hysterophorus) and Prosopis sp. were also reported in the zones.

Livestock situation

Due to poor rain over the last three years, livestock were underfed and subjected to high mortality. In North Wello Zone alone, 49,000 cattle perished last year according to local officials. Due to population pressure and expansion of farmlands, even edges of farm fields were overgrazed. Weeds and failed crops are used as additional feed sources. Farmers were complaining of lack of oxen and hence the quality of land preparation was reduced, as was the area of land cultivated. Farmers were using cows, heifers and equines as draught animals, which are not as strong as oxen. In Wadla Wereda of North Wello Zone for example, 15% and 60% of the farmers were using paired oxen for ploughing and ox-horse pair, respectively. The remaining 15%, 3%, 5% and 2% were using horses, cows, mules and horses respectively for ploughing.

Although in Dawa Chaffa Wereda of Oromia Zone some animal diseases were reported by farmers, which could be due to the swampy nature of Borkana Depression, no serious and unusual disease outbreaks or deaths were reported in the zones visited. The Borkana Valley is usually used as grazing area for about 100,000 cattle (about 60,000 are coming from out side Oromia Zone) and a high incidence of internal and external parasites, skin diseases and many other diseases usually necessitates vaccination and treatment every year.

Income opportunities

Besides relief food distribution to the needy people, people cited limited alternative sources of income. Sale of fuel wood, mainly charcoal (in the lowland areas) and eucalyptus tree (in the highland areas), timbers, livestock, crop stands in farm fields were repeatedly reported by groups and individual farmers. Wage labour and development activities like Seed-for-Work, Food-for-Work and Cash-for-Work were also cited as additional opportunities by those with easy access to the work. Consumption of wild foods was a means of economizing food rations provided to a household. Taken together, these income means are not only income sources but also indicators of continuing food shortages.

Another means of access to cash was borrowing money from better off people paying back the debt in grain (for example, for Birr 100 borrowed one has to pay back 100 kg of grain which is more expensive than the money borrowed) at harvest time.

Health situation

Although Zonal and Wereda Health Officials refrained from giving information, community members: both farmers and urban dwellers, including health professionals, reported that as of mid-September there was an outbreak of disease with excessive vomiting and diarrhea, suspected to be a Cholera-like infection in South Wello and Oromia Zones. At least three PAs (West of Harbu town) in Kalu Wereda and two PAs (Garbi Village near Kamisse town) in Dawa Chaffa Wereda were affected and currently receiving treatment by health professionals pooled together from different hospitals and clinics in the zones. As a matter of urgency, World Vision Ethiopia (WVE) donated money for the campaign being carried out intensively in the areas affected. According to an unofficial report from the community, 18 people have died from Kalu wereda while not less than 22 people had reportedly died in Dawa Chaffa Wereda. In both weredas some schools were temporarily closed, after being opened for the new Ethiopian academic year, and markets were temporarily prohibited (up to the end of this mission) to reduce the spread of the disease. Currently, however, the situation was under intensive treatment and hoped to be contained according to the Zonal and Wereda Health Officials.

Meanwhile, according to local health officials, an increase of malaria cases is anticipated up to the end of October in the lowland areas of the three zones.

Relief food distribution

Relief food distributions were underway under the auspices of NGOs and ORDA (Organization for Relief and Development of Amhara) in all the weredas visited. LWF and SCF/UK distributed food stocks themselves in their areas of intervention, while stocks provided by WFP and DPPC are managed and distributed by ORDA at grass roots level. Mode of distribution includes EGS, FFW and gratuitous provisions.

SCF/UK initiated Seed-for-Work, as a back stop to food insecure households, assisting 12,000 farmers in Guba Lafto and Wadla weredas of North Welo Zone.

For the inaccessible weredas of the three zones food was pre-positioned for the period June to September. Even then, given the high number of needy population the amount of food delivered was said by the local officials to be insufficient. For example, in Wara Illu Wereda a total of 77,209 were said to be in need while only 56,568 people were provided relief food.

Conclusion and recommendation

The belg 2000 harvest was very poor, as it had been in the previous three consecutive years. Belg dependent areas will therefore continue to be dependent on relief assistance until the next belg harvest in June 2001. At the same time, there is a great need for seeds for the next planting season in belg dependent areas of the zones visited. From previous experience and discussions with community and local officials in emergency situations (especially where drought and famine were recurrent, as it is in the zones visited) provision of seed should be free and never on credit basis. This is because many of the affected people were already heavily in debt (mainly due to loans of agricultural inputs- fertilizers, herbicides and improved seeds, and/or seed credits in emergency situations) and unable to liquidate their obligation due to the persistent depletion of assets. It was observed that the poor, farmers without any livestock to sell and pay their debt, were complaining that debt had risen to the extent they had to abandon their family and escape to other areas in fear of being prosecuted. Basically, credit is only viable when repayment can be effected without placing farmers in difficulty. But, the trend in the areas visited according to farmers and local officials is that loans are repeatedly being issued to farmers and they are over burdened with debts and this will eventually kill the habit of clearing loan and repayments. This was true in regular programs like cash-and in-kind credit programs in the zones visited. It is somehow unfair to persist in pursuing clients for repayment when they are not in a position to maintain their families and lives due to crop failure and severe food shortage. For example, in Guba Lafto Wereda of North Welo Zone farmers were reluctant to receive seed credit in fear of the obligation to repay under uncertain production circumstances.

As a result of last year's toll on livestock and intensive selling of animals by people in order to sustain their families many farmers have lost or have been left without livestock. In order to rebuild their asset base, therefore, support in restocking is considered essential and needs to be part of the humanitarian response and integrated with food and cropping assistance (grains and seeds) which is merely half of the livelihood of a household.

In view of the problem, EECMY and HOPE Enterprise have started restocking in response to the drought, establishing community-based committees which will be responsible for the identification and local purchase of animals and free distribution to destitute and desperate households in their project sites. This will increase self-confidence and accelerate the recovery and self-reliance of households in a manner more effective than only addressing the partial requirement and livelihood of the affected people through food and seed provision.

Even in good years, the zones visited are food insecure and can not adequately feed the population hosted. It is not always worth thinking of large-scale irrigation schemes when there is no capacity (at least financially) for it. Instead, micro-irrigation schemes with individuals or farmers group are practical and important alternative crop production means.


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26 October 2000

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