Rapid Field Assesment Mission to Borena Zone,05.00

UNDP-EUE: Rapid Field Assesment Mission to Borena Zone,05/00

The Agricultural Weredas of Borena Zone, Oromiya Region

Report on a Data Collection and Rapid Appraisal Mission: May 2000

by Negussie Belay, UN-Emergencies Unit for Ethiopia


The primary objective of the fieldwork was to collect field data that would enable an improved level of relief beneficiary determination for the mid- and highland agricultural weredas of Borena Zone, Oromiya Regional State. The problem in estimating the number of needy population in the highland weredas of the zone was encountered during two previous joint assessment missions, the first in December of 1999, and the second in mid April 2000.

Adequate food security monitoring indicators (indicators like rainfall amount/distribution, land cultivation and crop assessments, etc.) is lacking for the weredas. Besides, there is literally no information on the various issues relevant to the determination of vulnerability and degree of food insecurity at the wereda, peasant association and household levels. Similarly, there is no data relating to the types and share of cropping seasons at each agro-ecological zone.

The estimation of beneficiary numbers hitherto was largely arbitrary and qualitative. With this in mind, collection of secondary and primary data that would reveal the differences existing in the level of vulnerability to drought-induced production shocks between different groups of society was planned by the UN Emergencies Unit for Ethiopia. The main strategy/methodology for achieving the objective was to conduct a rapid rural/participatory appraisal (RRA/PRA) of a few sample households in each agro-ecological zone within each wereda. Identification of existing wealth differences, and landholding and other productive resources of sample households were typically the main topics planned to collect. The choice of the topics was on assumption that these variables are the basic indicators as a proxy for judging degree of and differences in a community and households vulnerability to climatic induced and overall food availability.

However, the planned fieldwork of conducting RRA/PRA on sample households was not performed due to lack of time and technical difficulties. The difficulties relate to the lack of necessary information at wereda level that are essential for the designing of the strata and selection of sampling units. The types and scale of the farming/livelihood systems, the types and share of cropping seasons, the agricultural resources distribution (land availability, land ownership, oxen and other animal assets, importance of the meher and belg seasons, etc.) are not known at the zonal and wereda levels. Under this condition, stratification and selection of samples at household level is technically difficult, if not impossible. Therefore, collecting and assembling such data at higher levels at first, and then going down the hierarchy was believed to be in order. Instead of the Household RRA, however, collection, cross-checking and collation of a wide array of relevant data from the zonal and wereda offices of agriculture, DPPD and planning were made. Since the timeframe for the field mission was not sufficient, it was agreed that the household survey task would be undertaken at a later date by the wereda/zonal offices of agriculture using a standard methodology and an appropriate data collection format.

The planned visit to all the mid- and highland weredas of Borena (Bore, Uraga, Galana Abaya, Adolo & Wadera, Hagere Mariam, Odo Shakiso) could not be achieved due to time constraint. Galana Abaya was not visited, therefore, nothing could be done in terms of data collation and assembly of the already available data at wereda level. There is only very little information available about Galana Abaya pertaining to food economy and any other data relevant to the objective of the field mission. This is due to the fact that the wereda only recently joined in the zonal/regional administrative territory from its original constituency in SNNPR. However, data collection based on the same two standardized formats is to be conducted for this wereda as well.


Rain and crop performance

During the last visit (joint DPPC-UN assessment mission, 20-27 April) to Borena Zone to assess the progress of the belg season it was learned that all the agricultural, mid- and highland weredas had been affected by the delayed onset of the belg (locally known as ganna) rains for about a month just like most other parts of the zone.

Most affected by this delay has been the maize crop, which should have been sown by early April at the latest, while preparation of fields/plots under normal conditions should have been made in late February or early March following the furmata showers. The rains in these midland weredas occurred early/mid April when it was already late for maize. The majority of farmers have not sown maize, and only few optimistic farmers were planting during the joint assessment mission in mid/late April, hoping the rains that came late may keep falling longer into June. The farmers normally sow a local variety of maize which is a long cycle crop and commonly harvested around/October/ November. Due to the unusual cropping pattern, agriculturists have often been confused in terms of defining this maize as a belg or a meher crop. The long cycle maize and to a lesser degree the long cycle sorghum that are planted in March during the early rains and harvested in November are at the root of the frequent discrepancies in belg and the meher production figures given for these weredas.

Department of Agriculture crop growth monitoring had not been conducted at the time of this mission. As a result, there was no quantitative data available to show the area of land prepared and put under different crops, as well as the number of farmers who have and have not sown which crops this belg season. There was only subjective estimates by the wereda and zonal DoA staff of the areas under cultivation as well as the expectation of a much less than normal belg harvest.

After the failure of the long cycle maize and other types of belg crops (such as wheat, barley and teff, sorghum and haricot /bean), some farmers have sown an alternate short cycle maize mainly composed of improved varieties and non-local types provided by aid agencies in the form of emergency seed supply. There appeared a mixed opinion on the timeliness on the arrival of and practical benefits of the emergency seeds provided. The late onset of the rains has rendered the benefits of little value. And yet, it could not be said with certainty if all the seeds received by the farmers were actually sown or in fact consumed by the farmers. The massive loss of plough oxen in the midland weredas was given as another reason for the failure/insufficient land preparation and planting, and therefore, by implication this could also have led to the non/misuse of the emergency seeds provided.

Concern was also expressed over the seed quality and seed varieties provided by some aid agencies. Indeed, there was considerable disagreement voiced between the wereda DoA offices and aid agencies in matters concerning the procedures adopted for the emergency distribution of seeds to farmers. The complaints of the DoA offices across the zone relate to the fact they felt bypassed when agencies were determining the types of seed to be provided and as a result those varieties selected were considered to be not suited to the local environment. The aid agencies on their part argue that it as an emergency response there is not always enough time to follow normal technical and administrative procedures. A disagreement was observed in Adola Wadera during the time of this mission where an aid agency active in the region and the DoA were at loggerheads, because the DoA office felt marginalized when agency staff had bypassed normal channels and distributed seed to farmers directly, and, secondly, it was felt the seeds were of a poor quality, purchased from open markets with no uniformity in colour and shapes, and with a large proportion of broken/nonviable seeds. While such misunderstandings are not new in times of emergency and haste, these could have been reduced to a minimum had drought contingency plans been drawn up in advance specifically for these weredas.

The timeliness and the choice of emergency seeds supplied by GTZ has received better recognition and was applauded by the zonal DoA in that the GTZ appeared to have made earlier preparations for the purchase of appropriate varieties of seed (in this case, haricot beans) from as far as the Turkana district of Kenya.

To provide for an effective emergency response and avoid the misunderstandings described above, the DoA has to make ready before hand the varieties, quantities, sources and other technical aspects of any seed support requirement for prior discussion and adoption by the aid agencies working in these weredas.

Unploughed and unplanted crop fields were a common sight while driving across parts of the weredas visited. Where fields have been planted, maize appears to dominate. However, the maize was standing only a little above the knee height when at this time of the season it should have been at least shoulder height. Also of concern was the fact that the rain had apparently stopped for more than week at a critical point in the development of the crop.

Except for the few farmers who were still hopeful that the rains would continue a little longer as judged from their observations of the clouds, most farmers as well as the DoA as an institution had lost all expectation of normal belg production this year. This was especially true for the maize crop. Adolo & Wadera farmers contacted along the road to Negelle expressed a mixed expectation for the future performance of their crops. Some still had a measure of hope in view of the dark rain-laden clouds observed overhead.

The importance and implication of the abnormal ganna season

The importance and share of the ganna/belg season crops steadily increases with decreasing elevation in Borena Zone. From a production share of 10-20% in the highland weredas of Bore and Uraga it rises to 40-60% in the mid- and lowland weredas of Adola Wadera, Hagere Mariam before levelling at 65-90% in the 6 semi-arid pastoral lowland weredas of the zone. Given that maize normally accounts for a considerable proportion of total belg production in all three midland weredas visited, considerable food stress is expected in the coming months as a result of the late rains this year

The ganna/belg rains comprise the main rainfall season in the mid- to highland weredas, generally speaking, just as they do in the pastoral lowland weredas, and therefore it is the main cropping season. Only Bore and Uraga weredas as well as few high elevated (dega) parts of Hagere Mariam, Odo Shakiso and Galana Abaya weredas have a rainfall and cropping regime comparable to the other parts of the country. Prospects for the food availability in the coming months in these areas is not believed to be of concern despite the late start to the belg rains, simply because the belg season contributes a smaller proportion to total annual output. Furthermore, coffee and enset (false-banana) culture is widely practiced along other food crops. The composition of the diverse agricultural system that includes coffee and enset crops that are less susceptible to short term moisture stress is hoped to make up for the less than normal belg crop performance for the coming months. In short, these pocket areas of the four weredas are less vulnerable largely due to their generally more favorable agro-climatic character. Being more food-secure, these areas have become the focus for distress migrants (cattle and human beings) from the mid- and low altitude parts of the weredas for they provide opportunities for waged labour on coffee fields as well as relatively better pasture.

The major crops grown in the four weredas are maize, wheat, barley and haricot beans in that order, with some long cycle sorghum and teff as well. Farmers in Hagere Mariam also indicate that their proximity to the neighboring weredas of Bore, Uraga and others belonging to SNNPR where coffee is grown provides them with opportunities for waged labour. They indicate that the search for waged labour has become more prevalent in the past three years and is now practiced by an increasing number of men even though among the Gujji people undertaking menial work even for a cash wage is seen as socially demeaning and was even considered culturally taboo until recently. Men are also engaged in off -farm wage labour both in towns and in rural areas within the wereda, and to other weredas of the zone as well as in adjacent non-Gujji territories of SNNPR like Gedeo, Burji and Derashie special weredas.

There is also a growing pattern of rural migration to the gold-rich areas of Odo Shakiso. While setting out to secure a good income, it appears a significant portion of people soon return home barehanded, often sick from malaria. The migration of the rural poor seeking waged labour, and especially for gold hunting has reached a significant scale. Those seeking an income are mainly young males and impoverished farmers, however, it is not yet clear if this is a pattern of temporary distress migration or a phenomenon reflecting an underlying trend of longer-term social and economic change. If this recent pattern is indicative of a move away from traditional farm-based sources of employment towards secondary income sources and is identified as part of a positive trend of development and change, then the provision of relief food to such areas should be reconsidered as it could negatively influence an otherwise positive development. More detailed studies to investigate which segment of the community is subject to migration and the underlying motives as to why people are migrating should help reveal its true nature. If considered to be a change for the better, then consideration may need to be given for the redirection of assistance away from food aid to the provision of assistance to combat the high incidence of malaria in gold-mining areas.

The proportion of farmers in the weredas having access to oxen and arable land according to the zonal DoA data is very low at about 18.3%. And yet Zonal officials point to vast tracts of untouched arable land available for private investment in coffee and irrigated crops. This is another reason why the issue of migration has to be studied carefully as there would appear to be plenty of scope for the further development of the agricultural sector.

A growing number of private investors in coffee pulping/processing factories and coffee plantations specially in Hagere Mariam Wereda has been informally reported. There was concern voiced, however, that this has been at the expense of local farmers. Stories circulate of indebted and once productive small farmers having been forced to lease out their land to commercial interests. In this regard, the provision of debt relief through rural micro financing institutions (including the Oromiya credit saving share company) and the establishment of micro-credit/revolving credit programs and other forms of government support is much needed to help farmers in drought affected areas overcome any temporary financial difficulties they might face. Such initiative, however, are difficult to promote in an area where there are few, if any, development orientated NGOs present.

Despite the productive potential of these mainly agricultural weredas, the degree of food insecurity appears to be constantly increasing, a trend that is linked to poor rainfall in recent years but is not entirely due to the vagaries of the climate. Linked to this has been a genuine increase in the need for food and other relief assistance.


The designations employed and the presentation of material in this document do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever of the UN concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries.

17 June 2000

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