Emergencies Unit for Ethiopia

Field Trip to Borena Zone of the Oromiya Region



A short field trip to Borena Zone of the Oromiya Region was conducted by the United Nations Development Programme Emergencies Unit 13-21 March, 1996. The purpose of the trip was to follow-up on information obtained from CARE International in Ethiopia about food shortages in the four weredas of Yabelo, Teltele Arero and Dirri in Borena zone (Oromiya Region). Accordingly, the team visited the two weredas of Yabelo and Dirri and held discussions with governmental and non-governmental organisations regarding the current situation in these weredas.

During the mission, the Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Committees of the two weredas, the Southern Range Land Development Unit (SORDU), the wereda Bureau of Agriculture, the Yabelo town Water Supply Unit and CARE Borena were also contacted.


The Borena rangeland normally has two bi-modal rainy seasons. Long rains occurring from March to May are locally called Gaannaa, whereas short rains occurring from September to October are locally known as Haageyaa.

The 1995 long rain reportedly had a late onset, starting on the first dekad of March, and an early cecession. Following that, the short rains did not materialise at all. A nearly ten month prolonged dry spell coupled with the unusual high expansion of bush encroachment, such as acacia comifier, resulted in the reduction of water levels in the traditional wells (ellas) and the complete dry out of ponds and thereafter poor pasture. According to information obtained from the area, the expansion of this bush encroachment on farmland has become a major problem for the farming communities. This problem occurred after restrictions were imposed on traditional methods of clearing unnecessary weed from the pasture land, which is normally done for the improvement of the natural pasture by burning the field once in a year before the rain season starts.

A food security assessment was conducted in December 1995 by CARE Ethiopia Food Information System (CEFIS), Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY), SCF (USA), Famine Early Warning System (USAID) and concerned regional, zonal and wereda line departments. Based on the findings of the assessment, food distribution were to be conducted through gratuitous relief, 5 rounds for the agro-pastorals and 3 rounds in the pastoral areas. These distributions would be for a total 30% resource-poor households in the CARE Borena operational area, starting in February 1996 for a period of six months. Accordingly, CARE Addis has allocated 5,000 tons of sorghum and the first round distribution was just completed a week before the EUE field visit to the weredas.

At the beginning of March, there were reports of a deteriorating situation in several weredas of Borena zone. It was generally felt by the agencies operating in the area that these specific weredas should be closely monitored and, in some cases, assisted with food distributions. Subsequently, follow-up missions were conducted by senior officials of CARE, WFP, and the Oromiya regional Bureau of DPP to look into these reports and review the situation. As a result of these visits, the DPP allocated an additional 1,968 tons of sorghum as an emergency food aid for one time distribution in Yabelo, Teltele, Arero and Dirri weredas, which were areas that were identified as most vulnerable. The distribution was scheduled to commence as soon as transportation of the food had been finalised.

CARE Borena received 460 tons of wheat from Canadian Food Grain Bank (CFGB) to be used through their monetisation programme in 1996. In addition, the agency started a pilot project on dryland farm practices in collaboration with the Awasa Agricultural College this year. A total of 244 households have been targeted for the first phase of this programme.

The Southern Range Land Development Project (SORDU) has reported no epidemics of livestock diseases. However, there have been reports of endemic cases of Blackleg, Anthrax, foot and mouth disease and ticks. There seems to be a general problem with drug availability for treatment and vaccination, except in the case of tick treatment. CARE Borena is providing medical supplies for foot and mouth disease. They are also very concerned about the prevalence of ticks and their rapid spread in the area. Tick medication is reported to be available in the market. However, due to a lack of budget and high price, the organisation has not been able to purchase the medicine.

Visited Government organizations in Yabelo wereda

Wereda Council

According to the Wereda Council, from the estimated 80,000 population of the wereda 65% are reported to be pastoralists, whereas the remaining 35% are agro-pastoral. Furthermore, the Council stated that the complete absence of the Haageyaa rains, which takes place between September-October and contribute to 25% of water and pasture replenishment, had a negative impact on livestock conditions. Lack of rain resulted in the reduction of water levels and drying of ponds. Referring to the December 1995 assessment of CARE, the Council mentioned that the recommendation of the team for food distributions among 30% resource-poor households of the community should be revised and increased to cover 50%. This would then be sufficient to accommodate the remaining sectors of the community who has not been considered as resource-poor during the assessment period, but whose food security had rapidly decreased in the early months of 1996. According to current distribution breakdowns, the wereda has received 540 tons of sorghum from the total allocation of 1,968 tons which was to be sent to 4 weredas in the zone. This amount of food is be distributed in 13 kebeles (out of a total 31 kebeles) that are not within CARE Borenaís operational area. Distribution has been determined as one round of free food aid, a second round depending on the Gaanaa (the long season rainfall) situation. If these rains, which started on 15 March, continue, then it was reported that the remaining food will be distributed for activities conducted through employment generation schemes.

Southern Range Land Development Unit (SORDU)

SORDU is operating in six weredas of Borena zone, namely Liben, Yabelo, Dirre, Moyale, Teltele and Arero. According to the head of SORDU, the 1995 long season rainfall (Gaanaa) was good both in amount and distribution in their six operational areas. Based on information obtained and rainfall data collected from the six weredas of SORDUís meteorology stations, average rainfall ranges between 400-700, normally rated as good in the Borena rangeland. However, the short rain which starts in September and ends in October did not materialise. This resulted in the reduction of water levels in the traditional wells (ellas), and poor pasture. Also, the expansion of bush encroachment, is a new problem experienced in the Borena rangeland. This issue has only been faced since the military stopped the traditional methods of burning fields before the rain season starts for the re-growth of better grass. To alleviate this chronic problem, the different concerned agencies were contacted and Birr 435,000 was obtained from the German Technical Co-operation (GTZ) for clearing through cash for work programmes. Subsequently, SORDU targeted about 400 hectares of grazing land for clearing during the initial stage. From the targeted land, about 200 hectares has been cleared and burnt with funding already made available. Funds for the remaining 200 hectares will be released as soon as the progress report has been submitted to the donor agency.

The construction of two buildings (training and laboratory) has been completed through funding obtained from the World Bank several years ago. However, additional funding is still needed for the purchase of training materials and laboratory equipment.

Yabelo town Water Supply Unit

The Yabelo town water supply comes from the borehole that was constructed in 1986, a few miles out of the town. The initial construction plan was to accommodate the population of the time which was reported to be 15,000. However, the current population figure a much larger and has been estimated at 35,000. In addition, it was reported that of the two boreholes only one is functional at the present time, and the other is not operational due to lack of a water pump. The town which is divided in two kebeles, has 7 water points at different locations. According to the WSU, 100 to 130 m³ of water with a maximum discharge of 3 litres per second is distributed to the town on a daily basis. Also when there are water shortages in the rural areas water is provided to the pastoral communities from the town supply. To alleviate the problem of perennial shortages and improve the provision of water, a proposal has been made to zonal authorities for the construction of additional borehole in 1997.

Bureau of Agriculture

There are 31 Peasant Associations in Yabelo wereda, of which 15 are livestock dependent. The remaining 16 PAs depend on food production and livestock.

According to the wereda Bureau of Agriculture, food crops constitute 75% of the livelihood of the agro-pastoral communities. During the main rainy season maize, sorghum, wheat, barley and teff are cultivated and harvested at the end of July. The 1995 long rainy season was reported to be good both in amount and distribution, and the yield was mentioned also to better than that of the last year.

Land preparation for this year has been completed and even in some places planting of maize has taken place. The total crop coverage for the year 1996 estimated to be 5,804 hectares.

At the present time, two nursery sites which are running under the wereda Bureau of Agriculture with seedlings of Moring Oleifera, Grevillea, Lcucaena, and several other similar species ready for distribution to farmers for use as animal fodder and for soil conservation.

CARE Borena

CARE Borena is currently operating in 18 Peasant Associations in Yabelo wereda focusing on the conservation of Borena Rangeland eco-system. During the EUE visit, discussions were held with the concerned authorities regarding monetisation and dryland farming programmes.

Accordingly, it was reported that the monetisation programme was initially started in 1995, with 300 tons of wheat obtained from the World Food Programme (WFP). The programme is carried out through the service co-operatives and women groups formed in different Peasant Associations under the supervision of CARE. Upon receiving requests from service co-operatives and womenís groups CARE provides food aid directly to the service co-operatives with a minimum profit. Income generated from the sales will be returned back to CARE while the profit goes to the service co-operatives and womenís groups for strengthening their institutional capacity. In addition, periodical training is given to recipients on bookkeeping, administration and management of funds. Market assessments are also carried out once a week and food is offered at wholesale prices in order not to undermine local merchants.

Donated wheat for monetisation is changed to maize, in order to accommodate the food habit of the community in the area. Under this programme 5,000 people have been covered, with 100 quintals of seed purchased from monetisation income and distributed to 300 resource-poor households. Furthermore, CARE obtained 460 tons of wheat from the Canadian Food Grain Bank (CFGB) for use in the monetisation programme of 1996. According to the extension supervisor of the programme, about 2,895 quintals had been sold up to 19 March through the service co-operatives. The programme for this year plans restocking in the pastoral area, providing oxen and seed distribution in the agro-pastoral area for 600 resource-poor households.

Dryland Farm Practice

A pilot project for dryland farm practices was started by CARE Borena in collaboration with the Awasa Agricultural College through funding obtained from CARE. In the programme 244 households have been targeted and, so far, 36 oxen, 50 quintals of seed and 50 quintals of fertiliser have been purchased and distributed. The seed variety Awasa College variety-3 (ACV- 3) was purchased from the Awasa Agricultural College. This is a short-cycle variety maize (from 110-115 days) reported to have higher yield than katumany (25-30 qts/ha). Extension agents have been assigned to teach appropriate improved agricultural practices to the farmers at the trial site set up by CARE on 2 hectares of land west of Yabelo.

Dire wereda Bureau of DPP

The wereda consists of 47 kebeles; 28 kebeles are dependent on both food crop and livestock production, while the remaining 19 are solely dependent on livestock.

Though the main season rains of 1995 (Gaanaa) were erratic and unsatisfactory, the production was reported to have been better than that of the previous year. However, an absence of rains in September and October has resulted in serious water shortages and decreased pasture in most kebeles of Dire. According to the pastoral community in the visited kebele, which is west of Mega, the expansion of bush encroachment has become a major problem in the area. According to the wereda Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Committee, CARE Borena is distributing food to 30% of resource-poor households in their operational area, in 16 kebeles west of Mega town. Following the CARE/WFP/Bureau of DPP visit to the area, 6,750 quintals of sorghum was recently allocated to Dire. During the EUE field trip it was confirmed that of the allocated amount, 5,000 quintals, had been received by the Wereda Council. This food will be distributed in those kebeles where CARE is not operating.


In Yabelo and Dire weredas it was generally observed that lack of surface water, poor pastureland and deteriorated livestock conditions were a main issue of concern. In places where water is available, pasture is over-grazed and the level of water in the traditional wells has drastically decreased as the result of high concentration of livestock. Movements of the pastoralists looking for new sources of water and pasture for livestock were observed by the mission. In Tacho Boru, a village of Dokole kebele in the CARE Borena operational area (west of Yabelo), the nearest traditional well for watering is reported to be at a distance of 8-10 hours walk, making access extremely difficult.

Information obtained from CARE Borena indicates that the food security situation in all the visited kebeles and other areas that were not covered during our trip is not very good. Livestock such as lactating and pregnant cows and calves have been dying in large numbers (see annex). Many livestock are not marketable or can not reach the nearest market centres. In some kebeles, the normal market patterns have been replaced by barter, with cattle changed for maize.

The previously serious situation in several weredas of Borena is now in hand, but a relapse may be expected and the situation in these areas can still radically change in the coming months. Although the rains have now started and food allocations were made, the Government, UN and Non-Governmental Organisations should still continue to monitor the general situation in those weredas that continue to be vulnerable.

7 April, 1996


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