Emergencies Unit for Ethiopia

Prosperity Fades:
Jimma and Illubabor Zones of Oromia Region
Assessment Mission: 5 - 15 October 1999

Prepared by Dechassa Lemessa,  Field Officer, UN-EUE


The incidence of food insecurity in relatively well off areas with no previous history of food shortage is not easy to recognize or acknowledge. Such is currently the case in the Jimma and Illubabor zones of Oromiya region. The existence of a systematic and effective early warning system that could generate, analyze and interpret data could have been used to identify vulnerable groups and determine the factors that are undermining the ability of people to cope with difficult times. However, the primary focus of the current national early warning system is - understandably - on areas known to be vulnerable to crisis and so the difficulties being faced in other areas perhaps have not been so obvious. The marginalisation of certain economic groups in these zones and their increasing improverishment, however, indeed appears to be taking place.

There has been inadequate information available on the current humanitarian situation in Jimma and Illubabor zones of the Oromiya region as a result of the already indicated circumstance. Instead, until September this year, there was only rumour from different corners that these areas were facing a difficult situation and, in general, little attention has been paid to the area. To obtain a better picture of the current humanitarian situation, UN-EUE undertook a rapid assessment mission to Jimma and Illubabor zones from 5 to 14 October 1999. This mission report gives background information and accounts the causes and effects of the current situation, the prospects and possible actions to be taken to avoid the development of a crisis.

Despite their rich endowment in natural resources, the Jimma and Illubabor zones of the Oromiya region have been hit by serious food insecurity this year requiring urgent relief assistance. The extent of the crisis reached beyond the coping capacity of many farmers almost a year ago, as some people reported. They supported their claims with examples of farmers who have been unable to pay government taxes and agricultural inputs credit repayments due to deterioration of their capacity to effect their social obligations.

Nevertheless, by the end of May 1999, the problem had been widely reported (both verbally and in writing) by local officials. Following the reports, a series of independent assessments were conducted by wereda, zonal, regional and federal authorities over a lengthy period from June to September. It was only as of mid-September (three months after the initial reports passed on by different Farmers' Associations) that food assistance was sent to the affected areas.

Six weredas from Illubabor Zone and seven from Jimma Zone are facing food shortages as a result of unfavorable climatic conditions, animal and human diseases, crop pests and deterioration of terms of trade. However, the emergence of food insecurity can be traced back to 1996/97 when certain predisposing factors were first detected as cited in this report.

According to the local authorities currently 36,489 people from Jimma zone and 104,500 people from Illubabor zone are considered drought affected and in need of urgent relief assistance. Although responses have been forthcoming, the size of the requirement and the actions taken so far are not considered to be commensurate.


The assessment employed a range of rapid rural appraisal tools: individual and group discussions, meetings, field observations, household visits, interviews and analysis of secondary information obtained from various government offices and NGOs present in the areas visited.

Areas visited

Seven out of 13 weredas of Jimma Zone and six out of 12 weredas of Illubabor Zone are considered as drought affected this year. These are: Seqa Choqorsa, Tiro Afeta, Setema, Sokoru, Gera, Gomma and Limmu Kossa weredas (the latter three being coffee growing areas surrogated with field crops) from Jimma Zone while Gechi, Dhidhessa, Bedele, Metu, Hallu Bure and Alle Didu weredas (the last three being coffee growing) from Illubabor Zone.

Based on agro-ecological variations, cropping systems, severity and extent of the crisis, Seqa Choqorsa, Tiro Afeta, Gera and Setema weredas of Jimma and Gechi, Metu, Alle Didu and Hallu Bure weredas of Metu Zone were surveyed by this assessment mission.
Background information

Jimma Zone has a population of approximately 2.1 Million. The area receives annual rainfall in the range of 1,200-2,800 mm and in normal years the rainy season extends from February to November. The area is suitable for growing coffee, cereals, pulses, root and fruit crops. The highlands and the swampy areas grow maize and barley as a belg season crops using residual moisture in the depressions. Only 25% of farmers in the area possess one or more oxen. Despite considerable deforestation in recent years, 27% of the total area of Jimma Zone remains forested (natural, artificial, shrubs and bushes).

Illubabor Zone, one of the more densely forested areas, has a total population of 847,047. The major crops grown are: maize, teff, sorghum, barley, wheat, pulses and coffee. Maize production constitutes 65% of the total food crops production in the zone. The main season kiremt rains usually commence at the end of March and last until October.

Honey production is one of the more important sources of local earnings to both zones. Jimma and Illubabor zones share many similarities in their agro-ecological conditions, cropping systems, vegetation types and climatic conditions. Both zones were and are among the more prosperous zones in the country, contributing significantly to national food security and the economy. Nevertheless, the degradation of natural resources has accelerated in recent years without commensurate measures being taken to protect the resource base and conserve the environment.
Major findings

The current worrying situation in Jimma and Illubabor zones did not develop over-night, it rather developed over an extended period of time. Farmers trace the deterioration of the food security in these areas back to 1997, when the harvest was poor and coffee price low.

In 1998 and 1999, hailstorms and excessive rains substantially damaged maize, sorghum, teff, beans, and field peas at flowering, fructification and harvesting times resulting in a significant yield reduction. Furthermore, due to the fluctuating climate the incidence of maize diseases such as Gray Leaf Spot (GLS), caused by the fungus Cercospora zeaemaydis (not previously common in Ethiopia), became economically important and significantly reduced maize yield in both zones in 1998 and 1999. Other common crop diseases, like Coffee Berry Disease (Colletotrichum coffeanum) on coffee and Enset Bacterial Wilt on enset (though not a major crop, enset substantially contributes to the food security of the area) have had a significant impact on crop production. The price of coffee, the main cash crop in the area, has dropped sharply since 1996/97. Furthermore, livestock diseases, such as foot-and-mouth (FMD) and trypanosomiasis, has increased the mortality and morbidity of animals in Tiro Afeta, Sokoru, Limu Kossa, Hallu Bure, Gechi weredas.

The current crisis is therefore the result of a range of factors. Critical this year were the delayed onset of rains for the main cropping season which in turn delayed planting times by at least one and half to two and half months depending on the areas visited. The problem was more localized in the midlands where maize and sorghum crops are normally planted earlier (February/March) as compared to the lowlands (in April) and are ready for green cob consumption in June. Due to a protracted dry spell from October 1998 to mid-April this year, land preparation and planting of these food crops was not possible or done too late to allow for the usual mid-season consumption of green maize. The problem was further exacerbated by lack of draft animals. In some areas visited there was a complete failure of maize and sorghum, and crop fields were observed completely invaded with weeds, predominantly by Guizotia scabra and Bidense pachyloma. The poor rains also affected the availability of forage (both for livestock and bees) and farmers were forced to feed their animals with enset leaves, often the only green plant available. Furthermore, this adverse situation resulted in a much diminished honey harvest in Gera, Setema and Alle Didu weredas, where bee keeping is an essential component of the household economy.
The incidence of malaria and Relapsing Fever (April-June) this year in Gechi and Hallu Bure weredas affected farmers and greatly reduced their capacity to carry out their normal agricultural activities on time. As a result of such sicknesses, many farmers failed to plant any main season crops (mainly maize and sorghum). During this mission it was observed that hailstorms and excessive rains had damaged maize, sorghum, teff and coffee at flowering stage in most of the areas of the zones (in Hurumu, Gore and Metu weredas, for example). Furthermore, wild animals (baboons, monkeys, wild pigs and apes) were reported as serious threats to crops by farmers everywhere, not only in reducing yields but also as a hindrance to farm land expansion. An unfavorable terms of trade also prevails in many areas. In this connection, the price of maize which is used to be Birr 70 per 100 kgs in normal times has increased to Birr 190 while the price of an ox worth Birr 900 previously has fallen to Birr 300.
Stress indicators and coping strategies

Children and the elderly were often observed to be physically emaciated due to malnutrition. This was a particular feature in Seqa Choqorsa wereda, where a number of children were under treatment in a clinic run by the Finnish Mission. There was a high supply of animals on market day at Chira (main town of Setema wereda) as opposed to very low supply of grains. Sale of timber (dismantled houses), grass, house utensils, small farm tools, and clothes were commonly observed. Due to the prevailing difficulties, it was reported that people are resorting to the consumption of weeds, specifically Sporobolus indicus (Muriyi*), Guizotia scabra (hadaa*) and Bidense pachyloma (Chuqi*) and immature banana fruits. Additional indicators of the seriousness of the situation are: empty household granaries, people begging and committing crimes (assuming that they will be fed in jail), sending children to live with relatives or friends and reduced student enrollment in schools. Migration (family and distress) was also reported from Tiro Afeta and Gechi weredas to other areas in search of food and waged labour.

Among the signs of increasing impovershment were reports of coffee mother trees being sold by some farmers. On top of this, reportedly, some people were resorting to boiling and consuming green cherries of coffee.

In general, the current food security situation in Jimma and Illubabor zones is expected to worsen due to the anticipated poor 1999 main season harvest in most weredas. This year’s production is expected to be less than the 1998 and 1997 seasons. Consequently, significant food shortages are likely in 2000, mainly attributable to the poor performance of the maize crop in both zones. Furthermore, due to excessive rains and repeated hailstorms, maize and teff crops have suffered serious damage, for instance in Sokoru, Gechi, Metu and Alle Didu weredas.

In addition, impoverished farmers are expected to continue selling coffee trees in order to raise the cash with which to purchase food. For those farmers who retain their coffee trees, yeilds, and therefore income, this year is expected to be very low due to the effects of CBD (Coffee Berry Disease) and the loss of coffee flowers as a result of the prolonged dry spell. Also indicative of the worrying cycle of impoversihment is the large numbers of livestock (preponderantly oxen and cows) sold as a response to the crisis, a depletion of assets which is threatening the future livelihood of households.
The relief response

Following various assessments undertaken at the zonal and regional level, modest relief assistance was forthcoming. As of the end of September, 800 MT of cereals (first round distribution) and 740 MT of sorted seeds had been provided by the Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Commission and distributed to selected beneficiaries in Hallu Bure, Alle Didu and Gechi weredas (the latter provided with food rations only) of Illubabor zone.

Likewise, the DPPC supplied 258 MT of cereals and 35.2 MT of supplementary foods (distribution was still ongoing at the time of this assessment) to Seqa Choqorsa, Tiro Afeta, Gera and Setema weredas of Jimma zone. The Finnish Mission (which has a health-oriented programme) is also involved in treating malnourished children at its Shebe clinic where some 30 children were receiving treatment at the time of the assessment mission.

There are a very limited number of NGOs (Menschen für Menschen is the dominant organisation) working in Illubabor zone and as yet none have been involved in the provision of relief assistance.

As indicated earlier, the process of events from first warnings of problems, through the conducting of assessments to the final delivery of assistance has been markedly protracted in these zones.

Following the receipt of reports from various Farmers’ Associations and wereda authorities, the zonal authorities organised teams of experts drawn from relevant line departments to reassess the situation and report back to the regional authorities. In turn, the regional authorities undertook their own independent assessment before reporting back to the federal government. Likewise, the federal authorities, through the DPPC, had to do another technical assessment before a decision could be made regarding the allocation of relief resources. This process took almost four months (June to September). By then, the number of victims identified had doubled in Bedele, Dhidhessa, Setema, Tiro Afeta, Seqa Choqorsa and Alle Didu weredas. This in turn led to a significant difference in the number of beneficiaries identified as requiring assistance, forcing the redistribution of the limited food made available.

The observations raise questions regarding the assessment and decision making process. Is there a way to accelerate the process or to find a quick response mechanism that can be triggered when needed? Another problem has clearly been the excessive time gap between the first and the second round distributions which in turn diminishes the effectiveness of the relief assistance provided. Furthermore, the poor facilities in some weredas in terms of the transport and storage of food relief has been a serious constraint. In Setema wereda, for example, beneficiaries were forced to travel seven hours to collect their relief rations.

Conclusion and recommendations

The worrying level of food insecurity in Jimma and Illubabor zones had its beginning three years ago. In this regard, the prolonged dry spell this year certainly excacerbated the situation but has not been the only factor. The impending crisis should have been detected earlier and with a more prompt relief response the level of stress and impoverishment now prevalent could perhaps have been avoided. That the required response was not forthcoming appears to be largely due to a combination of lack of relief management experience and lack of information.

The delivery of additional relief food aid, including supplementary foods, is currently the first priority, not only to save lives but also to protect and help restore the productive capacity of the people. Furthermore, as the affected people do not have their own seeds for the marshy area cultivation commonly practiced in both zones (mostly maize) provision of cereal seeds is also seen as an imperative to help restore the productive capacity of drought-affected and impoverished farmers.

In the longer-term, building the capacity of the zonal and wereda level disaster management bodies to enable them carry out effective and efficient food situation assessment and generate reliable information for decision-makers is seen as a priority. This will help to shorten the process of identifying disaster affected areas and people thus avoiding unnecessary repetitions of surveys and duplication of resources and effort.


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.

9 November 1999

UN-EUE  Tel.: (251) (1) 51-10-28/29 
PO Box : 5580  Fax: (251) (1) 51-12-92 
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia  Email: undp-eue@telecom.net.et