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Food security in Ethiopia threatened by locusts and floods

Mohammed Ali, 30, is visibly tired, but relentlessly searching for pastures for his cattle. He leads over 400 head of cattle from Ewa to Asayta Woreda in the Afar region

Although pastoralists like Mohammed are accustomed to making the annual 200km trek in January when the rains stop, they were compelled to make the journey in October – three months early this year.

The Afar region has faced an unprecedented locust invasion since August this year. Despite the ongoing control efforts, numerous hopper bands have caused immense damage in 33 out of 34 Woredas of the region.

According to Ayalew Shumet, the coordinator of desert locust operations in Afar, about 10 million heads of livestock are currently affected by the scarcity of natural pasture. Because they rely on the weather and environment to secure livestock feed, these pastoralists are heavily impacted by the damage desert locusts have caused.

Hussein Hundolpe vividly remembers the day locusts invaded his six-hectare maize field in Afambo Woreda.

"My family and I worked hard to clear the field. I bought an irrigation pump and fuel and ensured that my maize crop received enough water. When the plants were about one meter tall, locusts devoured everything in a few hours," he said.

Ethiopia has been battling locusts since June last year. Up until October 21, 2020, over 6, 07,000 hectares of land has been sprayed through aerial and ground operations. Despite all the measures the threat of desert locusts prevails due to cross-border movements and the conducive breeding conditions in the country. Numerous immature adult groups and swarms were still moving in the Amhara/Tigray highlands and Somali region (at the time of writing).

Wogris Hafa, the head of the Livestock, Agriculture, and Natural Resources office in Chifra Woreda, said, "Farmers need urgent support to re-plant their crops and pastoralists require emergency feed supply otherwise, the food security in the region is at risk."  

Floods exacerbate the risk

Heavy and prolonged rains between June and September this year, caused floods in the Afar, Amhara, Oromia, Gambella, Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples' Region, as well as Sidama, and Somali regions, which affected over one million people, and displaced about 350,000.

In Aysaqita Woreda in the Afar region, Medina Solea recounts how floodwaters overflowing from the Awash River washed away all her household property, livestock, and crops. "We ran to the mountains from where we were rescued by a helicopter."

Now living in an Internally Displaced Persons Camp with her family of 10, Madina says, "We have nothing to start with."

Although the Awash River frequently floods in August-September, following heavy rains in the eastern highland and escarpment areas, this year's flooding is unmatched, according to Aydahis Yasin, the Early Warning and Emergency Response director, Afar Region.

“Over 46,000 hectares of cropland and 26,000 hectares of pasture in Afar were destroyed by floods, “he said.

Food security at stake

The latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) report, suggests, about 6.7 million people, across seven regions, are expected to fall within food crisis IPC Phase 3, or worse between October and December this year.

However, the new wave of desert locusts, coupled with the economic hardships resulting from COVID-19 restrictions, and flooding will most likely amplify food insecurity unless urgent action is taken to assist the affected communities.

FAO is implementing a programme to safeguard productive assets and livelihoods of the affected population in Afar, Amhara, Oromia, Somalia, SNNP, and Tigray regions. The organisation is supporting over 70,000 households with agricultural inputs (seeds, tools, livestock feed, and veterinary drugs), cash transfers, training, and extension support. These interventions were informed by the May-December 2020 funding appeal of US$79 mn, which is now 60% funded.

“With the growing humanitarian needs, we require more funds to support additional households”, said Fatouma Seid, the FAO Representative in Ethiopia.