Ethiopia experienced a record harvest during the meher season that runs from June and October but pockets of poor food production across the country have still left millions of people needing food assistance, according to a food security update.
Citing the Somali region in particular, the update issued by the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS Net) on 6 February stated that poor rains during the deyr season, from October to November, exacerbated extreme food insecurity in parts of the region.
This was when the dry season was in progress and the peak hunger season had set in. Various other factors, including restrictions on movement and trade, locust infestations and limited humanitarian access had exacerbated matters.
"Despite record meher-season production, about eight million chronically food insecure people and a significant number of acutely food insecure people ... will require food or cash assistance in 2008," the January report stated.
Production during the meher season is one of the most important determinants of food security in Ethiopia, especially in the crop-producing areas that cover most of the country, except the mainly pastoral Afar and Somali regions, and the lowlands of Oromiya region.
An assessment by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and World Food Programme estimated the meher crop was about 45 percent higher than the past five-year average.
"This represents the fourth consecutive bumper meher harvest in Ethiopia," the report noted. "Yet, despite good overall production, pockets of poor production have been identified across the country as a result of weather-related hazards."
In the Somali region, the update noted, the deyr rains performed poorly across seven zones that depend on precipitation for regeneration of pasture, replenishment of water sources and crop production.
"In Gode, Warder, Korahe, Degahabur and Fik the situation is worse because the 2007 main season, which occurs between March and May, performed poorly," it noted, adding that poor water availability and abnormal livestock migrations had already been reported in several areas.
"In all these areas, pasture is scarce, milk production and livestock body conditions have also started to deteriorate," the update said. "Reduced milk production will have a serious impact on child malnutrition."
Citing a report issued by the Somali Region Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Bureau in December indicating that about 745,000 people in the region could meet their minimum food needs and thus faced a survival deficit, the update noted that these people will require immediate food assistance from January to June 2008.
Market access for agro-pastoralists had also been affected by restrictions on trade and movement in parts of Somali region that began in mid-June 2007.
"Although the movement of commercial food into restricted zones continues especially in the main woreda towns, the supply of food is inadequate especially in rural areas and prices are beyond the purchasing power of most consumers," the update noted.
The restrictions on trade and movement had also affected income sources for poor households, including labour and the sale of charcoal and firewood, because demand had fallen.