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News: Food insecurity worsens as drought jeopardizes crop output in Tigray

Due to the rain delay and subsequent drought, harvests on 20% of the farmland in Tigray were destroyed before reaching maturity (Photo: Social Media)

By Mihret G Kristos @MercyG_kirstos

Addis Abeba – At least 132,000 hectares of farmland in Tigray, covering the south, southeast, and eastern zones, have been impacted by drought, endangering a crucial harvest in a region already devastated by war.

This drought is especially concerning as it is devastating 20% of Tigray’s farmland, situated in 27 districts across the region, rendering it idle and posing a significant risk to the majority of Tigray’s population. The dire consequences of this drought are exacerbated by the fact that the region’s agricultural system has already been severely impacted by two years of conflict, looting, and destruction.

Eyasu Abrha, the head of the Tigray Agriculture Bureau, told Addis Standard that the region’s initial plan was to cultivate 1.3 million hectares and achieve a harvest of roughly 23 million quintals. However, due to various factors, including drought, only about 660,000 hectares were cultivated. Abrha mentioned that the bureau has readjusted its target and now aims to harvest 17 million quintals during the current mehir season. Regrettably, he added that attaining this newly set goal has become exceedingly challenging.

Tekilay Gebremaryam, a 45-year-old farmer and a father of eight in the Ruba Feleg Kebele, Astbi Woreda, located in the eastern zone of Tigray, shared his hardships with Addis Standard. Last year, before the Belg season in May, Tekilay planted wheat and barley on his one-hectare farmland. Unfortunately, due to the delayed rain, his harvest was ruined before it could mature. This puts him and his family at great risk, as their farmland is their only source of food and income.

The lack of rain continues to affect the southern, southwest, and west zones of Tigray, including Astbi Woreda, during the current Mehir season, with crops planted in June failing to yield. This not only impacts Tekilay’s family but also puts thousands of farmers at risk of famine. According to Tekilay, the drought has led to a scarcity of food, resulting in the death of animals and further exacerbating the challenges faced by thousands of smallholder farmers in Tigray.

“Animals are already dying due to the drought,” said Tekilay. “If urgent aid does not arrive soon, it will be the farmers’ turn.”

Mezgebe Girmay, the head of Astbi Woreda, highlighted the severe impact on society, with nine out of twelve kebeles fully affected by the drought. Approximately 85,000 households and over 200,000 animals in the woreda have been impacted. “Almost 98.5% of the plants in Astbi have been destroyed, leaving no food for animals or humans,” Mezgebe explained.

The head of Astbi Woreda also emphasized the urgent need for support from concerned organizations in the form of food relief assistance for vulnerable farmers who have already suffered from the consequences of war, including destruction and looting.

The devastating impact of the two-year war that concluded in November 2022 on Tigray’s agricultural output and food security cannot be overstated. According to a study titled “The Effect of the War on Smallholder Agriculture in Tigray,” published in August 2023, 81% of smallholder households lost their crops, followed by livestock (75%), and farm tools (48%). As a result, more than 5.2 million people are now in dire need of immediate humanitarian assistance.

Prior to the war, Tigray’s economy heavily relied on crop production and livestock farming, which were the backbone of the region. Subsistence agriculture engaged over 80% of the rural population in Tigray, with crop production playing a crucial role in ensuring food, feed, and nutritional security.

In addition to the drought, residents of the war-stricken Tigray region are now facing the threat of tree locusts spreading across a vast 15,000-hectare area in the northwest. These desert locusts have reached adulthood, posing a significant threat to agricultural output and further worsening the issue of food insecurity in the region.

The severity of the situation has led Getachew Reda, interim administration leader, to urgently request aid from both the federal government and international organizations in August 2023. AS

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