Ethiopia is bracing for a new drought across significant swathes of livestock-dependent southeastern areas of the country, mere months after the worst drought in 50 years severely affected smallholder crop production and claimed hundreds of thousands of livestock nationwide.
Already, monitoring teams on the ground have observed deteriorating animal body conditions and market price instability with the price of grain increasing in response to livestock sector shocks in at least one region. A mission from the Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries recently reported that close to 10 percent of the livestock population in pastoralist areas of Oromia – the nation’s largest region – need urgent animal feed and other supplementary support.
Officials indicated that there is a critical water shortage for both livestock and humans, with water points in many communities almost completely dried up. Pasture and rangelands have also been affected and will worsen in the months ahead if the season does not improve significantly. Abnormal animal migrations were also observed, so too were the risks of cross-border animal disease outbreaks as a result of weakened herds and animal health support gaps. Borena Zone of Oromia Region, it was noted, was particularly at risk for a significant animal disease outbreak – 370 000 livestock currently require urgent emergency animal feed in Oromia alone.
Rainfall performance for the critical October to December rains, known across the southeastern areas of the country as deyr, hagaya or dadda , remain below normal according to the country’s National Meteorological Agency. The rains account for up to 45 percent of the total annual rainfall in some areas.
The failure of the season will mean that households in pastoralist and agropastoralist dominant areas such as Borena Zone of Oromia, south Somali and south Omo in Southern Nations Nationalities and People’s Region (SNNPR) will have no source to replenish local water points and pasture until April 2017 when the spring rains are expected to commence. The impact on meat and milk production as well as household food and nutrition security is potentially catastrophic.
The poor season will compound an already dire humanitarian situation in the livestock sector – more than 2.4 million livestock-dependent households need livelihood support such as animal health assistance – treatments and vaccinations, water point rehabilitation and emergency animal feed provisions. As of August 2016, 9.7 million Ethiopians were in need of food assistance, that number is expected to climb considerably if rainfall trends remain and drought occurs in the south of the country.
Livestock sector critically underfunded
“Funding to the livestock sector was very poor during the previous drought and as a result many households were not able to get back on their feet quickly enough. The country was fortunate to experience some improvement in pasture and water due to better seasonal rains, however, these have proven to be short lived,” said Amadou Allahoury, FAO representative to Ethiopia. Mr. Allahoury stressed the importance of collective mobilizing to protect livelihoods and warned of greater challenges ahead if funding is not secured for the sector.
“If the international community does not act decisively to protect livestock-based livelihoods in the next several weeks we may face an extremely difficult humanitarian crisis in the southern areas. Livestock are already responding to the stress of pasture and water shortages and interventions must be in place now to prevent an escalation of the situation,” he said.
Sector-wide, humanitarian partners only managed to raise about USD 13 million in funding for livestock activities, according to a preliminary assessment of the response. In 2015/2016 the bulk of contributions from donors were earmarked for the emergency seed response – estimated at around USD 35 million. The seed response provided 32 000 tonnes of seed to 1.5 million farming households ahead of the meher season, the largest response of its kind in Ethiopia’s history. However, the response in the livestock sector paled in comparison as the strategic importance of staple crop production and other humanitarian interventions took priority in a deeply competitive funding environment. Ethiopia has the largest livestock population in Africa, boasting more than 100 million cattle, sheep, goats and equines, much of which are concentrated in the southern pastoralist Regions of Somali, SNNP and Oromia and in the northeastern Afar Region.
The current weather patterns have been attributed to the Indian Ocean Dipole phenomenon or ‘Indian Niño’, a consequence of global warming’s effect on climate change. Livestock diseases brought on by global warming will continue to affect herd survival, marketability and the incomes and livelihoods of livestock-dependent households. The increase in temperature also causes heat stress which severely affects the health of livestock, impacting factors such as growth performance, reproduction and milk production. During the El Niño induced-drought, milk production halved or halted altogether in pastoralist areas. A minimum of 2 to 3 years is required for livestock to return to their pre-crisis production levels.
FAO Ethiopia is urgently appealing for USD 14 million to respond to livestock and crop gaps in the upcoming months. The bulk of this support is required for animal treatments and vaccinations, animal feed distributions and water point rehabilitation. In the crops sector, the Organization aims to provide post-harvest loss interventions in order to protect the production gains made during the recent meher seed response which it coordinated alongside the Government of Ethiopia.