Less rainfall, same production


Debebe Fereja, in his 80’s, has been a crop wholesaler for the past 40 years. He sells grain such as lentils and beans, which he said are showing price increment, especially beginning from February. He was conducting his business from Ehil Bereneda near Amanuel Church at Merkato when Fortune met with him.

“Before one month or so you could have bought one quintal of beans for 1,110 Br but it is now sold for around 1,300 Br while the price for a quintal of lentils has reached 3,300 Br from 2,450 Br.”

Stepping ahead from where Debebe is selling, there are a number of retailers providing a variety of crops to consumers. Nesru Herato is one of these retailers and he has been in the business since 2008.

Most of the crops in the market including lentils, wheat, chickpeas, and beans are showing around 200 Br to 400 Br price increments, which are significantly different from last year’s market, said Nesru. Last year around this time, lentils were sold for around 2,100 Br per quintal and beans for around 700 Br per quintal.

Nesru and other traders blame the price increases on middlemen between farmers and wholesalers who are trying to take advantage of the delay of rainfall in the current Belg season.

The delay has caused speculation about Belg season crop production shortage and middlemen are hoarding the available products and sell them later at higher prices, said Nesru. He claims that the price increment is not caused by the shortage of crops.

Usually the Belg rains start from mid February and continue to April. However, Siyoum Eitana, agricultural deputy office head of Jimma Zone says that the rains of the season have indeed declined but the quantity of production is intact.

Belg is the main rainy season for south and southeast regions of Ethiopia. These regions such as Southern Nations & Nationalities Peoples Region (SNNPR) and Oromia Region get 70pc of their annual rainfall during this season.

For this Belg season, the National Meteorology Agency (NMA) predicted that the average rainfall in SNNPR and Oromia regions would be 525 mm. However, their current report from February 1, 2015 to February 28, 2015, shows that most of the country is getting less rainfall than the normal range. This is a result of the occurrence of low temperature in the Pacific Ocean, which is a source of rain for Ethiopia, explained Negede Mengistu, meteorology expert at the NMA.

It is important to mention the very nature of the season that is characterized by high fluctuation and unpredictability, which is part and parcel of global climate change, says Zewdue Eshetu (PhD), head of the Climate Science Centre at the Addis Abeba University College of Natural Sciences.

Though the latest report from the NMA indicates the occurrence of rainfall in the upcoming few days, there are still those who are being affected by the delay. Matiwos Kobiros, a father of two is one of the farmers from Hadiya Zone, who is facing problems due to the delay of rainfall in the current Belg season. He was not made aware of this possibility from his local officials or any other sources.

Belg season has arrived and farmers have to start preparing their land for ploughing. The season runs starting from mid February to April and it is the main rainy season for south and southeast regions of Ethiopia, which account for the 70pc of the total annual rainfall received in these regions.


The Belg season has been a source of water for their region but they have not got a drop of rain since the beginning of Belg, Matiwos said. As a consequence, their cattle are threatened because of lack of water, he added. Matiwos has six cattle, which he used to take to the nearby Gudaya River, a 25-minute walk, for them to drink water. This river has now dried up so he has to take a 45-minute walk to a bigger river known as Etala River, which will eventually dry up as well if the season proceeds like this, he expressed in frustration.

This is not the first time Ethiopia has encountered this problem as it had already happened in 2011/12, stated Negede. In that year, major Belg season crop producer areas got an average of 125 mm of rainfall, which was a tremendous difference from the previous year, 2010/11, which had an average rainfall of 350 mm. The pattern did not show significant improvement for the next years, 2012/13 and 2013/14, which scored an average of 177 mm and 178.5 mm, respectively.

Despite this variability, crop production reached 18 million quintals in the year 2013/14 from 13.3 million quintals in 2010/11. But this was not an irony, stated Zewdue, describing the hike in crop production while the season remained affected. The production is supposed to grow with factors like population growth but the bad season has narrowed the chance of further improving production, he explained. And it will continue to be a hindrance as global climate change continues to be the problem of our world, he said.

Before the beginning of each season, the NMA always held a meeting with different stakeholders such as the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) and Ministry of Health (MoH) in order to equip the sector officials with short-term and long-term weather forecasts, to influence their decision-making.

“We provide the responsible bodies with weather forecasts, which they will analyse and put into action according to what the data imply in their respective sectors,” said Chali Debele, short and medium range weather forecast case team leader at NMA.

And in 2014/15 fiscal year, the NMA had expressed its concerns that the Belg rains would be delayed during a meeting organized by the agency in December, 2014. Such information is intended to be used by concerned ministries to devise interventions for mitigating possible damage. For the Ministry of Agriculture, that could include training and discussion, which go down to woreda level nationally.

As a policy, the Ministry is trying to decrease the farmers’ dependence on seasonal farming by encouraging irrigation and better utilization of existing water resources. Training and technical support are provided at the grassroots level by development workers, said Kebede Lakew, public relations head at the Ministry of Agriculture. Last year, Ethiopia irrigated 1.8 million hectares of land and produced around 203 million quintals of crops. In the 2014/15 fiscal year, the government expects the land that will be used for irrigation to reach 2.3 million hectares with around 290 million quintals yield.

Further interventions should be made in order to better mitigate the problems through methods such as drought insurance, drought resistance plants, cattle reallocation, and irrigation, as well to provide reliable meteorological data, said Zewdu.

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