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Ukraine war and drought cause food shortages in East Africa

13 April 2022

Severe drought is plaguing pastoral and farming communities in eastern Africa where acute water shortages, reduced food availability and livestock deaths have led to over 30 million people facing a hunger crisis.

The region has seen poor rainfall since October 2020, continuing with an acutely dry 2021 and according to international and regional forecasts, a below-average March to May 2022 rainy season.

In addition to the already dangerous threats of the COVID-19 pandemic and conflict in northern Ethiopia further compounding the crisis, the region is now also feeling the impact of war in Ukraine through a spike in agricultural commodity prices.

Together, the Russian Federation and Ukraine produce 53% of sunflower oil and seeds, and 27% of wheat traded globally.[i] Countries in eastern Africa are particularly dependent on the import of food security foods: Kenya sources more than 40% of its wheat from the Russian Federation and Ukraine, while in Uganda the figure is more than 50% and in Tanzania it is over 60%.[ii]

International NGO Farm Africa warns that urgent action is needed to avert threats to food security across eastern Africa.

Deboh Gayo, a widow and pastoralist responsible for her family of eight in the Borena zone of Oromia, Ethiopia, has witnessed disastrous climate extremes this year. Since the drought struck, she has lost nine of her 15 cattle and has been compelled to sell many of her goats. Deboh Gayo commented:

“I have never seen such kind of chronic drought in my life. Whenever I think of our future ahead, I get worried. I don’t know what to do. The situation is getting worse. The thought of what will happen to our children and to the rest of the cattle keeps me awake at night.”

Diana Onyango, Farm Africa’s Technical Manager for Livestock and Rangelands, commented:

“Staple food prices are atypically high across eastern Africa, driven by below-average production across the region as well as increases in the prices of imported food. High food prices are reducing household purchasing power and limiting households’ access to food. Yet agricultural productivity across eastern Africa remains at less than half its potential. As the hunger crisis grows, now is the time to invest in boosting sustainable food production in eastern Africa.”

In the short term, emergency distribution of food is needed, for people and animals alike. In the Borena zone in the Oromia National Regional State of Ethiopia, the NGOs Farm Africa and SOS Sahel Ethiopia, with funding from the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Ethiopia, have delivered emergency animal feed assistance to 1,400 farming households.

Ilimole Dabasa, a farmer who had lost 12 of his cattle before receiving assistance from Farm Africa, commented:

“Thank you so much for the feeds…As the problem is vast and the situation is getting worse, more support is needed. We missed two consecutive rainy seasons. Just recently, it rained for two weeks, but the pasture and water didn’t last long as we shared them with livestock from the neighbouring areas. Now, we don’t have any: the grass lands are barren. The texture of the soil reveals the severity; it looks like it is burnt with fire.”

In the long term, food security in eastern Africa depends on farmers being able to increase productivity, to reduce reliance on imported food. 

The promotion of regenerative agriculture, using methods such as mulching, cover cropping and mixed cropping for production, can help farmers to increase productivity, rehabilitate soils and preserve biodiversity even during drought conditions, while also reducing reliance on chemical fertilisers imported from Russia.

Farm Africa’s experience across eastern Africa highlights the potential of climate-smart agriculture to reverse the decline in agricultural yields caused by drought. For example, a Farm Africa project funded by Sida in the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples' Region of Ethiopia, has recently helped more than 5,400 smallholder farmers to increase their productivity of peppers, chickpeas, haricot beans and ginger by 50% through the adoption of climate-smart agricultural practices.

As rainfall forecasts for the upcoming weeks indicate a persistence of drier conditions and farmers continue to feel the impact of poor crop production, livestock deaths, rising staple food and fuel prices and food insecurity, Ilimole asks: “Please pass our call for help on to others.”

[i] https://unctad.org/system/files/official-document/osginf2022d1_en.pdf 
[ii] https://unctad.org/system/files/official-document/osginf2022d1_en.pdf