Ethiopia’s agriculture boom yields a bare harvest for poor as El Niño bites

The Guardian
William Davison in Mieso district
Monday 26 October 2015 07.00 GMT

Ethiopia may be portrayed as an emerging African powerhouse, but prolonged drought has left 8.2 million people facing a major food security crisis

Mohammed Jibril and his family in Mieso district West Hararghe Zone in Oromia region. Photograph: William Davison Source : The Guardian
Mohammed Jibril and his family in Mieso district West Hararghe Zone in Oromia region. Photograph: William Davison
Source : The Guardian

On a bright afternoon in east Ethiopia, Mohammed Jibril’s family is passing around corncobs roasted over a fire. Bulky cows lounge on the other side of a shady tree, munching from a golden carpet of cereal.

It is a picturesque rural scene, complete with a forested mountain towering over the plains. Yet Jibril is worried and, when asked about this year’s crops from his three hectares of land, he is scathing. “What would I harvest?” he asks, gesticulating at his scrappy cornfield.

Due to a lack of rain, Jibril, 28, expects to collect only about 400kg of corn. Times were better a decade ago in the Mieso district of West Hararghe Zone, in Ethiopia’s Oromia region; back then, Jibril harvested up to 20 times that amount. Now most of his failed crop is only useful as fodder for his herd.

The story is the same across almost all of eastern Ethiopia, after a succession of supposed rainy seasons largely failed to materialise. The crisis has left 8.2 million of the country’s 96 million people in need of food aid – a number that could almost double in 2016 as the effects of El Niño linger.

Jibril spent $100 (£65) renting a tractor this year; by his side is a Kalashnikov rifle worth more than $1,000. He is not among the poorest in Ethiopia, but he is worried about the immediate future. “If I don’t sell the cows they will run out of food and die before the next harvest,” he said. He has sold three this year, but at a steep discount as farmers all around him also offload livestock before the situation worsens.

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