In an effort to reduce the percentage of the Eritrean population dependent on food aid after five years of severe drought and amid simmering tensions over the disputed border with Ethiopia, the United Nations agricultural agency today said it is distributing seeds and farm implements for the June planting season.
"More than 60 per cent of the population – 2.3 million people – are dependent on food aid. To reduce dependency on emergency food assistance and improve the ability of rural populations to adapt to recurrent drought conditions, agricultural inputs such as seeds, farming tools, animal feed and veterinary support are also needed," the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) said.
Some 27,000 drought-affected families will receive seeds for the planting season in the main farming areas of Debub, Anseba and the border region of Gash Barka as part of the FAO programmes supported by Sweden, the Netherlands and the United States, it said.
"But importing seeds only solves the problem for a year or two," said FAO's Marco Falcone. "Promoting local production of quality seeds is the only way out of the current situation, particularly given the rather fragile agro-ecology of Eritrea, the non-availability on the international market of adapted varieties and the current poor quality of local seeds."
The FAO Emergency Unit in Eritrea has rehabilitated 12 veterinary clinics inside the temporary security zone along the border with Ethiopia, which were seriously damaged during the conflict that ended in 2000. Although Eritrea and Ethiopia signed a peace agreement in December 2000, tensions remain over their disputed border.
FAO said it has distributed 400 tons of wheat bran to feed animals belonging to around 2,300 families who were displaced during the 1998-2000 conflict, but have now returned to their villages in Gash Barka.
Eritrea also has a problem with labour. With large numbers of men doing compulsory national and military service, there is a shortage of skilled manpower.
"In some areas, more than 50 per cent of households are headed by women, who are often barred from agricultural activities, such as ploughing," Mr. Falcone said.