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Seeds Of Life For 70,000 Ethiopian Families - 2003-11-05

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the FAO, says it’s helping 70-thousand Ethiopian families, who’ve been hit hard by drought.

The FAO is providing seeds to families in Amhara and Tigray Provinces. It’s a “bid to help the region’s farming sector recover from prolonged drought.” The lack of rain has led to the loss of important crops, such as maize and sorghum.

Fernanda Guerieri is the chief of the FAO’s Emergency Operations and Rehabilitation Division. She says farmers are being given what’s called “late-planting crop seeds,” such as chickpeas, lentils and vetch, which has edible seeds and is used for forage and soil improvement.

"The vegetable seeds consume much less water than maize or sorghum because most of the time they are an irrigated crop."

Ms. Guerieri says the vegetables would be planted in conjunction with a government program to use man-made ponds for irrigation.

The FAO says families in Amhara and Tigray Provinces “have been unable to either save seeds from previous harvests or to buy new seeds to plant.” The idea is to use the vegetables as interim crops, which can be used “as a safety net and source of income.”

They’re planted at the end of the main rainy season and are harvested prior to Ethiopia’s most important cropping season, the Meher. That occurs at the end of December and the beginning of January.

She says, "We hope they will be available maximum (the latest) the beginning of December so the land can be available for the major season."

The Food and Agriculture Organization estimates more than 13-million people in Ethiopia need food aid. But drought does not get all the blame. Ms. Guerieri says there are also structural problems.

"Poor governance, not enough diversification, poor investment in agriculture, the last war with Eritrea. So many, many reasons. The problem is now the population is in such bad shape that it’s very difficult for them to recuperate and take advantage of developmental opportunities."

Besides being given the vegetable seeds, the Ethiopian farmers will be trained in modern crop rotation, seed selection, and water management.

The FAO official says this is a long-term project. Unfortunately, she says donor nations are losing interest in long-term projects.

"That, in our opinion, is a big mistake because the cost to rehabilitate this country will increase because the people will be more vulnerable each year." she says.

She says donor nations are more likely to respond when the media broadcast dramatic pictures of famine victims.