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Photo credit: Sandra Bulling/CARE
Much of the aid that is currently directed toward the Horn of Africa crisis will be used to alleviate the immediate problems associated with drought and famine. However, along with dealing with these impacts, there is a need to enable the farmers and pastoralists of the region to recover over the medium and long term.
This is where emergency agricultural assistance can be used. Emergency agricultural assistance is interesting, as it differs both from short-term humanitarian aid and from typical medium- or long-term agricultural assistance. As an aspiring agricultural expert (I’ll be starting my PhD in October), I thought it would be cool to look at some of the emergency agricultural schemes that are either currently being implemented or have been used previously in the Horn of Africa.
Many of those who are arriving at the refugee camps of Kenya and Ethiopia or camps for internally displaced persons across Somalia are pastoralists who rely on their herds of goats and cattle for their livelihoods. To pastoralists, animals are often a family’s only form of asset –- wealth and health are determined by their survival.
Many pastoralists became refugees, and indeed many of the refugees are pastoralists, when they lost all of their livestock as water sources have dried up and pastures become exhausted. However, there are interventions that can mitigate the effects of livestock losses.
Cattle purchasing schemes have been used effectively in Kenya to buy weakened livestock from vulnerable pastoralists and provide a source of capital. The Red Cross and Red Crescent are using such a scheme in northern Kenya during the current crisis. They have bought more than 3,000 heads of livestock from their owners, slaughtered the animals and used the meat to provide food for those in need. The scheme has delivered payments to 3,120 community members and distributed meat to almost 30,000 people. CARE is implementing a similar de-stocking project in Ethiopia that pays people $50 per cow and enough grain to feed two additional cows.
Drought also has consequences for farmers beyond the immediate problem of crop failures. Many farmers rely on one season’s harvest to provide the seed used for the next season’s planting. Consequently drought can limit agricultural production even after the drought has passed –- as they won’t have any seed to plant.
The need for seed can be alleviated through emergency agricultural assistance. NGOs and multilateral agencies use various channels to get seed to farmers in time for the next harvest. One innovation in this sector is the use of seed vouchers that are given to farmers who can exchange them for seed from local traders. The seed traders are then able to redeem the vouchers for money from the issuing agency.
This system of seed disbursal has numerous advantages over direct seed distribution -– the use of vouchers retains money within the community and avoids the danger of undercutting the local market for seed, not to mention that locally produced seed is often better for the local growing conditions. CARE used this method in response to the Ethiopian food crisis of 2002 to 2003, benefiting 86,000 households who bought 2010 tonnes of seeds with vouchers.
The above projects are just a couple of examples of many emergency agricultural assistance initiatives that will be critical to ensuring that the people who are affected by the drought are able to rebuild their livelihoods as conditions improve. Emergency agricultural assistance has the potential to limit human suffering, reduce the burden for donors and improve the long-term prospects of communities in the Horn. It is one of the sectors in the UN appeals for humanitarian assistance in the Horn.
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