Rome. -Countries in the Horn of Africa are likely to see a rise in hunger and further decline of local livelihoods in the coming months, as farming families struggle with the knock-on effects of multiple droughts that hit the region this year, FAO warned. Growing numbers of refugees in East Africa, meanwhile, are expected to place even more burden on already strained food and nutrition security.
Currently, close to 12 million people across Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia are in need of food assistance, as families in the region face limited access to food and income, together with rising debt, low cereal and seed stocks, and low milk and meat production. Terms of trade are particularly bad for livestock farmers, as food prices are increasing at the same time that market prices for livestock are low.
Farmers in the region need urgent support to recover from consecutive lost harvests and to keep their breeding livestock healthy and productive at a time that pastures are the driest in years. Production outputs in the three countries are grim.
"We're dealing with a cyclical phenomenon in the Horn of Africa," said Dominique Burgeon, Director of FAO's Emergency and Rehabilitation Division. "But we also know from experience that timely support to farming families can significantly boost their ability to withstand the impacts of these droughts and soften the blow to their livelihoods," he stressed.
For this reason, FAO has already begun disbursing emergency funds for rapid interventions in Kenya and Somalia.
The funds will support emergency feed and vaccinations for breeding and weak animals, repairs of water points, and seeds and tools to plant in the spring season. FAO is also working with local officials to bolster countries' emergency preparedness across the region.
"Especially in those areas where we know natural hazards are recurring, working with the Government to further build-up their ability to mitigate future shocks is a smart intervention that can significantly reduce the need for humanitarian and food aid further down the line," Burgeon said. Kenya is highly likely to see another drought in early 2017, and with it a rise in food insecurity. Current estimates show some 1.3 million people are food insecure.
Based on the latest predictions, the impacts of the current drought in the southern part of the country will lessen by mid-2017, but counties in the North - in particular Turkana, Marsabit, Wajir and Mandera - will steadily get worse.
Families in these areas are heavily dependent on livestock. Now, with their livelihoods already stressed - the last reliable rain they received was in December 2015- they will get little relief from the October-December short rains, which typically mark a recovery period but once again fell short this season.
In the affected counties, the terms of trade have become increasingly unfavourable for livestock keepers, as prices of staple foods are rising, while a flood of weakened sheep, goats and cows onto local markets has brought down livestock prices.
To ensure livestock markets remain functional throughout the dry season in 2017, FAO, is training local officials in better managing livestock markets -- in addition to providing feed, water and veterinary support.
After two poor rainy seasons this year, Somalia is in a countrywide state of drought emergency, ranging from moderate to extreme. As a result, the Gu cereal harvest - from April to June - was 50 percent below average, and prospects for the October-December Deyr season are very grim.
To make matters worse, the country's driest season - the Jilaal that begins in January- is expected to be even harsher than usual, which means Somali famers are unlikely to get a break anytime soon.
All indications are that crop farmers are already facing a second consecutive season with poor harvest. Pastoralists, meanwhile, are struggling to provide food for both their families and livestock, as pasture and water for grazing their animals are becoming poorer and scarcer by the day - in the south, pasture availability is the lowest it has been in the past five years.
Some five million Somalis are food insecure through December 2016. This includes 1.1 million people in Crisis and Emergency conditions of food insecurity (Phases 3 and 4 on the five-tier IPC scale used by humanitarian agencies). This is a 20 percent increase in just six months.
The latest analysis forecasts that the number of people in Crisis and Emergency conditions of food insecurity may further rise by more than a quarter of a million people between February and May 2017. Similar conditions in 2011 have resulted in famine and loss of lives, and therefore early action is urgently needed to avoid a repeat.
FAO calls on resource partners to urgently scale up assistance in rural areas, in the form of cash relief, emergency livestock support and agricultural inputs to plant in the April Gu season. If farmers cannot plant during Gu - which traditionally produces 60 percent of the country's annual cereal output -- they will be left without another major harvest until 2018.
Farming families in Ethiopia, meanwhile, are extremely vulnerable as they have not been able to recover from the 2015 El Nino-induced drought. Some 5.6 million people remain food insecure, while millions more depend on livestock herds that need to be protected and treated to improve milk and meat production. Here, too, better access to feed and water is critical.
The crop situation is relatively stable after the country completed the most widespread emergency seed distribution in Ethiopia's history. FAO and more than 25 NGOs and agencies reached 1.5 million households with drought-resistant seeds.
As a result of enabling farming families to grow their own food, the government and humanitarian community saved close to $1 billion in emergency aid, underlining that investing in farmers is not only the right thing to do but also the most cost-efficient.