“As We Had Proactively Reserved Enough Cereals, the Effect Of 2013’s Inadequate Rainfall Has Been Significantly Minimized” President Isaias
It is to be recalled that H.E. President Isaias Afwerki conducted an extensive interview on the 9th of February 2014, in the port city of Massawa with the national media outlets on the occasion of the New Year 2014, regarding the overall situation of the country and also the regional state of affairs and future scenarios. Excerpts of the first part follow:
-As this interview is being conducted on the occasion of New Year, I would like to take this opportunity to wish you a happy and prosperous New Year. Since New Year is often part of the year when new plans are commenced, the interview is mainly associated with future plans, especially of that 2014 . As it can be confirmed from the reports and evaluation of the Ministry of Agriculture, last year’s harvest was not satisfactory due to inadequate rainfall. Therefore, what has been planned for enhancing food reserve for 2014?
When it comes to rainfall in our situation, it is difficult to talk about food security and agricultural plans year by year because of inadequate annual rainfall in terms of magnitude and coverage. This problem is associated with clime change. It may not be impossible to assess this situation based on the magnitude and coverage of annual rainfall. But in this case, our assessment should not be limited to this situation only. While assessing the effectiveness of our food security endeavors, we should take into account our rainfall-based agricultural activities and what can be achieved thorough irrigation programs. Since the annual rainfall in Eritrea, as I said earlier, is inadequate in terms of magnitude and coverage, it is not dependable to base our food security plans on the annual rainfall we are endowed with. Hence, we should transform our agricultural endeavors by introducing irrigation programs. In this way what we may achieve through agricultural activities that are based on annual rainfall can be complemented through what can be achieved by way of irrigation systems. The point is for agricultural programs to be sustainable, they need to be comprehensive.
However, such comprehensive plans cannot be realized within a year. By assessing the consequences of dependence on rainfall-based agricultural produce, we need to consider the alternatives and conditions for considerably enhancing our irrigation programs so as to ensure food security on sustainable basis. Last year’s as well as the previous years’ rainfall was inadequate when judged in terms of meeting our food demand.
People may tend to say that there may be good harvest whenever there is adequate rainfall in a particular rainy season. However, we need to take into account the different types of food items that may be produced. Food security should be assessed in terms of producing the different types of food items that are needed in a country. It is also good to note the way different cereals and other food items are consumed. Not only cereals, but meat, fish, dairy products, sugar and other secondarily important agricultural products should be also considered in the attempt of assessing food security comprehensively. Therefore, each food item needed in the society should be assessed in terms of its sufficiency. However, it is not that possible to have a perfect package of all types of cereals and other food items whenever there is dependence on the amount of annual rainfall and given the arable land available and its quality (level of fertility) as well as the availability of important inputs such as fertilizers and other factors that sustainably increase productivity.
As I said earlier, it is important to consider the efforts associated with introducing irrigation programs. There may be some successful irrigation programs that we could assess one by one. These things have to be assessed by taking into consideration the soil and water conservation efforts such as building diversion canals and dams. But it will take time to introduce the technology required for effectively using all potentially irrigable land. Even the projects that are at hand are small ones when we think in terms of what we intend to do and what we can potentially do.
It is good to have a mix of agricultural activities that are based both on annual rainfall and irrigation systems. The problem in the case of irrigation systems is that having in place the required infrastructural inputs is a considerably demanding task. We need to think not only about the water conservation endeavors (like building dams and the like) but we should also think in terms of the electricity required for the effective implementation of potential irrigation projects. We should also consider the available options associated with irrigation systems and come up with an option that is relevant for our case. In this case, it may not be advisable to limit our focus only on projects that produce the food items we need. It is also important to think in terms of the potential for producing other marketable items so that it will be possible to buy food items with the money earned in such a way.
Our plans should be assessed in terms of the progress in irrigating the potential land available for irrigation. We have three development zones in the country. One has to think about the progress that is being made in each development zone, in relation to having in place the required infrastructures such as dams, diversion canals, and the like. In other words, the implementation process associated with such projects has to be assessed yearly. For example, so far no dam has been built in the Northern Red Sea Region. Thinking in terms of the area extending from the Sudan border to the environs of Erafaile, how many dams can we build if we are to make an effective use of all the water that flows to the sea and wasted elsewhere? If we roughly estimate that there may be 60,000 to 80,000 acres of land that can be potentially cultivated in aforesaid area, we have not conserved enough water that could enable us to reach this potential.
When it comes to the highland, we need to think in terms of the agricultural infrastructures that have been actually established and what can be potentially done in the area extending from the border of Sudan to the border of Ethiopia. The same also applies to the western zone. Thinking in terms of food security, if all these things are potentially realized, we can be more than self-sufficient.
We are saying that it is not possible to ensure food security given the amount and coverage of annual rainfall we are endowed with. We are also saying that given the infrastructural inputs required for introducing effective irrigation systems, it takes a long time to effectively introduce the system for complementing what can be produced depending on annual rainfall. Therefore, it is imperative to have food reserve for filling the gap in our demand for food items. Compared to what is done in the case of some other countries, we think in terms of months. We think in terms of the reserve for strategic food items. Regardless of the magnitude, we should have a strategic reserve of food items that are needed in the country. In this case, it is not advisable to think in terms of months. For meeting our food demands on sustainable basis, we should think at least in terms of what can strategically reserve for a year and if possible for two or three years. This is good not only for the purpose of stability but it is also helpful for managing what we do in a proactive manner. We may say that our ability to keep a reasonable food reserve has been improved. However, it is also good to think or imagine that it may be possible that there may be lack of rainfall at all in an entire rainy season. The intention in this case is to get proactively prepared when such an imagined situation becomes a reality. As it has been explained above, given our situation, one cannot confidently depend on something that is solely dependent on annual rainfall. That is why proactive measures for strategic reserve of food becomes very important. Furthermore, in addition to the unpredictability of annual rainfall, there are areas that have other problems, for example problems related to overall productivity. Such problems should also be considered in the attempt to have a strategic food reserve and addressed in an appropriate manner.
From our experience in 2013, we have enough reserve for 2014. It may be difficult to effectively have a reserve for every item, but there must be reasonably adequate reserve for the basically important food items.
Parallel to what we do in keeping food reserve, we should do our best to progressively improve irrigation practices. Irrigation practices have to be improved in terms of the infrastructures employed and the magnitude of land cultivated through irrigation systems.
In the west, there are dams built in the areas extending from Badme to Golij, Gerset, Teseney, Aligidir as well as its environs. But such areas have not been yet used for irrigation purposes to the extent required. The same is also true in the northern part of the country in areas such as Himbol. The constraints in this case are mainly electricity and other forms of infrastructural facilities. Some of these problems can be tackled internally but some others have to be provided externally. The issue of electric concerns needs to be addressed in the first place. As long as there are no interconnected electricity networks in such areas, we should alternatively think on how to introduce independent electricity power installments or energy sources in the different areas. Manpower issues should not be also overlooked if we are to harvest twice in a year. There should be also quality seeds. All these things are easier said than done.
To sum-up, what matters more is how we make what we do more sustainable and how we make the measures we take more proactive and comprehensive. There must be also continuously and dynamically progressive improvements. Our achievements in 2013 must be better than what we achieved in 2012. Similarly, what we should achieve in 2014 have to be far better than the achievements in 2013. Besides, we need to have proactively and strategically helpful reserves parallel to what we do to improve our harvest in general.