I work as a food monitor for the UN World Food Programme in Dire Dawa, Ethiopia, and recently I was in a village called Meyumuluke and got talking to a farmer named Abdirahim Ismael.
“We used to eat three meals per day: maize bread with porridge and milk,” he told me. “Unfortunately, this changed a couple of months ago.”
Abdirahim, a father of three, was worrying how to feed his children. “On good days, our children eat two meals and we eat one meal per day. The milk is missing as the cows are suffering from the dry weather conditions this year. To fill our stomachs and prevent hunger in the family, we cook the porridge with some weeds that we usually wouldn't eat,” he said.
Life is especially tough for Ethiopian families living in chronically food-insecure areas with an average of half a hectare of cultivatable land. They fight every year to make ends meet, even in a good year.
To support these families, the Government of Ethiopia, WFP and other development partners, since 2005, have turned to the Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP). In exchange for their work to, for instance, rehabilitate degraded lands or construct roads, members of food-insecure families receive a combination of cash and food that helps them survive food shortages and avoid having to sell off productive assets, such as goats and cows.
But high food prices this year have deepened the desperation for many farmers. In February 2011, maize in the Meyumuluke area sold at 2.8 Birr/kg (US$0.17). Now it’s 6.5 Birr/kg (US$0.39). Abdirahim told me he has already had to sell some goats and has to carry goods for traders, travelling about 25 to 30 kms every day, so he can buy maize. A couple of months ago, his family bought flour, sugar, oil and tomatoes on a regular basis, but because of increased prices, now they only buy maize - and even half of the amount they used to buy.
“Without the support I receive through the Productive Safety Net Programme, we would definitely have to sell all our remaining livestock,” says Abdirahim, looking over the dry fields surrounding him.