According to Eritrea’s current national policy, food security refers to the existence of the capacity and ability to make food of sufficient quantity and acceptable quality readily accessible to all Eritreans at an affordable price at any time.
In April 2006, the “food-for-work” policy was changed into “cash-for-work”. The food would be sold and the cash remitted to the needy to buy food or other essential commodities. In September 2006, the Government of Eritrea announced that it has been pursuing food security in the country, thanks to a bumper crop of last year that supported food security strategy.
After two consecutive good rainy seasons in 2005 and 2006, the Eritrean government expects that the country to be on its way to achieving food security, a fact that NGOs believe is possible but difficult because of the gap created by four years of drought prior to 2005.
The challenge of maintaining a balance between human numbers and food production is increasing in Eritrea day by day. Many problems continue to face Eritrea: geographic location, topography and history, both ancient and modern. Nonetheless, the people of Eritrea are working hard to overcome the difficulties involved in improving the nation’s food security situation through sensible planning, appropriate technology and community ownership.
Various methods have been used over the past 16 years to address water for agricultural development. In many places, communities have built small rock-fill dams. There is extensive terracing in higher altitude areas to control run-off and soil erosion, increasing the amount of water percolating into the soil and improving the agricultural yield. Spate irrigation is being refined, with community efforts aimed at maximizing the benefits. Tree-planting has been undertaken on a massive scale. Local species are being used rather than the common Eucalyptus species. Information campaigns are being held across the country, with both school and community groups targeted to address issues such as technology choices, health, sanitation, conservation and so on.
It is believed that, if Eritrea brings some 4 per cent additional land into cultivation, the country will be close to a production level that can feed its population. Indeed, three zobas of Eritrea like: Gash Barka, Debub, and Anseba, which constitute the heartland of the agriculture in the country, are in a state of economic and ecological balance. Economically, indebtedness is growing among farmers, and ecologically, Gash Barka region has been mining its soil and ground water resources for gold and other precious minerals. Eritrea will not be able to maintain a stable food security system if the "fertile crescent" (Gash Barka, Debub, and Anseba) is not saved through adequate support for conservation farming and green agriculture. Defending the gains already made in these regions is a priority task.
In contrast to the situation in the Fertile Crescent, there is a vast untapped production reservoir available in these areas even with the available technologies on the shelf.The Northern Red Sea region has been making progress in harnessing its potential for the last one and half decades. According to the FAO and Ministry of Agriculture reports, the three regions are endowed with water resources. However, the major problem is water management- not availability. Ground water is marginally used. There is a scope for conjunctive use of surface and ground water. If prudent economic and agricultural policies are made and implemented, the Gash, Barka and Anseba rivers can make Eritrea agriculturally self-reliant.
Year 2007 is a test year to verify Eritrea’s commitment to sustainable food security and sovereignty with home-grown food. The 2007 rains are gradually promising. Eritrean Meteorological survey recently reported that it had received adequate rain fall by end of July 2007. Data from the Ministry of Agriculture reveals that if Eritrea initiates concerted efforts to bridge the current gap between its potential and actual yields (from 1 tonne to 2 tonnes per hectare) additional amount of food grains can be produced. Water harvesting and efficient use, credit and insurance, technology and inputs, and, above all, assured and remunerative marketing through a minimum support price (MSP) would go a long way in ensuring food security.
Green agricultural practices involve the adoption of integrated pest management and integrated nutrient supply systems. In organic farming, the use of mineral fertilizers, chemical pesticides are imperative. In line with this, the Ministry of Agriculture has recommended separate labeling procedures for organic farming, which will help to enhance productivity in perpetuity without ecological harm.
Food security and national sovereignty are intertwined. The establishment of a National Food Security and Sovereignty Board under the Chairmanship of the Ministry of Agriculture or Ministry of National Development is important. Such a Board should make policies and monitor food production, imports and conservation of the ecological foundations essential for sustained advances in food production, such as land, water, and biodiversity.
Food and water are the first among the hierarchical needs of a human being. They deserve to be treated as a common minimum programme of the nation. If a united commitment between the government and private sector emerges as a result of the fast spreading agrarian crisis and the widespread poverty-induced hunger, Eritrea will convert the prevailing concern into an opportunity for renewing its national resolve to achieve food for all.
By Dr. Ravinder Rena
Eritrean Institute of Technology
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