Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Greening of Eritrea: Famine Unlikely to Recur

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Greening of Eritrea: Famine Unlikely to Recur

Article excerpt

ERITREA may never again experience the widespread starvation of a decade ago that killed an estimated 1 million people here and in neighboring Ethiopia, officials say.

An effective famine early-warning system, prompt donor response, efficient aid distribution at the local level, and generous summer rains helped to avert a hunger crisis in Eritrea this year.

But Eritrean success could extend beyond staving off famine. With the goal of agricultural self-sufficiency, the government is moving in several directions to rebuild the country: renovating the economy, rebuilding ruined infrastructure, encouraging a return to small-scale farming, and instituting a land-reform program.

"The possibility of success in this country is better than any I've worked in because of the commitment, dedication, and sense of purpose of the people here," says George Jones, country director for the United States Agency for International Development in Eritrea. "We feel very confident putting money into this country - we know it's going to be used properly."

Eritrea only recently emerged from its long war for independence from Ethiopia, which left it impoverished and environmentally devastated. At the end of the fighting, 85 percent of its 2.8 million people were receiving food aid. Few observers then expected the country to feed itself in the foreseeable future.

Persistent drought through the 1980s had reduced overall food production by 40 percent. Livestock herds were down by as much as 70 percent and the country had lost 80 percent of its forest cover.

Another severe drought in 1993 caused relief workers to fear a second disaster throughout the famine-prone Horn of Africa. However, food aid was adequate to forestall a crisis in Eritrea, and, though the rains were late, this year's grain crop came in at the highest level in more than a decade.

Development experts now predict that if Eritrea stays on course, it could achieve food security within 5 to 10 years. "The danger of hunger in Eritrea is very minimal now," says Nerayo Teklemikael, the director of the Eritrean Relief and Rehabilitation Agency (ERRA).

It was the accumulated impact of a three-year agricultural rehabilitation and development program - what Agriculture Minister Tesfai Ghermazien calls the "Greening of Eritrea Campaign" - that made the difference between bare survival and bounty.

From the outset, Eritrea's new government embarked on a crash program of economic reconstruction, with the objective of food security. The initial thrust was on the rehabilitation of small-scale, peasant agriculture, rather than on the large, state-run schemes common in most third-world countries.

Units of the 95,000-person Liberation Army were dispatched to the countryside for various rebuilding projects. They were soon joined by villagers on food-for-work programs, set up to avoid chronic dependence on the emergency relief, according to officials. …

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