Mission Report – East and West Hararghe

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Author : By Yves Guinand, UN-Emergencies Unit for Ethiopia

Year : 1999

The primarily objective of the UNDP-EUE mission was to familiarise with the particularities of
the zone and contact and introduce myself to important governmental institutions, NGOs and
other humanitarian and development organisations operating in Hararghe Zone of Oromyia
Region. Besides picking up general overviews of activities performed by the various
humanitarian and development organisations and institutions, special attention was paid to
two specific issues of particular interest: chat and coffee, the two major cash crops grown in
parts of the Hararghe highlands and exported to neighbouring countries, and the food security
situation in drought affected lowland areas of East Hararghe.
General overview
Hararghe is situated in the eastern part of Ethiopia, bordering Somali Region as well as the
urban administrative regions of Dire Dawa and Harari. In the sub-regional context of Djibouti,
Northwest Somalia, and East Ethiopia, the highland area of Hararghe is the only place where
climatic conditions allow rainfed agriculture. Hararghe comprises of three agroclimatic belts.
Lowlands, the kolla, ~35% of the area, midlands, the weyna dega, ~40% and highlands, the
dega, ~25%. There are two rainy seasons, the small belg and the main meher. Belg
production is limited within the dega belt and part of the wetter weyna dega. Belg rains are
widely used for land preparation for long-cycle meher crop production. The yearly rainfall
variability and its frequently uneven distribution result in a wide range of climatic hazards
farmers have to deal with.
While at lower altitudes crop cultivation is usually rather limited leading to a more livestockbased
economy, at higher altitudes the economy is characterised by both food and cash
crops. Main staple food include sorghum and maize, as well as sweet potatoes cultivated
during difficult years to improve food security.
A good part of Hararghe Zone enjoys a privileged position for production and marketing of
cash crops such as chat, a popular mild narcotic, with the trading potential still exceeding the
actual production capacity. Besides chat, coffee, Irish potatoes and onions are produced for
cash. These cash crops are mainly cultivated in the weyna dega and the lower dega and for
chat exceptionally also in the kolla. The cash crop chat witnessed a tremendous boom over
the last couple of years, followed by Irish potatoes, onion/shallots and some other vegetables.
Coffee generally marked a downward trend except for some areas in West Hararghe. In the
eastern lowlands of Babile, Gursum and to some extent the southern lowlands of Fedis
groundnuts are cultivated as a cash crop.
Hence, while most of the actual farming systems are still characterised by a strong
subsistence component, the trend is towards more cash crop production which may soon
Hararghe Mission: April 1999 2
bring the majority of Hararghe farmers to the cross-roads between subsistence and cash
The vast majority of the rural population is living from agriculture, with some pastoralists and
agropastoralists in the lowlands. Increasing population density coupled with the lack of
alternative employment opportunities leads to progressive land pressure and subsequent
shrinking of individual landholdings or migration and utilisation of marginal lowland areas for
Climatic hazards are increasingly frequent, with pest infestations and crop diseases
additionally hampering crop production. Coupled with high land pressure, the margin for
farmers’ agroeconomic decisions is progressively narrowing. The shift to an increased and
intensified chat production is one of the farmers’ response to face some of the constraints.
But those areas, especially the lowland pastoralist and agropastoralist areas, where
agricultural substitutes such as chat cannot make up for prevailing constraints, are
increasingly suffering from food insecurity.