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Destocking to improve food security in drought - prone Ethiopia

By Dereje Adugna Tieke

Dereje is an Emergency Response & Transition Program Officer for CARE Ethiopia, with sixteen years of field experience in development work and emergency relief operations.

The contribution of CARE Ethiopia in permitting the publishing of this article is gratefully acknowledged.

This article describes Care Ethiopia's experiences of a destocking programme in Ethiopia, and the lessons they learned for future similar interventions1.

The Borana zone in the Oromiya region of southern Ethiopia is extremely drought prone. The population of close to 1.4 million people is predominantly pastoralist, depending on the main rains from March to mid-May and short rains from September to November for water and pasture to sustain their livelihood.

Beginning in 1996, the Borana zone suffered from severe drought, followed by erratic and insufficient rains for several years afterwards. In 1998, the short (Hagaya) and main (Ganna) rains were well below normal, and the situation became extremely critical in the lowland woredas of Yabello, Dire, Arero, Moyale and Teltele. Pasture became scarce, and water points such as ponds and traditional wells dried up earlier than usual. In order to cope, the pastoralists were forced to move their livestock to less affected areas, which put excessive pressure on the limited resources of those areas. The condition of calves and milking cows deteriorated severely due to the acute shortages of pasture and water, and in general, cattle mortality was significant and rising.

Meat in drying place, Borana

In October 1999, in view of this worsening situation and in conjunction with other relief efforts, CARE Borana began pilot destocking activities at two sites, Adegelechet in the Yabello woreda and Dubluk in the Dire woreda. As the intensity of the drought became more severe, a third centre was opened at Dara in Teltele. Destocking ended in August 2000 when most of the area in the Borana plateau received rain in the Hagaya and Ganna seasons, which improved the availability of pasture and water. Improvement in the physical condition and price of livestock made the pastoralists unwilling to barter the physically 'improved' livestock for grain.

Pilot destocking project

The pilot project comprised of two complementary components: livestock destocking and dry meat processing. It was designed, in the short term, to make use of severely weakened but otherwise healthy cattle in order to reduce human mortality risk and improve the nutritional status of malnourished and vulnerable community members. Through the exchange of grain for weak but otherwise healthy cattle, food income was generated. Dried meat (quanta), produced from these animals through the meat processing activity, was distributed to children2 and the elderly, supplementing the food rations already being received.

Dried and folded skin

The project also aimed to:

During the eleven months of CARE's intervention, 1,466 weak but healthy cattle were exchanged for 118 MT of grain. From this exchange, CARE produced 6,651 kg of dried meat that was distributed to 18,069 malnourished children2 and elderly people in 27 Peasant Associations.

It was expected that the impact of the project would go beyond mere emergency relief. Any subsequent privatisation of centres by service cooperatives or interested pastoralist/ agropastoralist families to produce dried meat for sale could promote sustainable off-take of animals from grazing lands.

Previous experiences

Although this strategy was new to CARE Borana, a similar one had been used by the Relief and Rehabilitation Commission (RRC)3 and UNICEF from 1984/85 to 1987/88 at Adegelchet in the Yabello woreda. CARE took advantage of the lessons learned in this previous experience in order to design its system.

There were a number of differences between CARE's approach and that of RRC. While RRC paid cash for the cattle, CARE used a barter system. RRC viewed their intervention purely as an emergency relief project and once the pastoralists and their livestock had recovered from the drought, RRC discontinued the programme. CARE envisaged a potential longer term impact. Finally, there was no defined system in the RRC project for determining the health status of cattle to be purchased, except by visual observation. CARE assessed animal health based on veterinary examination.


CARE began operations at the Dubluk and Adegelchet sites in October 1999. The Dubluk center was established at a previous CARE camp site and only required a few additional facilities. Given that UNICEF had used the Adegelchet site in the past for the same purpose, all the required structures were in place and only required maintenance on already existing structures. In April 2000, a third center was started at Dara, Teltele and since it was a new site, all physical structures needed for the project had to be constructed.

The average labour requirement at each centre was 21 people, including five butchers (men), ten slicers (women), two herders, two guards, one supervisor/ storekeeper, and one vet technician (meat inspector).

Based on an agreement made with the Southern Rangeland Development Unit (SORDU), CARE Borana was responsible for providing a per diem to the SORDU vet technicians. These technicians were responsible for ensuring that all cattle to be exchanged for grain were healthy. They carried out ante mortem and post mortem examinations. They also ensured that basic hygiene practices were followed in the slaughtering, butchering, and meat drying processes as well as in the disposal of offal and drying of the hides. These technicians were also responsible for compiling monthly reports regarding the vet activities.

In terms of hiring non-technical labour, the project aimed to employ individuals from families who had lost their assets and cattle. Furthermore, CARE planned to develop a rotational system to train and employ additional men and women in the butchering and drying processes. In addition to their monthly salary, the employees at the sites were given organ meats, bones and any part of the animal that was good for human consumption but not appropriate for drying, in order to contribute to improving the community's food resources.

The cost for labour and construction/ rehabilitation in the three centres over the life of the project is presented in Table 1.

Destocking centre operations

Only cattle were accepted in the destocking centres since, unlike other livestock species such as shoats and camels, cattle solely graze and depend mainly on grasses for survival. This narrow feeding habit makes them the first drought victims since other species can both browse and graze, and so survive longer when pasture is depleted. Oxen and heifers were rarely brought to the destocking centres - cows predominated.

A bartering system, exchanging grain for weak but otherwise healthy cattle, was introduced as a mechanism to facilitate the exchange. All three centres used the same barter rate of 100 kg of grain per animal. This rate did not vary by season unless the animal was extremely emaciated, in which case only 50 kg of grain was paid. All interested pastoralists and agropastoralists had the right to use the service rendered by the destocking centres, as long as they brought weak, healthy cattle. Priority in bartering was given to Peasant Associations from distant areas and to very weakened cattle.

All animals were inspected by the vet technicians and had to be declared disease free in order to enter into the barter system. Post mortem examinations were also carried out prior to processing of the meat. Depending on the outcome of the examination, any infected organs would be discarded and if necessary, the entire animal rejected and burnt.

Initially the centres did not limit their bartering based on the centre's processing capacity. As a result, bartered cattle had to stay in the centres for up to 10 days before being slaughtered. While this allowed the pastoralists to barter a weakened cow before it died, the practice increased the risk of disease and death of cattle in the destocking centres. In their weakened state, the cattle were susceptible to any diseases which might be transmitted by other cattle brought for barter, or other range cattle they might come in contact with before slaughter. After two weakened cows died while being kept in the Dubluk destocking centre, the number of cattle bartered in any given day was limited to between seven and ten animals - the amount that could be slaughtered and processed on that same day. Neither of the other centres set a limit and accepted all the presenting healthy, weakened cattle.

After processing the meat from the bartered cattle, the dried meat was distributed to malnourished children and the elderly to supplement their protein intake.

Table 1 Labour and construction/ rehabilitation costs at project centres


Project assessment

The main findings of an assessment of the destocking programme were:

Shortly after the onset of the ganna or long rainy season, the number of cattle presenting to the centres began to decline sharply. Once the pastoralists saw the emergence of grass shoots and the hope of saving their cattle, they chose to keep their animals rather than barter them.

Lessons learned

One of the programme assumptions was that, even if rains were to begin in early April and certainly after the short rains predicted for October/ November, pastoralists would need to trade their weakened cattle for grain in order to feed themselves until milk production could be re-established. This was found to be incorrect. The observed reality was that as soon as rainfall conditions improved, the supply of cattle to the destocking centres declined significantly.

Women to be employed in the center

Destocking, as a longer-term income generation activity in this region, is not feasible. Beyond the emergency phase, it wasn't very well accepted and furthermore,the Borana diet is not heavy on meat and so offers a limited market for quanta.

Based on our experiences, a number of recommendations are made which may help to improve future programming:

This pilot project has demonstrated that food insecurity can be ameliorated through coordination of the communities, government entities, and non-governmental organisations, and interventions such as this destocking project, could be applied to other droughtrelated situations.

For further information, contact Dereje Adugna, P.O. Box 4710, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia Tel. +251 1 538040

Show footnotes

1Final Report of Borana Emergency Drought Relief Program submitted for OFDA/USAID. April 2001, CARE Ethiopia Impact Assessment of CARE Borana Destocking Intervention. CARE Ethiopia. Fistum Berhe (Independent Consultant), March 2001

2Rapid nutritional assessment was carried out with full assistance from the local government. Children with a mid-upper arm circumference of less than 12cm, were supplied with dried meat rations

3RRC previously known as the Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Commission

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Reference this page

Dereje Adugna Tieke (). Destocking to improve food security in drought - prone Ethiopia. Field Exchange 19, July 2003. p21.



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