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Crises in Tigray: why Food and Nonfood Aids are Critical?

By Kinfe Asayhegn
Tigrai Online June 19, 2021 />



Tigray, one of the regions in Ethiopia is the homeland for more than 7 million Tigrayan, Irob and Kunama peoples according to the estimation and adjustment in 2020 (actual population census haven’t yet taken place since 2007).  The regional state contains the core and cradle of ancient history such as the Aksumite kingdom and the historic settlements of Aksum, the kingdom's capital; Yeha, a ruined town of great antiquity; and Adwa, the site of a battle in 1896 in which the Italian invading force was defeated and considered as an African pride.

The wise and hardworking people of Tigray have been mostly engaged in agriculture (cereals, legumes, and cotton) and livestock herding. Export of cereals, oilseeds, cotton, live animals and hides and skins were the major agricultural export produces besides the mining and industrial products of the region. The contribution of Tigray’s produces and resources to the two-digit growing economy of Ethiopia for the last three decades before it bended down to negative values in the last three years was large.  Sesame and oilseeds, for instance, were the major agricultural export of the country with export capacity valued at about US$500 Million per year.  Out of the nationally produced and exported sesame and oilseed, nearly 60% had been produced in the Western and North-Western zones of Tigray Region where, now a major Tigrayan cleansing and genocide is taking place by the Amhara Militia and Amhara regional police with the support of the Eritrean troops and Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF). Like the Sesame, the best qualities of Ethiopian honey were being exported directly from Tigray to European and other countries. 

According to reports of OCHA and other UN agencies and humanitarian aid agencies, from these two zones only, more than 1 million residents have been killed, kidnapped or forcefully displaced. Among these, more than 70,000 of them have been fled to Sudan and are now in different shelters. More than half a million displaced people have been sheltered in different schools and public areas in shire city with no basic necessities while more than 700,000 have been in the cities of Mekelle and Axum. More than 5.4 million people in total are in severe deliberate starvation and in an urgent need of food and nonfood aids. It’s solely reported and documented by international and independent agencies, starvation is weaponized by the allied forces of Ethiopian and Eritrean troops and Amhara militia and regional police. The war between the allied forces and the Tigrayan forces broke out before the harvest of the agricultural produces. All the produces in western and north western Tigray were harvested and looted by the Amhara militia and forces and transported to Amhara region. All the livestock and livestock products, household properties, investment properties, vehicles and machineries in the two zones have been looted and transported directly to Amhara region. In the other zones, all the agricultural produces, personal and government properties, construction and other machineries, industrial machineries, vehicles including ambulances are looted and taken to Eritrea. The sum of all the looting and destruction in sum, have been caused a mass starvation and the international humanitarian agencies have been reporting the severity of the situation and the need for unhindered and unlimited delivery of humanitarian assistance. Due to the interest of the triple allied forces is cleansing of Tigrayans through a weaponized hunger, blockage and looting of humanitarian aid from different international agencies in the first five months were officially denied by the government. Later on, after different pressure from the international community, in principle, the government accepted to allow the delivery of aids but systematically and officially, the humanitarian aids from international agencies have been blocked in Amhara region while others have been looted by the Eritrean troops. In mid-May, in five days only, more than 150 trucks were blocked in between the towns of Endaba Guna and shire. Besides this, summary, let’s see some details:-      


Home to more than seven million inhabitants, Tigray region has been unstable since November of 2020 following the first military operation to cleanse the people of Tigray in the cover of “Law Enforcement Operation”. In this article, I have presented how the war has and ethnic cleansing affected the overall Tigray economy in general and food security of the people in particular. Before presenting the details of the impacts and conditions of the war, let me introduce how the economy mainly the agricultural economy was before the war and then to look why an urgent food and nonfood aid is currently required.  


Agriculture is one of the most important activities in Tigray, where about 65% of the land is under cultivation, with the rest taken up by pasture, forests and wasteland. Over 95% of the cultivated area is farmed by smallholders, most of whom follow a mixed crop/livestock system. The legitimate government of Tigray, in cooperation with other development agencies was working to conserve at least 50% of the volume of ground water to be harvested which would have been sufficient to irrigate roughly 44 per cent of the total irrigable areas of Tigray. Natural resources management and rehabilitation and regeneration of the soils, water, forest and other resources were the top priority of the regional government. Construction of micro-dams, check-dams and other means of water harvesting were some of the major activities which were being done by the different agencies, the people and the government. Different corridors like the Rama of the Mereb basin, Tekeze, Zarema, Raya and other places were specialized in commercial perennial crops and fruits. Annual vegetables and fruits were also important cash and nutrition sources of the people of the regional state.

Attention to annual cash crops like sesame, oil seeds, cotton, fruits and vegetables were among the top priorities by the government of the regional state. The western, north-western and southern zones were the major investment corridors of the region. In sesame production and export, for instance, Ethiopia ranked 3rd in Africa where more than 50% of the export valued at nearly US $500 million of the quality product is from western and north-western Tigray.

In addition to annual and perennial crops livestock systems were representing a potential pathway for the people of Tigray to be out of poverty. According to different reports more than 5 million heads of cattle, nearly 2.5 million heads of sheep and 3 million heads of goats were in the Tigray regional state. The region is, however, recently in crises.  It has been seven months since the Ethiopian regime of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, the 2019 Nobel Peace Laureate, declared a full-scale war on the Tigray region, one of the member states of the Federation. Though it is not in the scope of this topic to present how the war was broke out, what were the physical and other damages and atrocities in general, presentation of the impacts particular to food security and the need for food aid is presented below.

The Food Security Situation

The major challenge faced the region prior to the officially waged war was the plague of locusts infestation. Prior to the locust infestation after the Tigray election for self-determination, the regional budget was suspended, international agencies donated food security support were cut off, Covid-19 protection amenities were denied. The manual protection of locust infestation after the denial of aerial spray of chemicals by Abiy administration was done mobilizing the rural and urban people of the region including University students and professors. The damage from the locust infestation was limited to one-fourth of the total potential production. All the tones of cereals and legumes, sesame and oilseeds, livestock resources, natural and forest resources, vegetable and fruits, export supplies, services and supplies were in place before the war have waged on the people of Tigray.

Due to these, food and nutritional security of the region, economic empowerment of households were in an improving progress though it wasn’t in a best scenario. Sufficient production was in place in some zones and woredas while others were self-reliant. The waged war, however, brought upside down.          

Main infrastructures, government and private investments, factories, and public services have been looted and destroyed. Among the top public institutions looted Axum University, Adigrat University, and Mekelle University are some examples. All the laboratory equipment, vehicles, services and facilities, stores have been completely looted by the Eritrean troops and the rest of the fixed assets have been destroyed. Almost all health centers and hospitals, schools, administration offices of all levels, sector offices and services have been blindly and collectively attacked and destroyed. Almeda Textile Factory, Hiwot Mechanization, Saba Marble, Sheba Leather and Tannery, Adigrat Pharmaceuticals, Dedebit Microfinance, Mesfine Engineering and Sur Construction are among the endowment companies of the people of Tigray that have been completely looted. Wolkayit sugar factory and Baeker Agro Processing are among the looted and finally destroyed industrial parks which were constructed by foreign aid and loan under the federal government. Private business, industries and investments like Semayata Tiles, Zenit Factory, agricultural investments and others are also among the looted and destroyed companies by the allied Ethiopian and Eritrean troops. `


Private investments and farms have been also at the center of attack, damage and looting. Meda Raya was an agricultural investment owned by Haleka Moges, a Tigrayan investor were employing more than 1000 permanent and others temporary workers in their dairy and fattening farm. He imported 495 dairy cows valued at 2 billion ETB from The Netherlands some years ago. The farm had also more than 500 fattening cattle and 50 hectares of Irrigation and feed processing plant. These investments have been however, looted fully by the Amhara militia and all the dairy cows and fattening oxen have been taken to Amhara. The fixed asset they couldn’t take have been put on fire. The pregnant cows which couldn’t travel have been cut their parts like the necks and legs horrifically. The perennial crops and plants like fruits have been cut down. The cutting down of perennial crops and trees like fruits have been done in places out of Raya such as Rama, Zarema, Tekeze, Samre, Entich, Ahferom, Naeder, Adet and others. In the actual damage of the wagged war on Tigray, this is the tip of the iceberg.

Beyond the killings, it has been repeatedly reported that 5.4 million people are in a stage of chronic starvation and urgent need of aid. The starvation is artificial rather than natural. The people of Tigray were fighting against a swarm of desert locust in the last harvest season while other parts of the country were supported with aerial chemical spray. Nearly one-fourth of the cereals which were expected to be harvested in the last production season is lost due to the infestation of the swarm of locusts. That seemed to be first sign of a systematic attempt by the federal government to starve Tigrayans by letting their harvest be destroyed by the locust swarm. The other indicator of the systemic starvation and weaponized hunger, since the war broke out, farmers’ produces, livestock and other resources have been looted and burned by the Eritrean and Ethiopian troops in an attempt to use starvation as an instrument of war. Nearly 70% of the agricultural production of the regional state was from western and southern Tigray.

After the looting of resources and properties, burning of agricultural products and unharvested crops, and looting of livestock by the Eritrean troops, most people of Tigray are in need of humanitarian aid and medication. One of the demands of the international community and governments is for the government to open humanitarian corridors for delivering humanitarian aid. The Ethiopian government, however, has completely blocked international aid workers from entering, apparently to hide the war crimes.

In relation to the timing of the wagging of the war by the coward Abiy administration were some weeks before the harvest of agricultural produces. The produce of Western and southern Tigray, the most fertile land, has been harvested and taken by the Amhara militia. In other zones, the stored grains and livestock feed are either looted or burnt by the allied troops and militia. Farmers are left with no seeds for future season of production. The third reason of the systemic starvation is an order which starves farmers for years. Farmers’ oxen are either slaughtered and eaten by the troops or looted either to Eritrea or Amhara. Sheep and goats have been eaten by the troops, donkeys and horses have been looted for transportation of military amenities, farm equipments have been either burnt or broken by the troops and militia for interrupting farming for years. In Samre Woreda for instance more than 200 donkeys have been looted on 20 May, 2020 and more than 500 donkeys have been looted from Ahferom in mid-march. Farmers who attempt to work in their farm have been killed by the troops.

The regional bureau of agriculture of Tigray has conducted an assessment to understand and document the crises in the agricultural sector.  On the same data, it also sent recovery plan paper. The assessment report explored the lives of Tigrayan farmers and the region’s population in general due to damages caused by the war on Tigray.


The following are some of the main points of the assessment report:

  1. There is an ongoing extrajudicial killing of civilian farmers by armed forces across all areas of Tigray. Central, North-western and Eastern Tigray which are controlled by Eritrean troops are heavily impacted by such killings. There is heavy killing by Amhara ethnic militia that fully control Western Tigray. The violence by Amhara militia is now spreading to Southern and South-eastern zones of Tigray.  
  2. Farm produces, homes appliances, and farming equipment are looted by Eritrean soldiers and Amhara ethnic militia across the region.
  3. The war started during harvest season and most farmers have not properly harvested their produce.
  4. Farmers in southern, south-eastern and parts of central Tigray incurred damage from locust invasion.
  5. The war in combination with the locust invasion has heavily impacted food security in the region.
  6. The war created an administrative vacuum making it impossible to provide support to previous development aid recipients as databases were systematically destroyed and offices looted.
  • Except in two Weredas, all agriculture and rural development offices have been looted. Employees do not have anywhere to sit, any stationery and other office equipment.  
  • 1 to 3 vehicles and all motorbikes from each Wereda across Tigray have been looted making it difficult to provide agricultural support to farmers.
  • Veterinary clinics in almost all areas have been looted
  • Equipment (electronic and other) in many farmer training centers have been looted.
  1. Livestock continue to be extensively looted and transported by trucks by Eritrean soldiers.
  2. Irrigation infrastructures have been damaged in many areas but there is a need for assessment of the extent of the damage.
  3. Properties and facilities of private agricultural investors in Raya Azebo Wereda have been fully destroyed.
  4. Over 95% of Tigray’s population is currently in need of humanitarian assistance as private properties and wealth are looted or work places are closed down.
  5. Over 95% of Tigray’s farmers cannot afford to buy agricultural inputs such as fertilizers, seed, and pesticides. Most seed multiplication sites were left unharvested due to the war.


What has to be done?

Unless humanitarian aid and lifesaving food is provided millions of people are reported might die. Few humanitarian agencies, after a long fight with the Federal government to get a clearance to enter into Tigray, have started food aid distribution mostly in the big cities. In places out of Mekelle, however, people are complaining that the humanitarian agencies might have given the aids directly to the Eritrean troops. This complains is due to the reason that the troops loot the provided food aid once it is in the hand of the people in need.

Beyond the lifesaving food aid, farmers need to plant their crops for the next season. One of the main solutions in connection to this the troops who are preventing farmers to farm their land need to be immediately removed from Tigray. The Amhara militias are leasing the land in western Tigray to Amhara investors. In another way, the militias are making resettlements of origin Amharas displaced from Oromia and Benshangul-Gumuz regions. The resettlement and land leasing need to be quite and the land needs to be returned to the owner Tigrayans. The elected local administration need to be retrieved. The destroyed systems and administration infrastructures need to be restored.

After removal of the troops and militia, restoration of systems and administrations, farmers need farm amenities including drawing oxen, farm tools, seeds and fertilizer. In connection to this, in a letter addressed to the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Resources, written on 12th March 2021, the Bureau of Agriculture and Rural Development in the Interim Tigray Administration says 102.5 billion ETB (2.5 billion USD) is needed for the recovery of the lives of Tigrayan farmers in the agricultural season of 2021.


The letter says since crops and animals in most rural areas have been looted or destroyed, farmers who constitute 80% of the Tigrayan population are left without food, seed, oxen and farm tools. The Bureau says it has developed an emergency and recovery plan for the 2021 agricultural season to restore farmers’ livelihoods with the provision of emergency seeds, and animal health facilities and feed.

The federal government freezes resources and bank accounts of endowment enterprises of the people of Tigray (all the EFFORT companies). This includes partial and complete properties and resources of all the EFFORT enterprises. The suspended, and stolen, and freezed bank accounts need to be recovering from the federal banks. All the looted resources like construction machineries, vehicles, materials, need to be financially compensated. Equivalent to the properties of the enterprises, the personal belongings destroyed and looted need to be compensated.

Besides the short-term solution of food aid, once the legitimate government of the region is restored, international agencies, and development institutions need to support the government for re-construction and re-building of Tigray. The local institutions like Rehabilitation Society of Tigrayy (REST) and resources need to be the front line workers in bringing back the region to its normal development process. Civil society organizations like the historic game changer Tigray Development Association (TDA), the Global Society of Tigrayan Scholars (GSTS) and others are expected to be the road mapping institutions of the re-construction process. GSTS in particular through the members opportunity to different international research and development organizations need to initiate and coordinate development cooperation.

As a sustainable development strategy, development of new long term plan with different targets needs to be launched.