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Cablegate: Wfp's Asmara Office Downsizes to Presence Post

VZCZCXRO4837
RR RUEHROV
DE RUEHAE #0221 1131532
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 221532Z APR 08
FM AMEMBASSY ASMARA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 9618
INFO RUCNIAD/IGAD COLLECTIVE
RUEHSA/AMEMBASSY PRETORIA 1431
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC

UNCLAS ASMARA 000221

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

AIDAC

LONDON AND PARIS FOR AFRICA WATCHERS
DEPT FOR AF/E - PLEASE PASS USAID
NAIROBI FOR USAID - GPLATT
KAMPALA FOR USAID - DSUTHER
PRETORIA FOR USAID - PDISKIN
ROME FOR FODAG

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ECON EAID EAGR PGOV ER
SUBJECT: WFP'S ASMARA OFFICE DOWNSIZES TO PRESENCE POST

REF: 06 Asmara 000458

------------------------------------
FOOD SEIZURE LEADS TO WFP DOWNSIZING
------------------------------------

1. (SBU) World Food Program (WFP) Country Director Rahman Chowdhury
paid a farewell visit to the ambassador on April 16 to discuss the
downsizing of WFP's presence and food security in Eritrea.
Chowdhury said the WFP will convert its office from program
facilitation to a presence post, given the potential for future food
emergencies in the region and the difficulty of reopening an office
versus expanding an existing one. The office will be staffed by one
local employee and will not have a country representative after
Chowdhury leaves Eritrea on April 29. WFP's decision is based on
its inability to obtain an accounting from the GSE for its 64,000 MT
of food aid seized in spring 2006, or conduct any food aid programs
in Eritrea since that time.

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PLEASE LEAVE NOW, BUT BE READY TO HELP
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2. (SBU) In a meeting earlier that week, a Ministry of Agriculture
(MoA) official told Chowdhury that his "lack of flexibility" in
supporting the cash for work (CFW) program was responsible for WFP's
problems with the government (reftel), but also noted the existence
of a "famine-like situation in parts of the country" which may lead
to an Eritrean request for future assistance. Chowdhury responded
that the confiscated food aid must be addressed before aid could
resume, leaving the matter at an impasse.

-------------------------------
ERITREA'S PRESENT FOOD SECURITY
-------------------------------

3. (SBU) Chowdhury said that 2007 had been a good year
agriculturally for Eritrea, with good rains in the Gash Barka
breadbasket region, and minimal impact from a desert locust
infestation. The Minister of Agriculture reported in spring 2007
that Eritrea's 2006 fall harvest had produced 80% of the country's
annual food needs. (Note: Eritrea's total grain consumption is
600,000 metric tons (MT) per year. End Note.) Chowdhury observed
that the MoA's claims for 2006 appeared beyond what Eritrean
farmland could reasonably produce, and estimated the country's
maximum productive capacity of 400,000 MT. He added that the MoA
has yet to make a similar pronouncement for the fall 2007 harvest,
and that the Minister of Agriculture simply told him the harvest was
"good." Chowdhury believes the food security situation could "get
worse before it gets better," noting black market imports of teff
from Ethiopia and sorghum from Sudan were necessary to close the gap
between official supplies and human needs, even during the past
three years of good harvests.

4. (SBU) Chowdhury stated that this spring's post-harvest food
prices were higher than last fall's pre-harvest prices, noting that
prices should have greatly decreased after harvest given vastly
increased supply. MoA officials informed Chowdhury that they will
"do something" to alleviate the suffering, but did not elaborate.
Chowdhury also said the GSE recently ordered Eritrean farmers to
sell all of their grain stocks to government traders and not retain
any harvest for either seed stock or personal use. Farmers
responded by hoarding grain, leading to a reduced flow of
commodities to private traders in the markets.
MCMULLEN

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