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Cablegate: Squeezing Eritrean Farmers to Feed the Troops

VZCZCXRO9532
RR RUEHROV
DE RUEHAE #0402 2261259
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 131259Z AUG 08
FM AMEMBASSY ASMARA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 9840
INFO RUCNIAD/IGAD COLLECTIVE
RUEKDIA/DIA WASHDC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC
RHMFISS/CDR USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL
RUMICEA/JICCENT MACDILL AFB FL
RUEPADJ/CJTF-HOA J2X CAMP LEMONIER DJ
RHMFISS/HQ USAFRICOM STUTTGART GE
RHRMDAB/COMUSNAVCENT

UNCLAS ASMARA 000402

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR AF/E
LONDON AND PARIS FOR AFRICA WATCHERS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EAGR PGOV EAID ECON MOPS ER
SUBJECT: SQUEEZING ERITREAN FARMERS TO FEED THE TROOPS

1. (U) Why Most Eritreans are Skinny
--------------------------------------

Most Eritreans are poor farmers who barely scratch out a
living in this dry, rocky country. In a good year Eritrea
can produce only 80% of its food needs, yet the Isaias regime
spurns food aid. UNICEF reports that 40% of children under
age five are malnourished. Farmers in the relatively fertile
central and south-central regions depend on 11 or 12 inches
of rainfall in the rainy season (July and August) to refill
reservoirs, wells, intermittent streams, and ponds needed for
irrigation. This rainy season has been disappointing; the
rest of August needs to be especially wet to avoid major
grain shortfalls in the coming year.

2. (SBU) Beware of Government Tractors
---------------------------------------

While the state offically owns almost all land in Eritrea,
families and villages can secure extended land-use rights for
"their" farms. Most farmers plow the rocky land with
oxen-drawn one-bottom wooden plows tipped with iron.
Teenagers and young adults from farm families traditionally
undertake with this time-consuming task. However, perhaps
100,000 young people are now sitting in trenches facing
Ethiopia. Last year the government provided tractors (driven
by National Service conscripts) to plow, plant, and harvest
fields if requested by farmers. This service was offered on
credit against a share of the final harvest. Many farm
families were reportedly shocked to learn that 80% of their
crop was required to pay off this "tractor debt" to the
government.

3. (SBU) But We Thought Collectivization Didn't Work
--------------------------------------------- --------

The director of a major NGO dealing with the agricultural
sector reports that the regime has again sent tractors driven
by National Service conscripts to plow and plant on "private"
farmland in the central and south-central regions. Unlike
last year, the government is not asking if the farmers want
to "hire" the government's tractor services; the government
is ordering National Service conscripts to plow and plant
substantial amounts of farmland without regard to the
farmers' wishes. The NGO director fears this may result in
the regime taking the entire crop from the government-planted
fields, leaving farm families with little more than garden
produce and foraging goats on which to survive.

4. (SBU) Priority #1: Food for the Trenches
-------------------------------------------

When asked why the government would do this, as it would
clearly jeopardize the well-being of hundreds of thousands of
farm families, the director said, "They need to get food to
the trenches." He stated that hungry farmers are less an
immediate threat to the regime's survival than hungry
soldiers.
MCMULLEN

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