WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. — The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) is raising its market year 2015-16 (October-September) wheat import estimate for Ethiopia to a record 2.5 million tonnes, up from the current official USDA estimate of 2 million tonnes, according to a USDA FAS report published on Jan. 21.

This increase is in part attributed to need for emergency food relief arising from the ongoing drought, which is said to be one of the worst in decades. Wheat is one of the key staples that both Ethiopia and international donors are supplying to individuals living in drought hotspot areas.

In a normal year, Ethiopia usually imports around 1 million tonnes of wheat to meet consumers growing demand for food items, such as bread and pasta, as well as for food assistance purposes. This year, however, with the ongoing drought, exacerbated by the El Niño weather phenomenon, crop production in some areas has dropped significantly or even failed, leaving millions of Ethiopians without sufficient access to food and other resources to survive.

Last December, Ethiopia alongside the international donor community released the humanitarian requirements document (HRD) to request foreign resources to feed and care for 10.2 million individuals during the first half of 2016. According to the HRD report, 1.2 million tonnes of cereal is required for emergency food assistance purposes. It is expected that most of this cereal will be wheat with some amount of sorghum. Aside from the needs outlined in the HRD, Ethopia’s Productive Safety Net Program (PSNP) will support an additional 7.9 million individuals with food or cash transfers, requiring an additional 473,000 tonnes of cereals and pulses.

In response to these humanitarian needs, Ethopia and the international donor community are ramping up food aid relief efforts. For instance, the government recently tendered and purchased 1 million tonnes of foreign wheat for food assistance, price stabilization (i.e. bread subsidy), and to replenish the government-held strategic grain reserves. In addition, they have subsequently tendered and contracted for an additional 140,000 tonnes, and just recently tendered for an additional 70,000 tonnes for use in the PNSP. Going forward, Ethiopia may decide to purchase more wheat to respond to both existing and anticipated future needs.

Meanwhile, the international community has increased its drought relief support in a variety of ways, including additional food aid donations, some of which will be wheat. Based on current conditions, donor-provided wheat is expected to reach as much as 700,000 tonnes this year.