WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. — Ethiopia is facing its worst drought in decades because of a strong El Niño weather phenomenon, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) said in a March 18 report.

Untimely and insufficient rainfall through many parts of the country has pushed national market year 2015-16 grain production steeply downward, which has in turn led to upward pressure on grain prices. In particular, production of major grains corn, sorghum, wheat, teff, barley and millet fell about 4.5 million tonnes, a drop of nearly 20% from the previous year. However, of these grains, it is important to note that teff and barley production were only down marginally since the regions where these crops are grown were only slightly affected by the drought.

With weather conditions expected to improve, grain production is expected to partially rebound in market year 2016-17. The production of major grains in market year 2016-17 is expected to reach about 21 million tonnes, but still about 1 million tonnes lower than the market year 2014-15 pre-drought production figures. A full recovery, in terms of grain production, is expected to take a couple years as farmers re-build assets, purchase seeds and fertilizer, and gradually begin to resume normal living patterns.

Over the past year (Jan.-Dec.), retail grain prices have gone up, with the biggest increases in teff and sorghum prices, which grew 19% and 16%, respectively. Corn marked the smallest price increase for this period at just 3%. In the latter part of the year, the drought-related production losses have been exerting additional upward price pressure.

Owing to these drought-caused losses in grain production, more than 10 million people are targeted for emergency assistance. In response, Ethiopia and international donors have ramped up food relief, largely consisting of wheat imports. Ethiopia has purchased huge volumes of foreign wheat, totaling around 1.8 million tonnes. Donors are expected to supply an additional 700,000 tonnes of wheat, bringing the projected market year 2015-16 wheat import estimate to 2.5 million tonnes. However, market year 2015-16 wheat imports could possibly go as high as 3 million tonnes.