FAO/GIEWS - Foodcrops and Shortages No.1, February 2005

Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext page



As of February 2005, the number of countries facing serious food shortages throughout the world stands at 36 with 23 in Africa, 7 in Asia/Near East, 5 in Latin America and 1 in Europe. The causes are varied but civil strife and adverse weather predominate. A recent outbreak of desert locusts in western Africa and the tsunami disaster in south Asia have had serious though localized food security consequences. In many of these countries, the HIV/AIDS pandemic is a major contributing factor. Recently published assessment reports highlighting these factors in greater detail can be found at:


In eastern Africa, harvesting of the 2004/05 secondary cereal crops is almost complete in most countries, except in Ethiopia where planting is about to commence. The outlook is poor in Kenya mainly due to inadequate rainfall. In Somalia, the recent good secondary season "deyr" rains are expected to improve the food situation, though it remains critical for pastoralists in northern Somalia.

The food security situation in Eritrea is particularly alarming following a well below average cereal harvest in 2004. The consumer price index, which has been persistently high over the past few years, is increasing rapidly. Food prices are now beyond the reach of most vulnerable people. In Sudan, the continued crisis in Greater Darfur, where fighting has forced more than 2 million people from their homes and farms, is another huge humanitarian challenge. Reports paint a grim picture where the conflict has engulfed almost all parts of Greater Darfur, making agricultural activities and humanitarian assistance very difficult to carry out.

Overall, the food security situation of a large number of people in the subregion is highly precarious. Recent estimates indicate that about 2.3 million people in Eritrea, 2.2 million in Ethiopia, 3.6 million in Sudan, 2 million in Uganda, 1.4 million in Kenya, and 0.5 million in Somalia will need emergency food assistance in 2005.

In southern Africa, the 2005 agricultural season for the main cereal crops is approaching mid-point. Generally, the season so far has been characterized as uneven with below normal rainfall in Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, and parts of Zambia and Zimbabwe and normal to above normal elsewhere. The outlook for the second half (February-April) foresees below normal precipitation across Namibia, western Botswana, south-western Zambia, western Zimbabwe, and southern Mozambique and above normal rainfall over Angola, north-eastern Zambia, and northern and central Mozambique. Reduced cereal harvests in 2004 in Lesotho, Swaziland, Zimbabwe and Malawi have caused food shortages in these countries with varying degrees of severity. The overall reduction in cereal harvest for the subregion in 2004 is expected to result in an increased net coarse grain import requirement of about 2 million tonnes for the 2004/05 marketing year. WFP has launched a three-year regional Protracted Relief and Recovery Operation (PRRO) requiring US$405 million and involving 656 573 tonnes of food commodities to assist food insecure and AIDS affected populations in the subregion.

In the Great Lakes region, harvesting of the main season (2005A) crops, maize, sorghum and beans, planted in September-October, is currently underway. After a sporadic start of the season, heavy rains were experienced in December and January. Reports on joint FAO/WFP/UNICEF/Ministry of Agriculture assessments in Burundi and Rwanda are currently being prepared. In Burundi this season, FAO distributed sweet potato cuttings to 7 500 vulnerable farmers and sorghum seeds to 75 400 households to help the process of farm resettlement. However, resettlement of returning refugees and the food security situation in the Great Lakes region continue to be hampered by sporadic disturbances.

In northern Africa, sowing of the 2004/05 winter cereals to be harvested from April is complete. Normal to abundant rains were received in January for most of the region and the condition of the crops is reported as generally favourable in Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia. Production of cereals in the subregion last year is estimated at 36.4 million tonnes, similar to the previous year’s record crop.

In western Africa, a combination of desert locust attacks and drought seriously undermined the food security of million of people in the Sahel, notably in Mauritania, Senegal, Mali, Niger, Cape Verde, Burkina Faso and Chad. In Mauritania, the most affected country, 2004 aggregate cereal production is estimated to drop by 44 percent compared to previous year. Pastoral and agro-pastoral groups have been especially hard hit in most countries. Although overall agricultural production in the nine CILSS countries is estimated to be close to the five-year average, high millet prices are reported in most affected zones, which will compound the impact on affected communities as millet is their most important staple. In Côte d’Ivoire, food security for many households continues to be hampered by disruption of livelihoods, due to the on-going conflict, while Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea remain heavily dependant on international assistance due to large numbers of IDPs and refugees.

In Asia, the earthquake and tsunami of 26 December 2004 in the Indian Ocean killed over three hundred thousand people and destroyed livelihoods of millions of others along the coasts and among the islands in South and Southeast Asia. The disaster killed more than 285 000 people, made an estimated 5 million homeless, resulted in massive displacement of populations and caused extensive damage to housing and infrastructure. The worst affected countries include Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Maldives, India and Thailand. Myanmar, Malaysia and Bangladesh were also affected, but with relatively limited damage. Preliminary estimates indicate overall damage and loss worth US$4.45 billion in Indonesia, US$1 billion in Sri Lanka, US$359-500 million in Maldives, and US$1.5 billion in India. Smaller countries such as Sri Lanka and the Maldives are likely to suffer relatively heavier economic consequences.

The majority of the people affected by the earthquake and the tsunami had agriculture- and fisheries-based livelihoods or were employed in associated enterprises. The fisheries sector is hit the hardest, but localized severe crop and livestock losses were also suffered. In the fisheries sector, the damage has been assessed by FAO at US$25 million in Maldives; about 65-70 percent of the small scale fishing fleet and associated gear was destroyed and some 50 percent of fishers died in Aceh Province of Indonesia; some 66 percent of the fishing fleet and industrial infrastructure in coastal regions have been destroyed and 10 out of 12 main fishery harbours devastated in Sri Lanka; and some 5 400 fishing boats were damaged in Thailand. In the agriculture sector, preliminary assessments indicate that about 40 000 hectares of irrigated lands have been devastated in Indonesia, a total of 5 500 hectares have been damaged in Sri Lanka, some 1 300 hectares of land were inundated by sea water in Thailand and about 30 percent of the field plots have been completely destroyed in Maldives.

It is estimated that 2 million people in different countries in the disaster region are in need of emergency food assistance, mostly in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Maldives, and Myanmar. WFP plans to distribute 169 000 tonnes of food aid to the most needy population over a period of six months. So far, over 21 000 tonnes of food have been distributed to 1.345 million beneficiaries since the advent of the disaster. FAO has appealed for US$26.5 million to finance emergency rehabilitation projects to assist farmers and fisher folk hit by the tsunami, and another US$2.1 million for projects in partnership with UNDP and UNEP. The total funding available to FAO for recovery and reconstruction in agriculture and fisheries sectors may reach US$67 million.

Even in cases where national food supply and food security impacts are limited, local communities will experience severe food security problems in the short and long-term because parents and relatives have been lost, livelihood assets have been destroyed, and previous sources of income no longer exist. At the farm level, losses of rice stocks are also likely to be important. Salt water may prevent farmers from cropping for one or more seasons or force them adopt more salt tolerant crops and varieties with low productivity. It will require huge investments for a long time to restore destroyed/damaged storage, processing, irrigation flood control and coastal protection infrastructure in the affected areas.

Despite a recovery in food production in 2004, Korea DPR will still depend on international assistance to meet its minimum food needs in 2005. Mongolia has experienced another severe winter after last summer’s drought.

In Afghanistan heavy snowfall and rains may have partially replenished the receding water tables and provided sufficient irrigation water for the drought-stricken country. Prospects are for a good harvest this year following last year’s partial crop failure.

In the Asian CIS, winter cereals are reported to be in satisfactory condition. Prospects are for a good harvest provided that favourable weather conditions prevail in spring and early summer. Last year the region harvested an aggregate of 26.4 million tonnes of cereals, which is hoped to be topped by this year’s harvest.

In the Near East, recent precipitation and snow cover in most countries have improved prospects for winter grains for harvest from May 2005. In Iraq, according to a study conducted by the Ministry of Health, acute malnutrition among children under 5 increased to 7.7 percent this year compared to 4 percent two years ago.

In Central America and the Caribbean, harvesting of the 2004/05 second and third ‘apante’ season coarse grains and bean crops is about to be completed. Despite some losses due to prolonged drought periods in Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Cuba, aggregate cereal output in 2004 is estimated at a record 39.2 million tonnes. This result is mainly due to the excellent maize production in Mexico, following good weather conditions and record plantings in Sinaloa state as a consequence of the government support programme for white maize. In Haiti, the security situation continues to be uncertain and volatile due to the civil strife that often hampers the delivery of food aid to families hit by floods and droughts in 2004.

In South America,harvesting of 2004 winter wheat has been completed in the southern areas of the subregion. Aggregate wheat output in 2004 is estimated to be a record with more than 25 million tonnes as a consequence of the bumper crop obtained in Argentina and the good results in Brazil, Chile and Uruguay. In Brazil, Chile and Uruguay, dry weather conditions are affecting 2005 first season maize crop, to be harvested from March. In the Andean countries, dry weather in coastal areas of Ecuador and Peru are delaying planting activities of first season cereals and the possibility of the negative experience of last year’s drought may seriously affect farmers’ planting intentions. In Colombia and Venezuela, harvesting of the maize crop has been virtually completed and above-average outputs are expected. In Guyana, a state of emergency has been declared due to torrential rains that caused floods and river overflow along the East Coast and the metropolitan area of Georgetown.

In Europe, weather conditions for the over-wintering cereal crops throughout the region have been generally favourable so far, with the main exception of southern Spain and Portugal, where adverse dry conditions prevail. A reduction in cereal production is expected in the EU in 2005 after the bumper harvest last year. The overall cereal area is expected to decrease slightly following the re-introduction of a 10-percent set-aside requirement for 2005, compared to just 5 percent in 2004, and yields are expected to return to average after bumper levels in 2004. In the Balkan countries, despite indications that the 2005 cereal area may increase, outputs are quite likely to fall somewhat in 2005 on the assumption that yields in these countries will also return to normal after bumper levels last year.

In the European CIS, heavy and protective snow cover, as well as average temperatures, are seen to significantly reduce winterkill, which usually affects 3 to 5 million hectares of winter cereals in the region. More than 22.8 million hectares have been planted with winter cereals compared with just over 19 million hectares in 2004. Winter cereals, mainly wheat, barley and some rye, are reportedly in satisfactory condition throughout the region and a repeat of last year’s good harvest is a real possibility. Last year, aggregate cereal harvest in the region was estimated at more than 124 million tonnes, including 64.7 million tonnes of wheat and 59 million tonnes of coarse grains.

In North America, conditions have been generally favourable for the United States’ winter wheat crops so far but a reduced output is in prospect following a 4 percent reduction in area. With no change expected in the spring wheat planting later this year the aggregate wheat output will be down in 2005. In Canada, the grain crops are mostly sown in May/June. Early tentative forecasts point to a decrease in the aggregate cereal production in 2005, which would result from an anticipated reduction in area and lower yields after exceptionally good levels last year.

In Oceania, dry conditions and extremely hot temperatures in several parts of Australia took their toll on Australian cereal production in 2004 after what had been a promising start to the season at planting time. The wheat crop fell about 20 percent from the previous year’s record level to 20.4 million tonnes, but remained close to the five-year average. Despite the lack of rainfall for the growing stages of 2004 winter crop season, the main summer coarse grain crop zones benefited from timely planting rains. The combined sorghum and maize area for harvest in 2005 is estimated to have risen by about 24 percent.

Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext page