27 December 2000

Severe drought during the summer has sharply reduced foodcrop production, devastated range vegetation for livestock grazing and seriously curtailed other sources of feed, including grains, potatoes and crop residues. The drastic shortage in animal feed is causing under-nutrition in livestock, which may result in a significant increase in animal mortality during the cold winter months. Distress slaughter of animals has already begun and meat prices are decreasing. The bulk of livestock are held by households, and apart from their direct contribution to rural household diets, the sale of livestock products provides up to one third of household incomes in rural areas. Upland rural households, which depend on rainfed agriculture, are amongst the most vulnerable. The uplands in the north and centre, where a mix of potato/livestock and some subsistence cereal production is the predominant economic activity, are the areas most affected by drought.

Following the FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission in August this year, and in view of the extent of the drought damage, a UNDP assessment was carried out in August/September among the communities most affected by the drought. The purpose of this assessment was to identify and target the areas and farm communities worst affected and to assess the impact of the drought on their resources and assets, principally livestock and seeds for planting in the next season. It was found that of the 258 000 farms in the communities studied, 88 percent had suffered serious drought damage, with about 152 000, or 60 percent, having lost almost all their crops and grazing for their livestock.

This study also found that:

The worst affected regions in the north of the country are Shirak, Lori, Tavush, Aragatsotn and Gegharkunik. The areas with the highest losses are mainly in mountainous zones harbouring the economically most vulnerable communities, which rely heavily on livestock as their main source of subsistence and modest cash income. The survey estimates that 77 percent of the population are likely to suffer food shortages. Where winter wheat is the main crop, the crop losses are expected to constitute 65 percent of anticipated production, while barley losses were estimated at 74 percent. Pastures have been devastated and already the effects on milk production are evident. It is estimated that 20 percent of the existing animal herds could be slaughtered over the winter period.

Potatoes are a food staple in the poorer upland rainfed areas worst affected by the drought. Total potato production is officially estimated at 282 000 tonnes, 30 percent below the average of the last five years. In addition. the quality of much of the crop is poor and unsuitable for use as seed. The availability of seed potatoes for sowing in the spring is a key concern. The total shortage of potato seed in the worst-affected regions was estimated by an FAO Mission in November at 62 350 tonnes, representing 81 percent of the average seed requirements. Some 32 000 hectares are normally sown to potatoes each year, but shortages of seed will reduce the area planted in 2001 unless timely action is taken.

As a result of the drought, the cereal import requirement in 2000/01 marketing year (July/June) has risen by nearly 100 000 tonnes to 515 000 tonnes and the food aid requirement to 145 000 tonnes1. The food aid requirement includes 108 000 tonnes of wheat and 37 000 tonnes of barley, the latter to help offset the critical shortage of feed during the winter months. Against this requirement, pledges reported to date amount to 91 000 tonnes of foodgrain (mostly wheat) and only 6 000 tonnes of feedgrain.

Continued shortage of animal feed (from pastures, hay, crops and crop residues) is likely to accelerate distress slaughter of livestock, increasing the vulnerability of Armenia's rural households that rely on livestock production for an important part of their livelihoods.

Given reduced winter wheat plantings - early indications are that the area sown to winter wheat has fallen to about 65 000 hectares, only about half of normal - potato production will be crucial for household food security next year. Donor assistance is urgently needed to ensure that farming household have enough seed potato, otherwise recovery in production will be seriously jeopardized.

This report is prepared on the responsibility of the FAO Secretariat with information from official and unofficial sources. Since conditions may change rapidly, please contact Mr. Abdur Rashid, Chief, ESCG, FAO, (Fax: 0039-06-5705-4495, E-Mail (INTERNET): [email protected] ) for further information if required.

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1 See special Report FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission to Armenia, 6 October 2000 for further details.