AUSTRALIA (20 February)
The latest official estimate of the 1997 winter wheat crop, in late November, put output at nearly 18 million tonnes compared to last year’s record 23.7 million tonnes. In addition to a 4 percent reduction in area, crop yields were affected by erratic weather conditions in some parts. However, the current strong El Niño weather phenomenon did not affect production of the 1997 winter grains as much as earlier expected. Aggregate coarse grains output in 1997 (including the minor summer crop of mostly sorghum and maize harvested early in 1997) is now forecast at 8.9 million tonnes, 2.2 million tonnes down from 1996. Prospects are generally favourable for the 1998 summer crop, which is being sown or already developing in some parts, following adequate rains in the major producing areas. Sorghum production is forecast to rise by about 15 percent from 1997 to about 1.6 million tonnes.
The 1997 paddy crop in Australia is estimated at about 1.4 million tonnes, up from 951 000 tonnes produced in 1996. The dramatic rise in production is a result of a 10 percent increase in area to 166 000 hectares and notably improved water supplies in New South Wales, where most of Australia’s rice is grown. For the 1998 season, area seeded to rice is estimated at 140 000 hectares, down by 16 percent from 1997 due to significantly lower water availability in New South Wales and accordingly, output is expected to fall.
COOK ISLANDS (10 February)
Cook Islands was hit by Tropical Cyclone Martin on 1 November 1997. Reports indicate that food crops have been destroyed in the three islands of the Northern Cooks (Pukpuka, Manihiki et Rakahanga), Manihiki being the worst affected. The degradation of the lagoon in Manihiki not only threatens fishing but also black pearl cultivation, the main income generating activity and a major export of the Islands.
PAPUA NEW GUINEA (10 February)
Prospects for the 1998 crops are generally unfavourable, due to the prolonged drought which has seriously affected many parts of the country. Several areas have had no significant rainfall since May/June and some have had none the whole year. Food production in 1997 is conservatively estimated to decline by 50 percent from the previous year level as a result of unfavourable weather conditions. The food situation remains very tight in the country where about 1.2 million people are critically affected. Relief assistance is urgently required.
On 11 December 1997, the United Nations launched an Appeal for international assistance in the amount of US$4.186 million to cover emergency relief needs in the sectors of emergency management, rural water supply, health, nutrition and agriculture, during a period of up to 12 months. In addition to the Appeal, the government has estimated that US$4.12 million per month will be required for food relief and logistics to assist the affected population.
SOLOMON ISLANDS (10 February)
Rainfall has been below average since June. As a result, most areas of the Islands are experiencing serious drought. Unofficial reports from rural areas, especially in Western, Choiseul, Central and Isabel provinces indicate that crops have seriously been affected. The effects on crops have become apparent with crops showing signs of wilting and stunt as a result of insufficient water. Soil has become very dry and has started to crack in some places.
Bellona Island (Rendel province) is reported to be suffering from food and water shortage. A National Disaster Council (NDC) is monitoring the situation through Provincial Disaster Committees, Provincial Governments and line ministries.