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In northern Africa, prospects for wheat and barley are generally promising in most countries following favourable growing conditions. However, in the western and central parts of Algeria, rainfall is still needed for the remainder of the season to avert a yield decline. In Egypt, where the wheat crop is almost entirely irrigated, the availability and distribution of agricultural inputs are reported to be satisfactory.

In western Africa, seasonably dry and hot conditions prevail in the sahelian countries. Harvesting of recession and off-season crops is starting in Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Niger and Chad. Following release of final production figures in some countries, the aggregate cereal production in the sahelian countries for 1997 has been slightly revised downwards to 8.9 million tons which is about 3.5 percent less than the average for the last five years. In the coastal countries along the Gulf of Guinea, aggregate cereal production for 1997 is estimated at about 28.5 million tons, which is above average. Improved security and favourable weather in Liberia led to a good cereal harvest. In Sierra Leone, while the food supply situation in Freetown might improve following the recent events, it is likely to worsen in rural areas if fighting spreads.

In central Africa, crop prospects are generally favourable in Central African Republic as well as in Cameroon despite African migratory Locust infestations which have developed since late 1997 in the north. In the Republic of Congo, a recent assessment team found that livestock production has suffered more from the civil strife than crop production. Overall, food production is expected to be similar to levels in recent years.

In eastern Africa, unseasonably heavy rains in January, following excessive precipitation since last October, resulted in further floods and disrupted harvesting operations. The effect of the heavy rains associated with El Niño on crops have been mixed in the sub-region. While in Somalia and Kenya they severely reduced the 1997/98 secondary season cereal harvest, in Uganda and Tanzania, despite localized crop losses, they generally benefited food production. In Rwanda and Burundi, where the 1998 first season foodcrops are being harvested, the abundant rains reduced yields of cereals and pulses but increased those of roots, tubers and bananas.

In southern Africa, crop growing conditions as of mid-February 1998, have been generally favourable, with normal to above normal rainfall in most parts. Despite localised crop damage due to excessive rains, prospects are favourable for harvests in Angola, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland and Zambia, while localized weather anomalies have reportedly affected crops in Lesotho, the southern parts of Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe and most of the northern and central portions of South Africa. More rains are needed in these areas in the next few weeks for crops to reach maturity. In Madagascar, serious damage to crops may be caused by the persistence of locusts in several parts of the country.

In Asia, prospects for the winter cereals to be harvested from April are mixed. In China, a decline in the winter wheat production is expected due to a reduction in sown area as a result of dry conditions in some major wheat producing provinces. In India, growing conditions for ‘rabi’ grains (mainly wheat) are favourable despite reports of adverse weather conditions in some provinces. In Pakistan, the area under wheat has declined sharply due to adverse weather at planting time. Prospects for the rice crops in the ground are favourable in Bangladesh and Vietnam, but El Nino related drought damage to crops has been reported in the Philippines. In Indonesia, the food supply situation is deteriorating as the prolonged drought reduced last year’s output and delayed planting in the current season. In Thailand, early prospects for the secondary rice crop are unfavourable due to lower water levels in reservoirs. In Korea, DPR the drought reduced harvest in 1997 has resulted in serious food security problems, while food production in Mongolia continues to be heavily constrained by transitional economic problems which have resulted in the scarcity of essential inputs.

In Central America and the Caribbean, the harvest of the 1997/98 second season crops has been completed. With the exception of Mexico, where a record coarse grain output has been gathered, below-average outputs are reported in all countries, mainly as a direct consequence of El Niño associated adverse weather. Countries such as El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua have sustained substantial maize production losses, while paddy has been the most affected crop in Costa Rica and Panamá. Drier than normal conditions in the weeks ahead are forecast for the sub-region, which could affect planting of the 1998 first season crops starting from April. In some parts of the Dominican Republic and Cuba, stormy rains and winds have recently affected food and cash crops. In Haiti, where a below-average 1997 cereal output was gathered because of drought in the first half of the year, planting of the 1998 first season crops has started under generally normal conditions.

In South America, harvesting of the 1997 wheat crop has been completed in the southern parts under wetter than normal conditions. In Argentina and Brazil, outputs declined from last year’s good levels but are still above average. In north-east Brazil prospects are uncertain for planting of the 1998 maize crop as the area has been affected by prolonged dry weather. In Uruguay and Paraguay, despite the intense rains, above-average 1997 wheat harvests have been reaped. In Chile, harvesting of the wheat crop is underway and output is expected to decline from the previous year but would still be about average. In the Andean countries, in Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia, heavy rains and flooding, combined with drought in some parts, are affecting planting of the 1998 cereal crops.

In Europe, early prospects for the 1998 crops are mixed. In the EC, winter wheat plantings are reported to be up again in the major producing countries and weather conditions have been generally satisfactory so far. However, in the eastern European countries the outcome of the winter planting season is still very uncertain. Plantings were reduced in several countries and unseasonably warm weather has diminished the protective snow cover. In all three Baltic countries, the outlook for winter grains for harvest in 1998 is satisfactory. Grain production in 1997 grew by 11 percent to 4.8 million tonnes. In Bosnia-Herzegovina, the area sown to winter wheat has declined sharply.

In the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the 1997 harvest of cereals and pulses is now estimated at 156 million tonnes, some 23 percent higher than in 1996 due to better yields and less under-reporting of output compared to previous years. Early prospects for the winter crops point to some downturn in grain production. Preliminary indications are that the aggregate area sown to winter grains in the major states has declined somewhat mostly as a result of lower plantings in the Ukraine. The area sown in the Russian Federation is close to last year’s level of nearly 13.5 million hectares, but plantings in the important north Caucasus region are down. Moreover, grain prices in 1997/98 have fallen sharply prompted by the larger 1997 harvest and the higher proportion of feed quality grain, limiting farmer’s working capital and probably reducing incentives to plant grains in the spring. The area ploughed, ready for planting in the spring has fallen sharply. In a number of smaller states, e.g. Armenia, Kyrgyzstan,the rapid expansion in the areas sown to cereals is likely to slow as other crops become more profitable. In Uzbekistan the area allocated to winter grains has been reduced.

In North America, prospects for the 1998 wheat crop in the United States are satisfactory. Although the area planted to winter wheat is estimated to have decreased by 4 percent, weather conditions have been generally favourable and moisture supplies are reported to be adequate in most areas. In Canada, early indications point to a further reduction in wheat area in 1998 as farmers are expected to give preference to more profitable oilseed crops and poor planting conditions are expected on the Prairies due to below normal precipitation so far this winter.

In Oceania, the winter wheat crop in Australia, estimated at 18 million tonnes, is slightly down from the previous year due to reduced plantings and erratic weather in some parts, but output was not affected as much as earlier expected by the current strong El Niño weather phenomenon.

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