Report on food supply in sub-Saharan Africa says 20 countries are facing exceptional food emergencies


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The number of countries in sub-Saharan Africa facing exceptional food emergencies has increased from 13 to 20 since the beginning of 1997, according to a special FAO report released on 24 November. Cereal import requirements for 1997/98 will be higher than the previous year's, mainly because harvests have been hit by adverse weather conditions, according to the report on Food Supply Situation and Crop Prospects in sub-Saharan Africa.

In eastern Africa poor rainfall has limited cereal production throughout 1997. Southern Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Tanzania and Uganda were all hit by severe drought at the beginning of the year, which sharply reduced cereal harvests. Erratic rainfall later in the year affected main season crops, particularly in Eritrea, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Uganda. Total cereal production for East Africa for 1997 is expected to be markedly less than last year's good harvest. Tanzania and Uganda are expected to be hardest hit, with drops of 30 and 27 percent respectively in their cereal harvests.

In the Great Lakes region, food prices are high and rising. Although the refugee crisis has eased, the food supply situation remains tight. The mass return of refugees last December has stepped up food demand, but recovery of food production has not kept pace. The situation has been aggravated by adverse weather conditions and continued fighting in parts of Rwanda and Burundi.

In Burundi, insecurity, adverse weather and the economic embargo imposed by neighbouring countries have combined to limit production growth, pushing food prices beyond the reach of a large number of vulnerable people. The food situation of Rwandan refugees still in the Democratic Republic of Congo (the former Zaire) is extremely precarious, following the forced departure of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). In the Republic of Congo (Congo-Brazaville), recent fighting forced a large number of people to leave their homes and severely disrupted the food supply system.

Western Africa faces mixed harvest prospects because of mid-season dry spells in many parts of the Sahel, according to the report. Inadequate rainfall over most of Senegal, the Gambia and Mauritania in July and August severely affected early planted crops. Although the rains improved in late August/September, prospects for rainfed harvests remain poor.

The situation is most critical in Sierra Leone, where production and trade have been disrupted by civil conflict and the unravelling of diplomatic and economic ties with neighbouring countries. "In Sierra Leone, the food supply outlook remains grim," the report states. "For large sections of the population, access to food has become very difficult due to shortages and the resulting high prices, as well as the widespread collapse of livelihoods." Malnutrition is increasing and likely to get worse with the imposition of sanctions. Although growing conditions are said to be very favourable and non-governmental organizations have been trying to help farmers with inputs, food production is severely constrained by insecurity and population displacement.

The food supply situation in southern Africa remains generally stable despite harvests hit by adverse weather in some areas and "the looming threat of El Niño-induced drought later in the just-started cropping season". Southern Africa's cereal harvests for 1997 are above average but some 10 percent less than last year's, according to the report. Malawi has suffered both drought and flood and cereal output has fallen sharply creating a very tight food supply situation.

The report indicates that large cereal reserves in many countries in southern Africa should keep the food supply situation stable in 1997/98. But there is some concern that "nervousness over a possible El Niño-induced drought" will cause some farmers to save more grain for their families, forcing importers to look outside the subregion. In preparation for the feared drought, governments are encouraging farmers to plant drought-resistant crops and to adopt improved water conservation measures.

The report lists four areas of priority action by the international community:

  • the reversal of the serious food situation in Sierra Leone;
  • food assistance in a number of East African countries, particularly Somalia, Tanzania and Ethiopia;
  • continued emergency assistance in the Great Lakes region;
  • sustained donor assistance for rehabilitation of the agricultural sector in Rwanda, Liberia and other countries where prospects for lasting peace have become a reality.

28 November 1997

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