Food supplies gradually improving in most former USSR states, according to FAO report


The "sharp contraction in food supplies" in most the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) "is bottoming out," according to a mission report issued by FAO's Global and Early Warning System on Food and Agriculture (GIEWS). The CIS is made up of most of the countries that were once part of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

"Many countries are now experiencing growth in GDP, albeit from levels less than half that prior to the transition to a market economy", the report says. "Food aid needs and the number of vulnerable persons needing targeted food assistance have fallen sharply." However, the report adds, "the situation in Tajikistan remains precarious, the humanitarian and reconstruction needs in the North Caucasus are daunting and there are residual humanitarian needs in all countries." In Tajikistan, over 16 percent of the population need relief assistance to survive.

The improved food supply situation masks the fundamental problem of continuing high unemployment and underemployment levels which result in large numbers of people who can "barely manage on very meagre earnings," according to the report.

Seven CIS countries, with a combined population of 53 million people, are now classified as low-income food-deficit countries with an annual per caput GNP of less than US$1 465. This is just $28 per week and indicates a disposable income of significantly less.

Throughout the CIS, the report points to "affordability rather than physical supply of food" as the main problem. "Market prices for food are very high relative to salaries, reflecting structural inefficiencies in the production, processing, marketing, transport, banking and legal systems which will take years to address. Within countries, market reforms and the growth of the private sector has seen income disparities grow considerably. A small but growing proportion of the population can afford a highly varied diet, but the majority, in both urban and rural areas, still has to spend a large portion of income on staples."

19 December 1997

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