El Niño threat hangs over 1998 global cereal production, according to latest FAO report

FAO's first forecast of 1998 global cereal production is set at 1 895 million tonnes, a slight dip from 1997's record level of 1 908 million tonnes, according to the latest issue of Food Outlook, the Organization's report on global crop prospects and food supplies. Production forecasts are all "very tentative", however, according to the report, as they are based on the condition of crops already in the ground, planting intentions for later this year, and, perhaps most important, on the assumption of normal weather for the remainder of the 1998 cropping seasons.

But the assumption of normal weather patterns for the rest of the year is a large one. The report warns: "A deterioration of the prospects for 1998 crops cannot be ruled out, particularly in several southern hemisphere countries affected by unpredictable El Niño-associated weather, and this could reverse this year's modest improvement in the level of global cereal reserve stocks."

Although the forecast figures - again, assuming normal weather until harvests later in the year - point to a global cereal output large enough to meet expected consumption requirements in 1998/99, global cereal reserves are expected to remain below minimum safe levels of 17 to 18 percent for yet another year, according to the report.

The number of countries facing food emergencies throughout the world so far in 1998, mainly because of the effects attributed to El Niño in Asia and Central America, holds steady at 37 since the last Food Outlook, but up from 31 countries at the end of 1997. However, Africa remains the continent with the most acute food shortages as a result of a combination of adverse weather and civil strife.

 

In Africa, food supply problems stem mainly from recent droughts followed by floods in most of eastern Africa, where there have been substantial losses of crops and livestock. Populations in Kenya, Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania, all hard hit by excessive rains and flooding, are receiving food assistance. In Somalia, the worst flooding in decades has resulted in heavy livestock losses and the devastating outbreaks of animal diseases.

Elsewhere, tight food supply situations persist in several Asian countries, notably in Korea DPR, Iraq, Indonesia and Mongolia. El Niño-related droughts continue to affect cereal production in China, the Philippines and Thailand, as well as Papua New Guinea in the Pacific Rim.

Abnormally dry weather and high temperatures associated with El Niño also continue in Latin America. Heavy rains and flooding have also severely damaged crops in Cuba, Ecuador, and Peru. In the lowlands of Bolivia, flooding, combined with drought in some areas, has resulted in hundreds of casualties and severe damage to crops and infrastructure.

Global food aid shipments of cereals in 1997/98 are now expected to climb to 5.5 million tonnes, about 12 percent up from the sharply reduced volume in 1996/97, but still less than half the volumes of the early 1990s.

28 April 1998

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