Global cereal stocks remain within safe levels despite drop, but effects of floods in Asia still uncertain


Persisting intense heat and severe drought have critically damaged crop prospects in several countries of the former Soviet Union. Largely as a result of the sharply reduced output estimates for this region, FAO has revised its forecast of global cereal output in 1998 downward by 19 million tonnes. But production of staple grains should still be sufficent to meet anticipated consumption requirements in 1998/99.

According to the latest Food Outlook, global cereal output for 1998 should amount to 1 892 million tonnes (including rice in milled terms). This would represent a drop of 1 percent from 1997's record harvest. The stock-to-use ratio would remain within the minimum safe range of 17 to 18 percent that FAO considers necessary to safeguard world food security. This ratio indicates that global reserves would hold enough grain to maintain global consumption levels and safeguard against acute shortages in the event of crop failure or natural disaster in the next season.

A further major deterioration in the 1998 cereal output outlook is unlikely as most of the 1998 cereal harvests have now been completed. However, the bulk of the world's rice crops in Asia have yet to be gathered, and recent severe flooding in that region gives cause for concern.

"Although it is too early to estimate the full impact of the floods, there are fears of a decline in paddy output in this region, which accounts for over 90 percent of world supply," according to the report. A significant reduction in the region's paddy production could fuel further increases in world rice prices.

Since late June persistent rains, attributed to the La Nina phenomenon, have flooded large areas of cropped land in Asia, where most of the global rice output is produced. Severe flooding has caused huge losses in human life, property and crops throughout the region. In China, at least 3 000 people have been killed by the floods, while in Bangladesh heavy monsoon rains have affected some 25 million people.

Food Outlook is a monthly report issued by FAO's Global Information and Early Warning System. It provides analysis of the latest information affecting the situation and outlook of basic foodstuffs, including cereals, fish and fisheries products, meat and meat products, and fertilizers. The September issue includes special reports on flood damage in Asia and on countries facing food emergencies.

Food emergencies are now afflicting 40 countries worldwide, up from 38 countries in June and only 29 countries one year ago, mainly the result of the effects of both El Nino and La Nina weather phenomena in Africa, Latin America and Asia. Africa, with 21 countries on the list, remains the continent with the most acute food shortages mainly because of adverse weather and/or civil strife.

18 September 1998

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