Drought in the Near East: cereal and livestock production down sharply

Drought conditions are creating a crisis for livestock producers throughout the Near East

Cereal and livestock production are down sharply in the Near East as countries throughout the subregion face the worst drought in decades, according to a recent GIEWS Special Report. Jordan, Iran, Iraq and Syria have been particularly hard hit.

Jordan is expected to have the lowest recorded cereal harvest in its history, according to the report, and many sheep farmers face financial ruin. A recent FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission estimated that commercial imports will be able to meet only 80 percent of the country's cereal requirement. A food deficit of 387 000 tonnes will need to be covered by food aid, of which 100 000 tonnes have already been pledged. Emergency support for the agricultural sector is also urgently needed to revive agricultural production.

Another FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission to Afghanistan has estimated that national cereal production will be down by about 15 percent over last year's bumper harvest. Commercial imports will be able to account for 800 000 tonnes of the countries cereal requirement, but the rest - a deficit of 323 000 tonnes - will need to be met through food aid. So far, 97 000 tonnes of food aid, in the form of food-for-work and seeds, are in the pipeline.

Syria has received less than half its average rainfall and several of the country's rivers are reported to have dried up. The report expects the cereal harvest to be 30 percent below average and the livestock sector to be seriously affected.

In Iraq, rainfall has been about 30 percent below average, and the water level in the country' s main rivers has dropped by more than 50 percent. According to the report, the drought has severely damaged nearly half of Iraq's cultivated areas and greatly reduced livestock production.

Farmers in the Islamic Republic of Iran are being encouraged to reduce their water consumption and dig additional wells to cope with the water shortage. Wheat production is expected to drop by 25 percent, says the report, adding, "the outlook is also bleak for livestock producers". Particularly vulnerable are farmers in the country's northwest regions, where agricultural production depends almost entirely on rainfall.

In Israel, the government declared an official drought emergency and reduced water allocations to farmers by 40 percent. The report estimates that cereal production will decrease by 10 percent.

In Turkey, the subregion's largest grain producer, the cereal harvest is expected to decline by nearly 10 percent over last year and be 6 percent lower than the five-year average. As a result, the country will need to import nearly 33 percent more wheat this year than last. Turkey's contribution to the subregion's export market is expected to decline by 50 percent.

For the subregion as a whole, the Special Report estimates that cereal output will be around 52.4 million tonnes this year, some 10 million tonnes less than in 1988 - a decline of 16 percent and 12 percent lower than the average over the last five years. Cereal exports from the region in 1999/2000 are expected to drop to 2.4 million tonnes, down from 5 million tonnes the previous year. This represents a relative decline of more than 50 percent. Cereal imports to the subregion are expected to increase by 13 percent. This will put a strain on many countries with already scarce foreign reserves, especially the oil-exporting countries that have had to cope with falling oil prices in recent years. The report warns that the effects of drought will be particularly severe in rural areas throughout the Near East, where farmers and livestock producers have limited alternative sources of income.

29 July 1999

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